By Chef Tom Yates
Early mornings on our Kentucky farm were usually quiet and peaceful. When the sun cracked through the trees and kissed the sleepy fields, only the muted sounds of hissing coffee or cattle chomping in a nearby field disturbed the quiet. Thanksgiving morning was a whole other story. Although the coffee still brewed and the cattle chomped, those familiar sounds were muffled by the quiet hubbub in the kitchen. Thanksgiving morning. Silent prep. Lots of busy work.
After obligatory glasses of red wine hit the table for Thanksgiving dinner, bourbon eventually made its entrance. While soft drinks and windowsill sunbrewed tea were at the ready, we were bourbon people. My father loved his bourbon.
Although our bourbonized Thanksgivings on the farm are long gone, I hold fast to memories of those crisp autumn mornings, quilted trees, and the serenity of the dew-kissed countryside.
Nowadays, on Thanksgiving, I let the turkey drink the bourbon.
To wet brine, dry brine, or inject? I’ve done them all. Without the luxury of time and space, I’m on team injection. It’s quick, simple, and dependable.
I rinsed and dried a 15 pound young organic turkey and set it aside. After combining 1 cup melted unsalted butter, 1/4 cup chicken stock, 1/4 cup Makers Mark bourbon, 1/4 cup fresh squeezed blood orange juice, 1/4 cup Evans Orchard fresh apple cider, 1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, I loaded a large turkey injector with the marinade and carefully injected the breasts, thighs, and legs in several locations. After the meat plumped from the shots, I slathered the flesh with softened butter, showered it with salt, and slipped the turkey into the refrigerator to marinate overnight.
After bringing the boozed up turkey to room temperature, I stuffed the cavity with 1 quartered Casey County onion, 2 quartered Pulaski County Macintosh apples, 1 quartered blood orange, 2 stalks celery, fresh parsley, fresh sage, and fresh thyme. In lieu of a roasting rack, I lined the bottom of a large roasting pan with fresh unpeeled whole carrots, celery stalks, and trimmed leeks. After tying the turkey legs together for an even cook, I nestled the turkey onto the vegetable rack, and added 1 cup chicken stock, 1/2 cup apple cider, and a 1/4 cup bourbon to the bottom pan before sliding the turkey into a 350 degree preheated oven to roast for roughly 3 1/2 hours. Being mindful to not over brown the skin too early, I covered the breasts with aluminum foil after an hour and basted the turkey with the pan juices every 30 minutes.
I combined 1/2 cup Makers Mark bourbon, 1/2 cup fresh apple cider, 1/2 cup fresh squeezed blood orange juice, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, and 1/2 cup fresh milled Oberholzer’s Kentucky Sorghum (form the Morgan County Sorghum Festival). After bringing the mix to a boil, I reduced the heat and let it simmer until it softened into a loose sticky glaze.
After the turkey reached 155 degrees, I started brushing the glaze over the skin every 15 minutes.
When the internal temp hit the 165 degree mark measured in the deepest part of the breast meat, I pulled the bourbon burnished turkey from the oven, hit it with flaked sea salt for crunch, and let it rest for 20 minutes before nestling it over an aromatic bed of fresh herbs.
This article also appears on page 19 of the November 2019 print edition of Hamburg Journal.
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