By Peter Minakis* – I’ve been a big fan of brining a turkey for over a decade now. Oh, I’m sure you all have your favourite way of doing it but out there is an equal amount of people who fear, dread or avoid turkey. Usually because it ends up dry.
Brining a turkey is simply allow the bird to steep overnight (24 hrs.) in a salt water solution. What’s happening here? Much like when you eat salty things, your body craves water. That’s what’s happening to the turkey – it’s taking in moisture (water).
I’ve gone beyond my usual salt & water brine here and I’ve added some aromatics to make this turkey somethin’ special for the Greek-themed Thanksgiving.
Another change I made was in how I roasted the turkey. Although I didn’t use a Butterball turkey, I did refer to their website for their roasting calculator and I picked up a great roasting tip:
Roast the turkey uncovered at 325F, only cover the turkey with aluminum foil after you’ve achieved it’s desired colour. I’ve always done the reverse (cover for duration of roasting & uncover to brown at the end), but this Butterball method gave me a picture-perfect, moist and succulent turkey.
The other component of the turkey was the Greek stuffing. Greeks do enjoy roasting a turkey but it’s usually done during the Christmas holidays. I had a wealth of reference points for a Greek stuffing and I settled on a classic which used ground meat, minced giblets, raisins, chestnuts and pine nuts. The stuffing will turn out savory with a little bit of sweetness from the raisins, chestnuts and pine nuts.
The Recipe for Greek Stuffed Turkey (Γαλοπούλα-γεμιστή in Greek)
3 bay leaves
handful of peppercorns
3 cloves of garlic
a bunch of fresh thyme
small handful of parsley
1/2 cup of Mosxato wine
handful of allspice berries
1/2 cup of orange juice
1 cup of salt
enough water to cover the turkey
1 large turkey (5.7kgs) feeds 10
sea salt pepper
combination of dried thyme, oregano and rosemary
Pre-heated 325F oven
To brine your turkey, you will need a large, clean pail or a large pot. Place your turkey inside and add enough water to cover the bird. Now the remove the bird and add the wine, orange juice, aromatics and the salt. Now place the container on your stove and bring the brining solution to a boil. Allow to cool before placing the turkey inside the brine. Palce the cover on and refrigerate or place outside (if cold enough for approx. 24 hours).
Between now and roasting the turkey, you may pre-make your stuffing (recipe below).
The next day, 1 hour before roasting, remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well and pat dry. Pre-heat your oven to 325F. Discard the brine.
Ensure your pre-made stuffing has also come to room temperature before spooning it into the cavity of the turkey. Have ready two containers of stuffing ready: one large portion with an approx. amount you think you’ll require to stuff the bird and a back-up portion to replenish it (this helps eliminate cross-contamination to any leftover stuffing that does not fit in the turkey).
Spoon the stuffing into the main cavity and stitch with some wooden skewers to seal. Now place some stuffing in the neck area of the turkey as well (that’s what all that excess neck skin is for…stuffing). Again, stitch with some wooden skewers to seal in the stuffing.
Place your turkey on a roasting rack and rub it all over with melted butter. Seasoning your turkey with a Mediterranean dried herb mix (I used oregano, thyme and rosemary, sea salt, black pepper, sweet paprika and garlic powder.
Place the roasting rack & turkey onto a roasting pan and add an onion, carrot and celery stick in the bottom of the pan with some water and a splash of wine. Place your turkey on the middle rack of the oven and roast for 3 1/2 hours. Monitor your turkey after about 2 hours to check for it’s colour. When the desired browning has occured, tent your turkey with aluminum foil and continue to roast until the thigh meat has reached 180F (using a thermometer) and 160F in the stuffing.
Greek Turkey Stuffing
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 pork sausages, casings removed
1/2 lb. lean ground pork
1 packet of turkey giblets, finely chopped
1 bay leaf 1 tsp. dry oregano
3/4 cup long grain rice
1/4 cup wild rice
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup of Mosxato wine
1/2 cup of raisins
1 1/2 cups of turkey/vegetable stock
1 cup of chestnuts, chopped
1/2 cup of pine nuts
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. ground clove
In a large skillet, add your olive oil over medium heat and add your onions, garlic, celery, bay leaf and saute for about 10 minutes to soften. Now add your giblets and saute for a minute or so, followed by adding the sausage meat and ground pork. Turn the heat up and brown your meat while stirring constantly.
Now add rice and stir to coat and toast the rice for a couple of minutes. Now add the wine and raisins and reduce to medium-low and simmer while stirring for a couple of minutes.
Now add the stock, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer while stirring and most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Your rice should be just under ‘”al dente” and it will finish cooking as stuffing in the turkey.
Now add the chopped parsley, chopped chestnuts, sage and stir it. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and take off the heat. Add the pine nuts and a pinch of ground cloves and stir in. Allow to come to room temperature before placing the stuffing in the turkey (you may place in a container and refrigerate overnight).
*Peter Minakis is a Toronto-born Greek-Canadian who runs kalofagas.ca, one of the most popular Greek food blogs. When he is not cooking he is a financial advisor. You can contact Peter at truenorth67 AT gmail dot com.