A Gin-Brined Turkey to Make Your Holidays Merry

I once met someone at a party who said, “I come from a gin family.” It sounded so novel—or at least something that would be the opening line of a novel—and I had to know more. Intrigued, I asked him everything. His family has been distilling gin for generations, and he grew up using it for everything from toothaches to cleaning cuts. 

While I did not grow up in a “gin family,” I figured I could find a way to incorporate more gin into my life. And so was born the gin-brined turkey recipe I go to every Thanksgiving. If you are brining your bird anyway, why not add gin? It is aromatic, with a hint of juniper and fresh citrus. And it’s the recipe I am asked for the most often when the holiday’s approach. 

Gin-Brined Turkey

Ingredients:

12–14 lb turkey, thawed (you CAN scale this recipe up or down based on how many people you have coming to dinner and if you want leftovers)

For the Brine:

  • 1 750 ml bottle of quality gin. (Go for more than cheap pine-scented gin. I use Beehive Distilling’s Jack Rabbit Gin.)
  • 12 cups Water
  • 1 cup Diamond Kosher Salt
  • ¼ cup honey
  • Fresh thyme, 5 sprigs
  • Fresh rosemary, 2 branches
  • Fresh sage, 3 sprigs
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries
  • 1 tablespoon whole pepper
  • 1 lemon,sliced
  • 1 lime, sliced
  • 1 apple, quartered
  • 5 garlic cloves, crushed

Compound Butter:

  • ⅓ cup unsalted butter, soft but not melted
  • ½ teaspoon each of fresh rosemary, thyme and sage, finely chopped

For the Pan, AKA Future Gravy:

  • 1 cup turkey or chicken stock
  • Optional aromatics: celery, garlic, carrots, bacon, onions, herb stems—whatever you want to flavor the broth as it cooks
  • Maybe a shot or two of gin
Turkey Recipe
Photo by Lydia Martinez

Method:

1. In a large working bowl, combine gin, water and salt. Stir with a wooden paddle to dissolve the salt. Add the honey and stir to dissolve as well.

2. Add all the aromatics to the brine: thyme, rosemary, sage, juniper berries, whole pepper, lemon, lime, apple and garlic. Make sure the fruit and the garlic are slightly crushed so that they will release their flavor.  

3. Put thawed turkey in a brine bag and then in a food-safe large bucket, ice chest, cambro, or big working bowl. Pour the brine over the bird. If you use a brine bag, seal it and put it in the fridge. If you have the bird in an ice chest, pack it with ice. You want it to be cold but not frozen. 

4. Let the bird hang out in the brine in the fridge for at least 24–48 hours. The longer it hangs out, the more “gin-y” it will be. Four hours before you are going to roast the bird, remove it from the brine. Rinse, pat dry with paper towels, and place in the roasting pan. The roasting pan with the bird inside will go straight back into the fridge, uncovered, to dry out the skin. 

5. Bring the turkey out of the fridge at least an hour before you roast it—your turkey will turn out the better for it if it does not go into the oven cold. 

6. While the turkey is hanging out in the fridge drying out, make an herbaceous compound butter to slather under the skin. Whip together room-temperature butter with fresh herbs (and even a splash of gin if you’d like) and let it sit to the side. You want it very soft before using it. 

7. Preheat your oven to 450. Once the turkey leaves the fridge, the skin will look dry and almost leathery. This is just the look you are going for. Gently work the skin up and separate from the breast of the turkey, starting at the back cavity. Go slowly so that the skin doesn’t tear. Once the skin is loose from the breast, you can work in a thin layer of compound butter under the skin. This will help with moisture and flavor. You can also rub the exterior of the skin with olive oil, salt, and pepper to flavor the skin. It never hurts to stuff some aromatics inside the bird—I put an apple, a lemon, and an onion inside my bird—all halved or quartered.

8. A final step before adding the turkey to the oven is to prep for future gravy. Add aromatics to the bottom of the roasting pan—celery ribs, onions and carrots—which serve to flavor the drippings. Add turkey or chicken stock to the base for flavor and basting. Add a couple of shots of gin as well to flavor the broth and future gravy.

Roasting Instructions: 

1. Preheat your oven to 450°F (230°C).

2. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack set inside a roasting pan. Here you may truss the bird if you want. 

3. Roast the turkey in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.

4. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (175°C).

5. Continue roasting the turkey for approximately 2 to 2.5 hours, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (without touching the bone) registers 165°F. (74°C).

6. Once the turkey has reached the correct internal temperature, remove it from the oven.

7. Tent the turkey loosely with aluminum foil and let it rest for about 20-30 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, making it easier to carve and more moist and flavorful. Make the gravy, finish up the sides and get ready to eat in the meantime. 

Note: Cooking times may vary depending on your oven’s performance and other factors. Always use a meat thermometer to ensure that your turkey is cooked to the proper temperature.

Gin Gravy Recipe:

1. When the turkey comes out of the oven, remove all the drippings/broth from the roasting pan, leaving any aromatics behind. Remove the fat from the top—either skim it off or use a fat separator. Set 4 tablespoons of the fat aside. 

2. Add enough turkey or chicken stock (unsalted) to bring the total amount of liquid to 3 cups. In the meantime, toast 4 tablespoons of flour in a dry skillet over medium-low heat until it smells toasty. Nothing ruins gravy faster than a raw flour taste. Remove from the heat when the scent changes, as it will burn quickly. 

3. Put 4 tablespoons of the fat into a skillet. Add the 4 tablespoons of flour and cook over medium heat, constantly whisking, until the two are combined, smooth, and starting to turn golden. Add a shot of gin. Or two. The alcohol will cook out, and the juniper flavor will stick around.

4. Pour the broth in slowly, whisking all the while so that you don’t get lumps. Simmer and stir until that magic moment when gravy appears out of simple ingredients. Taste for salt and pepper. (Usually, with a brined bird, you won’t need to add salt.) Serve hot with your ginny bird. 

Happy Ginsgiving, all!


Lydia Martinez
Lydia Martinezhttp://www.saltlakemgazine.com
Lydia Martinez is a freelance food, travel, and culture writer. She has written for Salt Lake Magazine, Suitcase Foodist, and Utah Stories. She is a reluctantly stationary nomad who mostly travels to eat great food. She is a sucker for anything made with lots of butter and has been known to stay in bed until someone brings her coffee. Do you have food news? Send tips to lydia@saltlakemagazine.com

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