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November 18 2009 by Kristin at The Kitchen Sink in Uncategorized » 18 comments


I’m not surprised that the recipe for Zuni Roast Chicken was one of the first to appear on this site.  It’s one of those recipes that you clearly remember making for the first time—I can picture myself in the kitchen (in our old garden apartment in Lakeview); I can recall my sense of triumph as I pulled the burnished bird from the oven; I can taste the juices that pooled on the plate, which I, naturally, sopped up as best I could; I can hear Kevin, lips glistening and eyes twinkling, declaring it The Best Chicken Ever.  To be fair, I also remember my faint revulsion at handling a whole raw chicken in my hands (it was my first time roasting an entire bird)—the coolness of death on its skin, the jostle of its bones beneath the flesh, the dark cavity that could hold god-knows-what.  And I can hear the persistent screech of the fire alarm, prompted by the oven’s high heat and the sizzling juices that spit right out of the roasting pan.  But, in the end, it was a success and I knew immediately that it was a recipe I would make for years.
And I have.  I make it any time Kevin requests it, which is at least once a month during the cooler parts of the year.  I made two for a Hannukah dinner Kevin and I hosted for his family a couple years ago.  I’ve made it for dinner parties with friends.  I’ve made it for my own family.  Every time, without fail, it works.  The dry-brined chicken (which, basically, means that the bird is liberally salted and refrigerated for a lengthy period of time before roasting) goes golden in the oven, but remains unbelievably juicy.  It’s foolproof and simple and delicious—everything a go-to recipe should be.
These days, I’ve been sifting through a variety of my go-to recipes, hand-picking several of them to assemble our Thanksgiving menu.  I planned the desserts first.  Then I plotted out the appetizers.  Then I settled on the sides. Chalk full of go-to recipes, the menu was really shaping up—but it had a glaring omission: the turkey.  I had been skirting the issue because it scared me.  I had ordered a heritage bird, but that was as far as I could get.
In the meantime, Thanksgiving was bearing down on us—I could almost hear it approaching, picking up steam and growing louder as it rumbled ever closer, not unlike the constant arrivals of El trains just behind our apartment.  Finally, it hit me.  If any portion of the Thanksgiving roster begs for a go-to recipe (or, in this case, a go-to method), it’s the turkey.  That very night, we picked up a fresh turkey and applied our Zuni Chicken method to the larger specimen—showering it with kosher salt and tucking it in the fridge.  The answer had been there all along.
Three days later, we let the turkey come to room temperature, fired up the grill, and let the turkey get to roasting.  A couple hours after that we had ourselves a perfect turkey.  And I do mean perfect.  The skin had crisped and taken on the color of just-about-to-burn caramel.  And the taste—simple and clean and incredibly turkey-y—was outstanding.  I spent the balance of the day on a turkey-success high.
In the wake of the test turkey, I have little reason to fear the task of making the meal next Thursday.  But I do have a whole lotta leftover turkey, which has turned Kevin and me into the Bubba Gump’s of turkey this week: turkey soup, turkey enchiladas, turkey salad, turkey sandwiches … you get the picture.
What about you all?  How are you preparing your birds? We’re only a week out!
Dry-Brined Turkey
Recipe Adapted from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook and the L.A. Times
1 (12- to 16-pound) turkey
Kosher salt
Several celery ribs, carrots, a quartered onion, several garlic cloves and several sprigs of herbs

Wash the turkey inside and out, pat it dry and weigh it. Measure 1 tablespoon of salt into a bowl for every 5 pounds the turkey weighs (for a 15-pound turkey, you’d have 3 tablespoons).

Sprinkle the inside of the turkey lightly with salt. Place the turkey on its back and salt the breasts, concentrating the salt in the center, where the meat is thickest. You’ll probably use a little more than a tablespoon. It should look liberally seasoned, but not over-salted.

Turn the turkey on one side and sprinkle the entire side with salt, concentrating on the thigh. You should use a little less than a tablespoon. Flip the turkey over and do the same with the opposite side.

Place the turkey in a 2 1/2 -gallon sealable plastic bag, press out the air and seal tightly. Place the turkey breast-side up in the refrigerator. Chill for 3 days, turning it onto its breast for the last day.

Remove the turkey from the bag. There should be no salt visible on the surface and the skin should be moist but not wet. Place the turkey breast-side up on a plate and refrigerate uncovered for at least 8 hours.

On the day it is to be cooked, remove the turkey from the refrigerator and leave it at room temperature at least 1 hour. Preheat the oven or a gas grill to 425 degrees.  If using a gas grill with three burners, light the side burners only.  If using a gas grill with two burners, light only one burner.

Line the bottom of a roasting pan (I suggest a sturdy disposable pan, if using the grill) with the celery, carrot, quartered onion, garlic cloves and herb sprigs, which will serve as a make-shift roasting rack.  Place the turkey breast-side down on the vegetables in the roasting pan; put it on the grill (over the unlit burner) or in the oven. After 30 minutes, remove the pan from the grill or oven and carefully turn the turkey over so the breast is facing up (it’s easiest to do this by hand, using kitchen towels or oven mitts).

Reduce the grill or oven temperature to 325 degrees, return the turkey to the grill (again, over the unlit burner) or oven and roast until a thermometer inserted in the deepest part of the thigh, but not touching the bone, reads 165 degrees, about 2 3/4 hours total roasting.

Remove the turkey from the grill or oven, transfer it to a warm platter or carving board; tent loosely with foil. Let stand at least 30 minutes to let the juices redistribute through the meat. Carve and serve.

18 comments so far. »
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  1. Elizabeth says on November 18 2009 at 8:14 pm:

    Delicious! I’m usually not a turkey fan myself because I usually find the whole thing a bit dry (the sides are the reason I look forward to Thanksgiving) but this looks oh so moist and flavorful. I’m sure it’ll be a stunning centerpiece to your holiday meal.

  2. Whitney says on November 18 2009 at 9:02 pm:

    I have made a Zuni Cafe chicken many, many times and what a great idea to do it for a turkey!

  3. Half Assed Kitchen says on November 18 2009 at 9:27 pm:

    Wow, that looks perfecto. I tried dry-brining my turkey last year and hoo-boy, it did not work out. I probably did something wrong, but I’m too afraid to try again. Think I’m going for a Martha turkey this year.

  4. Amy (Minimally Invasive) says on November 19 2009 at 3:28 am:

    I did this for Thanksgiving last year and it was phenomenal! It got rave reviews, and was possibly the only turkey I’ve ever really liked. Funny how a simple technique can have such a big effect. Have a great Thanksgiving!

  5. Antonietta says on November 19 2009 at 7:12 am:

    Looks like you are prepping really well for Thanksgiving. It will be a smashing success!

  6. Dolce says on November 19 2009 at 8:23 am:

    See, you are totally prepared! Not hosting any Thanksgiving whatosever this year – I am actually flying to France for 3 days (helloooo my name is crazy) for my grandmother’s birthday (she is turning 80).
    Last year I preped the turkey with a lemon-honey marinade and placing lemon slices right under the skin. It caramelized and was different that my regular birds :)
    With leftovers, I also end up doing turkey lasagna (instead of using beef).

  7. Jennifer says on November 19 2009 at 10:50 am:

    I’m a newbie to the dry-brining technique. As we lack space enough in our condo kitchen for a bucket in which to brine the turkey “normally,” I appreciate learning about this method. Thanks!

  8. ingrid says on November 20 2009 at 1:44 pm:

    Thanks! I’m gonna try this the next time I cook a turkey or the first time I roast a whole chicken!

  9. Hannah says on November 20 2009 at 7:59 pm:

    I really want to try this out for thanksgiving, I’ve heard such great things about it.

  10. Andrea says on November 20 2009 at 8:01 pm:

    Beautiful bird! We’re smoking ours on our Big Green Egg Grill, after soaking it in a sweet/salty brine from Alton Brown for the 12 hours prior. Yum!

    Just saw your Bon Appetit submission and voted for you! I submitted my plum pie to the pies/tarts category.

  11. Barbara says on November 21 2009 at 8:37 am:

    Great post! And that is one beautiful turkey. I do hate to be boring but have been roasting mine for years and everyone loves it just the way it is. I try to get creative with my sides.

    Why is it we ALWAYS decide on desserts first> ;)

  12. Sophie says on November 22 2009 at 5:06 am:

    A delicious feast for the eyes!!


  13. Thanksgiving Planning « Miles In Between says on November 13 2010 at 2:56 am:

    [...] a dry-brine, and I highly highly recommend it. I read about it on one of the food blogs I follow here.  My turks (all 30 lbs!) are in the fridge defrosting, and I have my salt at the [...]

  14. Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes says on November 18 2010 at 4:38 am:

    [...] Dry-Brined Turkey [...]

  15. Thanksgiving! | Tallgrass Kitchen says on November 18 2010 at 9:53 pm:

    [...] results. The moistest turkey I’ve ever eaten. However, this year I’m going to try a dry brine instead, but still cook it using Alton’s [...]

  16. carol says on November 21 2013 at 1:50 pm:

    Do you wash the salt off the turkey before you cook it or is it considered a small enough amount that it just seasons it? I know recipes normally call for washing the turkey once the brining stage is done. Don’t want a salt-bomb on my hands:)

  17. Kristin at The Kitchen Sink says on November 22 2013 at 2:05 pm:

    Carol–No, no need for rinsing. Hope you try it out!

  18. Carol says on November 22 2013 at 9:54 pm:

    Kristin, I sure will! I’m a former vegetarian who is having thanksgiving at my pescatarian friend’s house and i’ve been given the assignment of the turkey, gravy and stuffing. I’m pretty good at doing a roasted chicken which is why I got this assignment but I’m a bit nervous cooking turkey as I never have before. I have the added stress of cooking for several VERY accomplished cooks and so it needs to be really delicious, of course! I’ve had brined turkeys before and they are so good and I want to try this technique. Your recipe sounded really great and so easy. i’m going to make the apple cider gravy too!Wish me luck! Happy Thanksgiving!

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