Citrus-herb roasted turkey, perfectly tender and juicy… it is guaranteed if you follow this simple recipe method.
This is our easy, go-to recipe for a tender and juicy turkey of superior flavor. I’ve updated the recipe to include directions for a whole turkey, bone-in turkey breasts, or a single boneless turkey breast for smaller dinners.
But first, a story…
A long, long time ago, in a cornfield far, far away, two high school friends went to a small liberal arts college and became roommates. Missy–an adorable little Italian-American with a heart of gold, and Kirsten–some other girl. The two romped and frolicked, and enjoyed doing the things that young girls often do when on their own and away from home for the first time. Like midnight milkshake runs, cow tipping, and popcorning people into their dorm rooms in retaliation for another prank. Oh, and they studied a TON. And I’m kidding about the cow tipping part. Mostly.
Slightly off topic: Have you ever popcorned someone into a room? It’s where you tape newspaper across a door jam from floor to about 3 inches from the top. (Making a huge pocket.) Then you pop a bunch of popped corn into the pocket to fill it up. When the occupants on the other side open the door, the popcorn floods into the room. Totally hilarious! Up until the vacuuming commences, that is.
Wacky hijinks continued, but eventually the two girls graduated and became real grown-ups. Whether or not they matured is up for debate. Missy now goes by Melissa, and she is as adorable as ever. Kirsten now goes by…well, Kirsten. She’s still just a girl. 😉
Look! Melissa grew up to be a Goddess! Okay, not really. She’s a darn fine actor, though. So
Missy Melissa asked me to help her make the perfect roasted turkey for Thanksgiving. In my quest to not be a perfectionist, I get a little nervous throwing around the “p” word. Good turkey? Sure! Tasty turkey? You bet! Perfect turkey? Well, I guess you will have to be the judge of that one.
Remember the scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where Beverly DiAngelo’s character spends all day making the “perfect” turkey? The turkey looks stunning right out of the oven. Perfectly browned. Then when they carve it, it bursts open because it is so dry?
Don’t let that happen to you.
There are 3 things that make a moist, tasty roasted turkey:
- An oven bag.
- A little citrus with a bunch of fresh herbs.
- Butter. Lots of it.
Roasting a whole turkey gives you a lot of turkey. Tons. So unless I am planning to serve roasted turkey to an army, I tend to only roast the turkey breasts. That still gives an ample supply of cooked turkey, and we don’t end up eating it for the next 37 days after Thanksgiving.
Not that there is anything wrong with leftovers, but there’s only just so much turkey hash with chorizo that one woman can eat.
You can easily roast a full-sized turkey instead of just the bone-in breasts. I’ll list the ingredient quantities for a full-sized turkey in (parentheses.) Heck, I’ve even included the instructions for roasting a little 3 pound boneless turkey breast in the Notes section of the printable recipe. We’re nothing if not versatile around here!
To Prepare the Turkey for Roasting:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
The turkey takes minimal effort to prepare for the oven. First, we need to prepare the aromatics to stuff in the turkey cavities, next we’ll compose the compound butter, then we’ll throw it all together.
Wash the orange before cutting it into smiles. I mean quarters. Then get the fresh herbs assembled. I like to use sage, rosemary, and thyme for poultry.
Grab a couple of sprigs of each herb, and tie them in a neat little bouquet with butcher’s twine. Butcher’s twine is made from 100% untreated cotton. It won’t burn up in the oven, or release caustic chemicals when heated. Ask for it in the meat department of the grocery store. The herb bouquet will not be eaten, so don’t worry about the woody stems.
We’ll need some of the herbs to make the compound butter, which will be eaten, so strip the leaves off of their stems. To do so, firmly grasp the top of the sprig between your fingers.
Then pinch the sprig with your other fingers, and gently run your fingers down the length of them stem. The leaves will come off in the process. Do this with 2 or 3 sprigs of each herb.
Chop the herbs rather fine. You’ll need about a tablespoon of chopped herbs for every 4 Tbs. of butter.
Add the herbs to the softened butter, and stir them to combine. There! Compound butter.
Rinse the turkey and pat it dry. Check the chest and neck cavities for the bag of giblets. The giblets make delicious gravy and stock. And if you cook ’em up and give ’em to the nearest hound dog, you’ll have a best friend for life.
Stuff 3 of the orange quarters and the herb bouquet into the chest cavity. Call them aromatics, if you’re feeling fancy. Doesn’t that sound lovely? You aren’t going to eat them, but they will steam and infuse the bird with all sorts of flavor during the roasting process.
Stuff the 4th orange quarter into the neck cavity. Fold all of that extra skin over the orange to seal it in. Then try not to be creeped out by of all that extra skin. Now get out the secret ingredient: Turkey sized oven bags.
Oven bags are the secret to a moist, delicious roasted turkey each and every time. No basting required! Gives you more time to dream about pie. And who doesn’t want more time for dreaming about pie?
Get out the roasting pan. Make sure the pan has at least a 2 inch lip around it. Open an oven bag in your roasting pan. I read the directions on the back of this particular brand of bag, and it said to put a tablespoon of flour into the bag, and shake it it around to coat the inside of the bag. It said something about keeping the bag from bursting during the cooking process. I am all about preventing things from bursting in the oven.
Put the stuffed turkey into the bag. Lift up the skin over the breasts. See that membrane holding the skin to the breast? That membrane needs to be broken apart to form a pocket. I usually just rub my fingers between the skin and meat, and massage around to break up the membrane. You can get it started with a paring knife if you like.
See that pocket? That’s going to be a big ol’ pocket of flavor. Truly.
Scoop up about a third of the compound butter, and plop it into the flavor pocket.
Rub the butter around to cover evenly. Then pat the skin back into place. Repeat this process with the other breast pocket, and 1/3 of the compound butter.
Rub the last 1/3 of the compound butter all over the top of the turkey. Don’t be shy! Get in there and make sure that all of the exposed skin is covered. If you bought your standard commercial turkey from the grocery store, it’s probably been shot full of salty broth in order to plump it up and keep it moist. If that’s the case, there is no need to sprinkle salt and pepper over the top of the skin. However, if you bought a natural, unadulterated turkey from a local farm, then go ahead and sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper over the exposed skin.
Pull the bag up around the turkey, and tie it with the nylon tie provided in the oven bag package. Tuck the extra part of the bag into the roasting pan, so that the bag in is completely in the pan. It will look kind of like a giant bag of bread. Cut six 1/2-inch slits into the top of the bag so that air can escape while cooking.
To Roast the Turkey:
Put the turkey/bag/roasting pan onto the middle rack of the preheated oven. Roast the turkey for 15-20 minutes per pound at 325 degrees. My little turkey breasts weighed in at 7 pounds, and so it roasted for 3 1/2 hours.
Please note that fresh (not frozen) turkeys will cook more quickly than a previously frozen turkey. Fresh turkeys cook closer to 15 minutes per pound. Frozen then thawed turkeys cook for between 20-30 minutes per pound.
No peeking! That’s important!
The oven bag will baste and brown the turkey as it roasts. The turkey is done with a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 165 degrees F. If you are roasting a whole turkey, you should insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh to get a safe reading.
Carefully cut the oven bag open. Seriously, friends. Be careful because a lot of steam will could escape with that first cut.
These giant pitchfork- looking things are called meat lifters. Meat lifters are an excellent way to lift the turkey out of the roasting pan. If you don’t have meat lifters, you can get two large, sturdy spoons and insert them into the neck and chest cavities to lift the bird.
Get the cutting board as close to the roasted turkey as possible before attempting the lift.
Let the meat rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. Drool. Use some of the drippings from the oven bag to make gravy if you like. I like to mix equal parts turkey drippings with chicken stock to use as a gravy base.
To make a quick gravy to serve with your roasted turkey:
Heat the stock and drippings together in a saucepan over medium heat, until boiling. Mix 2 Tbs. cornstarch with 2 Tbs. cold water together until the cornstarch is smooth and lump free. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the boiling gravy base mixture. Continue heating, stirring constantly, until thickened and glorious. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
There ya have it! Carve that roasted turkey!
Nibble a bit.
It’s the turkey carver’s prerogative.
Try not to eat all of the turkey while getting it on the serving platter.
If you’re feeling really ambitious, get a big pot of practically free turkey stock going on the stove with the meat stuck to the bones after carving the turkey. You’ll be glad that you did!
Enjoy your roasted turkey! Here’s the recipe.