There’s a Christmas tree up in my house right now. A big, bushy one filled with lights and mismatched ornaments. It consumes our tiny living room, making the furniture look miniature. At its base lies a burlap tree skirt with silver threading, which we had to rig up to cover the floor on the front half of the tree since it’s far too small to fit around the whole tree. This is very much becoming a family holiday tradition, one that I seem to have picked up from my mom: Go with husband to pick out tree. Fall in love with the one tree in the whole place that is absolutely, undoubtedly too large for the room. Convince yourself and your husband otherwise and walk away with that big, beautiful tree.
Despite its overwhelming presence in my living room, this tree marks the start of the holiday season in my eyes. Those idyllic three weeks out of the entire year when I can bake sweets more than I should, listen to holiday carols on Pandora all day long, and watch the same Christmas movies that I’ve been watching every year since I was a toddler, finding no less enjoyment out of them despite the fact that I’ve seen them five million times.
I like the new holiday movies too, but there’s something about the classics that I just absolutely love. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye singing (dancing!) in White Christmas on their general’s quaint B&B in Vermont. More of Bing’s singing and dancing, though with a different twist and a different partner, in Holiday Inn. And then there’s Christmas in Connecticut. A film starring the gorgeous Barbara Stanwyck who plays the untraditional Elizabeth Lane, the renowned food writer of a magazine cooking column who, it turns out, has no idea how to boil water much less roast a bird. While Lane writes from her flat in New York City, she manages to fool her editor (and the rest of the world) into believing she’s a practiced cook living the quiet farm life in Connecticut. That is until a young soldier reads one of her columns about a succulent roast turkey that she’d made for the holidays and his nurse arranges for him to visit Lane’s farm for a real Christmas dinner. A fictional farm that does not exist, that is, and so she and her collaborators are forced to find a faux farm on which to host the soldier for the holidays in order to protect their jobs.
Intense romance, comedy, and chaos ensues as the plot unfolds. But beyond that, the film hits all of the main criteria for a true holiday classic—snow covered vistas, a quaint farmhouse with wooden beams and big, wide windows, a gorgeous twelve-foot tree that resembles the kind I try to stuff into my tiny house every year, a sweet love story, and, of course, lots of food. It’s funny to me now because, as a food blogger, I think it would be completely impossible to write about food without having at least some culinary skills and a decent palate, but Lane seems to pull it off against all odds. And in honor of the roast bird she wrote about in the film, I’m posting my own recipe here for a mouthwatering Bourbon and Maple Glazed Turkey.
It’s first brined in a bath of bourbon, maple syrup, brown sugar, and spices. I actually brine mine in a refrigerator drawer for easy clean up. This also has the added benefit of getting me to actually clean out one of my drawers—twice! If you’re not familiar with the method of brining before you roast, give it a try this season. The simple technique infuses flavor into the bird overnight and, like magic, when you awake the next morning your bird is all seasoned and ready to roast—or, in this case, smoke. If you haven’t got a smoker, you can adapt the recipe to roast it an oven as well. (I provide instructions below.) But I find that smoking and then grilling the bird gives it a delicate smoky flavor and an even crispy skin.
Elizabeth Lane might not have the faintest idea how to prepare such a bird. And she would probably laugh at my pathetic attempt to fit the largest tree in all of Oregon into my petit Portland bungalow. But would it really be the month of December without classic old movies, overindulgence in everything (including trees), and a golden-skinned bird with just a hint of bourbon? I can’t imagine the holidays any other way.
Looking for some leftover turkey inspiration? Might I recommend:
- Turkey Pinot Noir Cranberry Sauce Breakfast Sandwhich on a buttermilk biscuit
- Turkey Brussels Sprouts Stir Fry, using the leftover Saigon sauce for the rice
- Turkey Andouille Gumbo
- Turkey Noodle Soup—Just like the classic version with chicken, but with turkey instead!
Bourbon Maple Glazed Turkey
- 1 10-12 pound turkey, thawed
- 5 quarts of hot water
- 5 cups of kosher salt (Warning: Do not use table salt here; doing so will yield a turkey that is far too salty to eat!)
- ¾ cup of bourbon
- ¾ cup of pure maple syrup
- ½ cup of brown sugar
- 3 shallots, sliced in half lengthwise
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons of black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon of whole cloves
- 3 quarts of ice
- 1 cup of butter, melted
- ¼ cup of maple syrup
- ½ cup of chicken stock
- Salt and pepper to taste (I used a Jacobsen Salt Turkey Blend developed by William Sonoma, which I highly recommend if you can get your hands on it!)
- Other materials: enough kitchen twine to tie the legs together
Empty and clean out a refrigerator drawer to prepare for the turkey brine. If your turkey is larger than your drawer, use a large stockpot or other container that will fit the whole turkey in it. Pour the hot water, kosher salt, bourbon, maple syrup, brown sugar, shallots, bay leaves, peppercorns, and cloves into the drawer. Stir until salt and sugar have dissolved. Add the ice.
After removing the giblets and any gravy packets that might have come with your turkey, place the bird into the drawer. Brine overnight for 8-12 hours, making sure the majority of the bird is submerged. If it is not submerged, weight it down with cans or add more water to cover (or come close to cover).
In the morning, remove the turkey and discard the brine. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels and tie the legs together with kitchen twine.
Prepare the basting liquid by mixing the melted butter, remaining maple syrup, chicken stock, and spicess in a small bowl. Set aside.
If using a Traeger smoker (or a similar brand of smoker): Allow bird to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes in order to develop a pellicle (a thin, dry coating on the skin, which allows smoke to better adhere to the meat.) Before turning on the smoker, place a drip pan beneath the grill grate to catch any pan drippings. You can use the drippings to baste with, or do as I do and turn them into a pan gravy once the bird is finished cooking. Set the smoker to smoke, with the lid open, to establish a fire. Once the fire is established, place the bird breast-side up in the smoker, close the lid, and smoke for 45 minutes, making sure the temperature of the smoker does not get above 170 degrees. After 45 minutes, increase heat to medium-high, baste with basting liquid, and cook for 1.5-2.5 hours, maintaining a temperature of around 325-350 degrees. If it goes above that, turn down the heat or crack open the smoker slightly to allow some of the heat to escape. Baste the bird once or twice while it’s cooking, sopping up some of the pan drippings if you run out of basting liquid.
After 1.5 hours, check the bird’s internal temperature by sticking a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the let. Once the thermometer registers 165 degrees F, remove the bird and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. This allows the liquid to redistribute evenly throughout the bird so that when you slice into it, the liquid doesn’t ooze out. Be diligent about checking the internal temperature of the bird, testing a few times, if necessary. There’s nothing worse than an overcooked turkey.
If using an oven to roast: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place turkey breast-side up in a shallow roasting pan and baste with some of the basting liquid. Roast for 2-4 hours, basting every hour, or until the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees F on a thermometer. Once the thermometer registers 165 degrees F, remove the bird and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. This allows the liquid to redistribute evenly throughout the bird so that when you slice into it, the liquid doesn’t ooze out. Be diligent about checking the internal temperature of the bird, testing a few times, if necessary. There’s nothing worse than an overcooked turkey.
If your turkey is a different size than this one, increase the brine and basting liquids accordingly. Also, the timing will vary, so be sure to adjust the time as well. This may require some more frequent temperature testing while the bird is smoking/roasting, but that is what meat thermometer’s are handy for!
This recipe was adapted from Traeger Grills.