My family has always been steadfast in holding to traditions at the holiday table. We always reference the family recipes when it comes to big gatherings—and with good reason, they’re delicious and they’re familiar. Grandmomma Dorris’ turkey dressing hits everyone around our table with a wave of nostalgia. That’s one of the beautiful things about a fantastic family recipe, it allows dinners to travel through time. As most of us have experienced, food is one of the strongest sources for sensory memory. And, as the case with many great holiday dishes, a lot of our food memories are relative to specific events or places.

There are moments, however, when we don’t have to pull out all of our family secrets (I’m talking about recipes), where we can cook outside the lines and follow a different path with our cooking, One of the most appealing aspects of the food world is that it is almost impossible to ever stop learning. There are centuries of techniques, recipes, and flavors to comb through well as constant technological innovations that we see everyday.

When it comes to expanding your culinary traditions, sometimes the best way to create something new is to revisit the source of something familiar. This roasted turkey recipe is reflective of an early American pantry.


The Brine

1 C kosher salt

1 C Sorghum syrup

1 gal water

8 cloves garlic, smashed

2 bay leaves

1 cinnamon stick

Cheesecloth sachet:

6 allspice berries

1 t black peppercorn

5 cardamom pods, Green

1/2 t cumin seed

1/2 t coriander seed

6 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bunch fresh flat leaf parsley

1 gal ice

Yield: 2 Gallons, enough for a 10-12 pound turkey.

This brine is rich and aromatic with lots of whole spices. It is always best to lightly toast whole spices before use to intensify the flavors by releasing the oils.

  1. Take all of the whole spices; cinnamon, peppercorn, allspice, cardamom, cumin, and coriander, and place them in a dry skillet over medium heat, and toast until the aroma becomes very fragrant.
  2. Place all of the smaller whole spices into a piece of cheesecloth cut to three inches in length.
  3. Tie the sachet sight by folding the sides of the cloth over the spices and bringing the ends of the cloth together to tie tightly. This will keep all of the smaller seeds contained in brine.
  4. Place the sachet into a large nonreactive pot with all of the other ingredients except the ice. Heat to a slight boil, stirring until the salt dissolves completely.
  5. Remove the brine from the heat and place in a container large enough to hold the turkey and the brine. A cooler will work best.
  6. Add the ice and stir until it has melted completely and the brine has cooled.
  7. Place the turkey in the brine and keep refrigerated for 2 days. If the cooler will not fit in your refrigerator, keep a bag of ice in with the brining turkey to keep the temperature below 40 degrees, making sure to check the temperature periodically throughout the 2 days.
  8. Remove the turkey from the brine and let air dry in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.


The Rub

4-6 dried chilies, Guajillo, New Mexico or Pasilla

1/4 C roasted garlic cloves

1/4 C honey or sorghum

1/4 C chopped cilantro

Zest and Juice of one orange

  1. Toast the chilis in a pan over medium heat.
  2. Remove from the pan and cover with a 1/2 C of boiling water to soften the chilies.
  3. Let the chilies steep for about twenty minutes and then process in a blender or food processor until smooth.
  4. Coat the turkey in the chili paste, inside and out. Gently loosen the skin of the thighs and breasts and rub some paste beneath the skin.


The Roast

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place the turkey into a roasting pan with a rack and place into the oven on the bottom rack.
  3. Every 30-45 minutes, rotate the turkey and baste with the pan drippings.
  4. After an hour and a half, start temping the thigh and breast, or—if you have an oven with a probe—set the target temp to 160 degrees.
  5. Once the turkey has reached 160 degrees away from the bone, remove from the oven and tent with foil to let it rest for about twenty to thirty minutes.
  6. After the bird has rested, carve, slice, share, and enjoy.