Orange-Marinated Brined Smoked Turkey and Rich Gravy Recipe

Pairing Wine with Thanksgiving Dinner

These recipes were created by my amazing significant other Chef Jeff Starr many years ago as part of a big Napa Valley Thanksgiving culinary story which appeared in publications across the country.

We still prepare the turkey and gravy (and by we, I mean he, mostly) in the same way every Thanksgiving, although sometimes we skip the smoking and just roast the turkey in the oven. The ingredients lists are a bit daunting, but worth it. If you don’t have some of the spices for the Asian-inspired brine, don’t worry about it.

Orange-Marinated Brined Smoked Turkey

This turkey is moist and tender with a subtle blend of citrusy and spicy flavors. It is perfect as is, sans gravy, but a rich gravy recipe is included for those who find Thanksgiving dinner incomplete without it. The turkey is easy to brine and smoke, but the recipe should be carefully read before beginning. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of smoking, the brined turkey can be roasted in your oven per standard turkey roasting guidelines.

Ingredients: — 1 gallon orange juice
— 2 cups rice wine vinegar
— 2 cups apple cider vinegar
— 1 cup dark brown sugar
— 6 garlic cloves, crushed
— 1/4 cup sliced fresh ginger
— 1 bunch green onions, sliced
— 2 bunches cilantro, chopped
— 12 whole star anise
— 2 cinnamon sticks, crushed
— 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
— 1 tablespoon whole cloves
— 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
— 1 cup kosher salt + salt to taste
— 1 turkey (12 to 15 pounds), giblets removed, liver and neck reserved
— About 2 pounds wine-barrel or orange-wood chips (grapevine cuttings or hickory chips may be substituted)
— Olive oil as needed
— Pepper to taste

Instructions: Combine the orange juice, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, green onions, cilantro, star anise, cinnamon, red pepper flakes, cloves, peppercorns and salt in a stock pot or large saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Let cool. (May be prepared 1 day ahead; refrigerate in a nonmetal container.)

Thoroughly rinse and dry the turkey inside and out. Place in a large plastic, glass or earthenware container that is not much wider than the diameter of the turkey and deep enough so that the brine will cover the bird completely. Pour in the brine; make sure it covers the turkey. Cover and refrigerate for 3 days. If the brine doesn’t completely cover the bird, turn the bird every 12 hours.

About 4 hours before serving, soak wood chips (wine-barrel chips or orange wood imparts a good flavor) in water for at least 30 minutes.

Remove the turkey from the brine and pat it dry; truss and place on a roasting rack. Rub with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Place a drip pan on the fire grate of a kettle-type grill. Place 20 or 30 briquets on either side of drip pan. Light and let burn until coated with white ash, about 30 minutes.

Place the turkey in the center of the grill over the drip pan. Place small handfuls of wet wood chips on the briquets. Cover kettle with the lid. Partially open lid and kettle vents. Try not to remove the lid too often, which will lower the temperature, but check approximately every 45 minutes and replenish briquets as needed, adding about 10 each time and also additional smoking wood.

Serves 12 to 15.

Note No. 1: The smoking process (using subtle smoking woods such as oak wine-barrel chips, not a wood as assertive as mesquite) is the key to enhancing the citrus flavor of the brined turkey. Be sure to add a few soaked wood chips whenever the smoke stops coming out of the kettle vents.

Note No. 2: Just like an oven- roasted turkey, this one produces wonderful pan juices — better, even, because of their haunting smoke flavor. You can  use them to enhance the gravy or later on with leftovers.

Take care during the smoking process to keep the pan juices clean and clear of charcoal dust (a deeper pan makes this easier). If a little dust lands on the juices, it will settle with the fat on top; collect the clear, clean juices with a bulb baster or a fat-separator cup.

Take care when removing drip pan; it will be awkward to handle and extremely hot.

PER SERVING: 450 calories, 73 g protein, 0 g carbohydrate, 15 g fat (4 g saturated), 274 mg cholesterol, 172 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.


Rich Gravy

This gravy starts with a wonderful stock and finishes with a rich flavor. There are a few steps to the stock, but you can  make it up to 3 days before using; store in the refrigerator or freeze for longer storage. A complex stock with layers of flavor really makes a difference in the intensity of your gravy.

If you don’t have time to make homemade stock, use a good quality chicken stock and start from  the instruction “To make the gravy.”  

Ingredients: — 6 turkey wings, disjointed and cut into 3-inch segments (or substitute 2 pounds chicken wings)
— 1 turkey neck, reserved from the brined bird
— 3 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
— 3 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
— 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
— 3 small leeks, coarsely chopped
— 6 tablespoons olive oil
— 1 1/2 cups Monogamy Cabernet Sauvignon or other dry red wine
— 5 quarts water
— 1 bunch thyme
— 36 peppercorns
— 2 large bay leaves
— 1 turkey liver, reserved from the brined bird
— 1 cup (8 ounces) butter
— 2 medium onions, minced
— 4 garlic cloves, minced
— 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon flour
— Pan drippings from the smoked turkey, if available
— Salt and pepper to taste
— 1/4 cup chopped parsley
— Lemon juice to taste

Instructions: To make the stock: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a roasting pan, thoroughly toss wings, neck, carrots, celery and coarsely chopped onions and leeks with the olive oil. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the turkey wings are deep golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes.

Remove pan from oven, discard  half of the fat, and transfer the contents of the pan to a stock pot. Place the roasting pan over 2 burners on the stove top; deglaze with the wine, scraping up the browned bits with a wooden spoon. Transfer the liquid to the stock pot.

Add 5 quarts water, the thyme, peppercorns and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and skim off foam that collects on top. Continue to simmer, uncovered and without boiling, for 2 hours.

Strain the stock, pressing well on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard solids. Boil the liquid in a large saucepan until it reduces to 7 cups. Chill, then remove the fat.

To make the gravy: Saute the liver in 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until it is just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove liver.

Add remaining butter. When it has melted, add minced onion and garlic; saute, stirring frequently, until the onion is golden, 12 to 15 minutes.

Stir in the flour. Reduce heat to low. Cook the flour, stirring frequently, until it is deep golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Do not let it burn.

Slowly whisk in 6 cups of the stock. Bring mixture to a boil, again reduce heat to low and simmer the gravy, skimming occasionally, for 5 minutes.

While the gravy is simmering, mince the liver. Thin the gravy, if desired, with up to 1 cup of the remaining stock. Stir in some of the pan drippings, if you have them, from the turkey. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley and the liver. Stir in lemon juice to taste. Yields about 6 cups.

PER 1/4 CUP: 85 calories, 24 g protein, 3 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat (5 g saturated), 40 mg cholesterol, 67 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.