A wonderfully aromatic spiced roast turkey recipe featuring fresh ground cinnamon, cumin, cloves, cardamom, and pepper, and strategies for navigating family and politics during the holiday season.
Longtime readers will know that I never meant to work in the food world. I started BkS as a hobby; something away from the art world, the office world, and the parenting world. But it didn’t take me long to realize that food is my passion, and always has been, really.
I love to cook, sure, but just as much, I love to talk food with pretty much everyone I meet. My life in food has helped me find common ground across political and cultural divides. I’ve learned to bridge differences by getting people talking about their own family and foodways. Food connects us. This year, I’ll be leaning on food more than ever to find common ground during the holidays.
Eight days from now, many of us in the US will be sitting down to a Thanksgiving feast. With our families. In a normal year, this is a recipe for heated debates, but this year? Hoo boy. Political disagreements are normal, but I can’t stand by while the casual racism and hatred that infects our country continues to fester. Here’s how to stand up and speak out. Read up and be ready whether you encounter racist jokes at the dinner table or outright hatred on the street.
Now, about this spice-rubbed turkey. It’s suffused with robust, aromatic flavors like cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, and cumin. It’s certainly adventurous for a meal as traditional as Thanksgiving, but the spices are a lively addition that blend nicely with the other flavors of the season. The spice rub highlights the turkey in a way the classic roast may not. In particular, if you’re having a smaller meal without 15 sides and accompaniments, this recipe is a great way to make the turkey count.
If you’ve never made a turkey, it’s easier than you’d think. Read up on the basics.
The longer the spice rub sits on the turkey, the deeper it will penetrate the meat. Ideally, the rub should be applied the night before.
- 5 tablespoons cumin seed
- 4 tablespoons coriander seed
- 2 tablespoons cardamon pods
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 25 black peppercorns
- 20 cloves whole
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 8 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 large red onion, chopped
- 14 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
- 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt
- 12 - 16 pound whole turkey, giblets removed and trussed
- 4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, as needed
Working 1 - 2 days ahead, make the spice rub.
Place cumin and coriander in a medium skillet over medium heat. Shaking pan frequently, toast just until spices are fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove spices from hot pan and set aside.
With the flat side of a knife or a mortar and pestle, crush cardamom pods and collect seeds from inside each pod. Reserve seeds and discard pods.
Next, break up cinnamon sticks with a knife or mortar and pestle so you have the tiniest shards possible. Place cinnamon shards in a spice grinder (aka a clean coffee grinder), and pulse to break up; continue processing until completely ground. Working in batches (if you have a small grinder), reduce the cumin, coriander, cardamom seeds, peppercorns, and cloves. Mix in turmeric and sea salt. Place spice rub in a sealed jar.
The night before, pulse to combine spice rub, onion, garlic, and yogurt in the bowl of a food processor. Process and scrape down sides until you have a smooth, slightly lumpy, paste. Reserve 1/3 of the paste in a small bowl or jar in the fridge.
Set turkey in a large dish or roasting pan, and remove giblets and neck from turkey cavity. Truss turkey by tying feet together and tying wings down with butcher's twine. (More on trussing here.) Rub turkey all over with spice rub, being sure to get all the folds and indentations. Cover with plastic wrap and set in the fridge overnight or for at least 8 hours.
The day of, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Place turkey breast side down in roasting pan and slide into oven. Cook 1 hour (or 1 1/2 hours for a larger bird) then flip turkey. To flip, set out two dish towels and wear two oven mitts. Grab turkey on both sides using dish towels and carefully flip end over end, rotating it so that the juices inside pour out the bottom cavity and not the neck. Keep hands, arms, and other body parts clear, because the liquid is scalding hot. After you've flipped it, apply some of the reserved spice rub to give the breast side an even coating if any of the rub came off while the turkey was breast side down.
Put turkey back in oven and continue cooking at 375 degrees.
Melt butter in a small saucepan for basting. Check turkey every half-hour and baste with butter. If breast begins to brown too much before the bird is up to temperature, place aluminum foil gently over breast to shield it from direct heat.
After about an hour and a half, check the temperature by inserting a thermometer deeply into the space between the leg and the bottom of the breast. Cook until the internal temp reaches 165 degrees F, 2 1/2 - 3 hours total (or longer for a larger bird). Pull turkey and allow it to rest 15 - 20 minutes. Carefully remove it to a cutting board.
To carve turkey, first remove trussing twine. Then remove drumsticks and thighs by slicing through the skin that joins the thigh to the breast and then cutting downward until you reach the joint. Push down on the thigh to expose the joint and then cut through it. Separate drumstick from thigh cutting at the joint. Cut thigh meat away from the bone and slice into serving portions.
Next, remove wings by slicing through the joint, then set them aside. To carve breast, cut slice from the sides roughly parallel to the center of the breast. Place the meat on a platter and serve. For a smaller dinner, consider just serving the breast and thighs and keeping the drumsticks and wings as leftovers.