The quest for the “best” Thanksgiving turkey has turned into an annual ordeal — to brine or not to brine, covered or uncovered, how to get thigh and breast meat to perfect yet different temperatures. After overthinking this for far too long, we decided to perfect a tried and true method: basting. Dousing the turkey only twice during roasting is enough, thanks to an herb-laced reduction of brown ale that aids browning and adds savory depth to a rich gravy.
For holiday sides that stay true to the classics but feel updated with bolder flavors, we dress up roasted carrots with raisins plumped in balsamic vinegar, and add pine nuts for texture. And for mashed potatoes, we blend in horseradish for a pungent kick while topping the whole affair with a savory caraway-mustard brown butter.
Brown Ale Turkey and Gravy
Makes 10 servings
Since we baste our bird only twice, there are no worries about it needing constant baby-sitting. A reduction of brown ale and fresh herbs combine to form a rich, malty base. (avoid hoppy beers, which turned unpleasantly bitter when reduced.) We also use a secret ingredient: fish sauce. It adds savory depth to the baste that is reflected in the umami-rich gravy made from pan drippings. And don’t worry — it doesn’t taste at all fishy.
A foil wrap traps the moist heat needed to get succulent breast meat; it’s removed about halfway in to let the skin brown to the crisp crust we crave.
2 medium yellow onions (1 to 1¼ pounds), peeled and cut into 8 wedges each
4 large sprigs fresh thyme
2 large sprigs fresh rosemary
2 large sprigs fresh sage
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 12-ounce bottles brown ale, such as Newcastle Brown Ale
4 tablespoons (½ stick) salted butter, cut into 4 pieces
¼ cup fish sauce
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
12- to 14-pound turkey, neck and giblets discarded
2 stalks celery, quartered
Low-sodium turkey or chicken stock, as needed
¼ cup instant flour, such as Wondra
Heat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the lower middle position. In a 12-inch skillet, combine the onions, thyme, rosemary, sage, bay, garlic, and beer. Bring to a boil, then lower to medium heat and simmer until reduced to 2/3 cup, about 20 minutes.
Strain the mixture into a large bowl, pressing on the solids. Reserve the solids. The liquid should measure 2/3 cup. If not, either reduce further or add water. Return the reduction to the skillet, then add the butter and whisk until melted. Stir in the fish sauce and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper.
Pat the turkey dry inside and out with paper towels and tuck the wings underneath. Spread the reserved solids and celery in a large roasting pan and place the turkey breast side up over the mixture. Pour half of the beer reduction over
the turkey; use your hands to coat it evenly. Cover loosely with foil, then roast for 1½ hours.
Remove the foil. Whisk the remaining reduction, then pour over the turkey. Roast until the breast registers 160 degrees and the thigh registers 175, about an additional 1 hour to 1 hour and 45 minutes. If the turkey gets too dark, cover those areas with foil.
Transfer the turkey to a platter or carving board, then tent with foil and let rest for 30 minutes. Strain the pan drippings into a 4-cup liquid measuring cup, pressing on the solids; discard the solids.
Skim the fat from the drippings. If you have less than 3 cups of defatted drippings, add turkey stock to measure 3 cups, then return to the roasting pan. Whisk in the flour, then set the pan on the stove top and bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer, whisking constantly and scraping the bottom, until thickened, 1 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Carve the turkey, adding any accumulated juices to the gravy, then serve with gravy.
Roasted Carrots With Balsamic Raisins and Pine Nuts
Makes 8 servings
In this simple side dish, carrots are roasted until caramelized, then combined with toasted pine nuts and raisins that have been plumped in white balsamic vinegar. If you can find rainbow carrots, they make for a colorful presentation. Sliced or slivered almonds are good stand-ins for the pine nuts.
To help minimize last minute prep, peel, slice, and refrigerate the carrots in a zip-close bag for up to two days before cooking. The pine nuts can be toasted, cooled, and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days, as well.
Be sure to keep the oven door shut while you stir the carrots at the halfway point. If kept open, the oven will lose much of its heat and the carrots won’t brown properly.
3 pounds medium carrots, peeled, thick ends halved, and cut ½-inch thick on sharp diagonal
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 medium shallots, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
1 cup golden raisins
½ cup white balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
½ cup pine nuts, toasted and roughly chopped
Heat the oven to 500 degrees with a rack in the middle position. In a large bowl, toss the carrots with 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and distribute in an even layer. Roast until golden brown in spots and just tender, 20 to 25 minutes, removing and stirring once halfway through.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and heat until shimmering. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the raisins, vinegar, pepper flakes, and 1 teaspoon of rosemary. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed, 8 to 10 minutes.
When the carrots are done, add the raisin mixture, the remaining 1 teaspoon rosemary, and the pine nuts, then toss to combine. Transfer to a dish and serve warm or at room temperature.
Mashed Potatoes With Caraway-Mustard Butter
Makes 8 servings
These mashed potatoes are classically creamy, but get a kick of sweet heat from horseradish. A drizzle of browned butter spiked with caraway and mustard seeds adds a complexity that balances the richness. We prefer buttery Yukon Gold potatoes; use potatoes of approximately the same size to ensure even cooking. Any brand of refrigerated prepared horseradish works well.
Don’t rush the browning of the butter. It needs to cook slowly over medium heat to properly brown (you’ll see brown spots on the bottom of the saucepan).
4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
5 bay leaves
4 medium garlic cloves, smashed
10 tablespoons salted butter, divided
1¾ cups half-and-half, warmed
½ cup drained prepared white horseradish, liquid reserved
1 tablespoon caraway seeds, lightly crushed
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
In a large Dutch oven, combine the potatoes, 1 tablespoon salt, bay leaves, and garlic. Add enough cold water to cover the potatoes by 2 inches then set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat, then cook until the potatoes are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain the potatoes, then return them to the pot. Discard the bay leaves.
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 6 tablespoons of the butter, then add it to the potatoes. Using a potato masher, mash until smooth. Stir in the half-and-half, horseradish, and 3 tablespoons of the reserved horseradish liquid. Taste and season with salt. Cover and set over low heat to keep warm.
Return the saucepan to medium heat and add the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and the caraway and mustard seeds. Cook, gently swirling the pan, until the butter is browned and seeds are fragrant and toasted, 2 to 3 minutes. Strain into a small glass measuring cup. Transfer the potatoes to a serving dish, then drizzle with the butter and garnish with chives.
Christopher Kimball is the founder of Milk Street, home to a magazine, school, and radio and television shows. Globe readers get 12 weeks of complete digital access, plus two issues of Milk Street print magazine, for just $1. Go to 177milkstreet.com/globe. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.