Padma Lakshmi, the television host and producer, author and activist, was preparing a turkey ahead of Thanksgiving to perfect her recipe for publication. To start, she swirled a wide ladle full of Kampot black peppercorns over one of the seven burners on her custom Lacanche range, watching and sniffing and waiting for them to crackle and release their perfume.
About a decade ago, Lakshmi began hosting Thanksgiving to give her daughter the experience of American holiday traditions. She asked the butcher at the nearby Essex Market how to keep the meat moist when she was picking up her bird. The butcher suggested soaking the turkey in buttermilk before roasting, which helped Lakshmi realize that cooking a turkey is essentially like preparing a really big chicken.
For a savory-sweet balance of sugar and salt, Lakshmi throws in both black pepper and ground cayenne for their distinct types of fruity heat, and fresh bay leaves for their woodsy aroma. After soaking the turkey for a few days, she sets the drained bird on a pile of seasonal fruits and vegetables, which she turns into a complexly flavored yet easy gravy.
To acknowledge the Thanksgiving harvest, Lakshmi combines the last of the Northeast’s fall apples with the first of California’s winter citrus, both from places where she spent her childhood. Seasonal fennel joins the fruit, along with onion, garlic, ginger, and herbs and spices to perfume the meat and pan sauce. The fruits and vegetables collapse over the long roast, while soaking up the savory turkey juices.
Lakshmi doesn’t know yet what she will serve this year, but she is confident she’s ready. With her dog at her feet, she handed her 11-year-old daughter a taste of turkey and said, “Thanksgiving marks the beginning of hunkering down at home with my family. I love it.”
Slow-roasted turkey with apple gravy
Ingredients for the brine:
• 8 fresh bay leaves
• 2 1/2 quarts buttermilk
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 1/2 cup coarse sea salt
• 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, toasted and ground
• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cayenne
• 1 (14-pound) fresh or thawed frozen whole turkey, neck and giblets removed
Ingredients for the turkey:
• 20 fresh bay leaves
• 3 small Fuji or Honeycrisp apples, cored and cut into wedges
• 2 small Granny Smith apples, cored and cut into wedges
• 2 small fennel bulbs, sliced
• 1 medium red onion, sliced
• 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
• 1 small bunch thyme
• 10 slices fresh ginger
• 12 garlic cloves, sliced
• 1 orange, cut into 1-inch wedges
• Coarse sea salt
• 1 1/2 tablespoons black peppercorns, toasted, plus more
toasted and ground for seasoning
• 1 lemon, quartered
• Extra-virgin olive oil
Ingredients for the gravy:
• 1/2 cup unsalted butter
• 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 2 tablespoons brandy
• Salt and pepper
Brine the turkey: Tear the bay leaves. Place in a bowl with the buttermilk, sugar, salt, black pepper and cayenne, and stir to dissolve the sugar. Place the turkey in a brining bag, pour in the buttermilk mixture and tie the bag closed. Place in a pot, making sure the legs are immersed in the brine, and refrigerate for at least 48 hours and up to 72 hours.
Position a rack at the bottom of the oven and heat to 450 degrees. Tear the bay leaves. Spread the apples, fennel, onions, 12 bay leaves and half of the thyme, ginger, garlic and orange across the bottom of a large roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and the whole peppercorns.
Drain the turkey and wipe dry. Place it in the pan breast side up, and rub its cavity with salt and ground pepper. Stuff the cavity with the lemon and the remaining bay leaves, thyme, ginger, garlic and orange. Tuck the wings underneath and tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Sprinkle the turkey with salt and ground pepper, and drizzle everything with oil; generously coat the skin. Transfer to the oven and roast 20-40 minutes.
Pour 2 cups water into the pan, cover the turkey with foil and loosely crimp around the edges of the pan. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and slide the pan back into the oven. Slow-roast about 4 hours.
Uncover, baste all over with the pan juices and roast uncovered until the meat registers 155 degrees in the breast and 165 degrees in the thigh, 30-45 minutes. The internal temperature will continue to rise as the turkey rests. Let cool slightly, then transfer the turkey to a serving platter.
Make the gravy: Smash the fruits and vegetables in the roasting pan. Set a colander with small holes over a bowl, and pour in everything from the pan. Discard the solids in the colander; scrape any strained pulp into the bowl. Skim and discard fat from the strained juices.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk 3-5 minutes. While whisking, add the defatted pan juices, whisking until smooth, then stir in the brandy. Simmer until thickened, 4-5 minutes. Keep warm over low.
When ready to serve, season the gravy to taste with salt and pepper. Carve the turkey and serve with the hot gravy.
Total time: About 6 hours, plus 2 days’ brining, serves 8-12.
Lakshmi toasts her peppercorns dry in a metal ladle held and swirled over a medium flame on a gas stove, 2-3 minutes. You can use a small skillet instead. She pounds her pepper in a mortar with a pestle. You can use a spice grinder.