Brining the Christmas turkey in a saltwater solution has legions of fans, but a dry brine is a revelation. No buckets and no water needed – just a toasty mix of sea salt, pepper, sugar and spice that's rubbed into the bird the day before. It's similar to curing salmon, intensifying the flavour without watering it down. The result is beautifully bronzed skin and juicier, well-seasoned meat that is also easier to carve.
1 x 5kg turkey, fresh or fully thawed
100g soft butter
2 tbsp peppercorns
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp rosemary leaves
1 tbsp grated orange zest
2 tbsp sea salt flakes
2 tbsp brown sugar
1. One day before cooking, make up the dry brine by toasting the fennel seeds and peppercorns in a dry pan until aromatic. Lightly crush in a mortar with rosemary, orange zest, sea salt and sugar until well mixed.
2. Place the turkey on a baking tray and rub the brine mixture over the skin and legs. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 24 hours, draining the tray if necessary.
3. When ready to cook, heat the oven to 180C (160C fan-forced). Bring the turkey to room temperature and brush any remaining brine mixture off the turkey and out of its nooks and crannies, as it will make the cooking juices too salty. Tuck the wing tips in underneath and tie the legs together with kitchen string.
4. Place the turkey on a roasting pan lined with baking paper and smear the skin with most of the butter. Bake the turkey for 2½ hours, turning the pan 180 degrees once or twice. As soon as the breast skin is beautifully brown, cover loosely with a tent of buttered foil to protect it from over-browning.
5. Test by piercing the turkey where the leg joins the body. If the juices run clear, it's cooked. Rest in a warm place for 20 minutes, tented with foil, before carving. Serve with my lemony, herby stuffing and umami-rich Vegemite gravy.
■ Stock up on kitchen foil – you'll be needing it.
■ Brined turkeys need a little less cooking than unbrined birds – allow 30 minutes per kg, at 180C.
■ Serve on warmed plates – otherwise the first person served will be eating cold turkey by the time the last person is served.
This recipe features as part of our Good Food Christmas feast.