I’ve always hated holidays,” admits Patrick O’Connell, chef-proprietor of The Inn at Little Washington. “It was the false hope of all this hype and expectation that was always dashed in minutes.” But the Michelin-starred culinarian has figured out how to avoid the disappointment: by making memorable meals for families who come to his restaurant to celebrate. “We have one foot in grandmother’s kitchen and one foot in three-star expectations from our guests,” he says.
But for those who decide to stay home and do their own cooking, he has recipes to share. The turkey here was influenced by a Swedish woman he once worked for, who taught him to use spruce branches to weigh down gravlax while it cured. Can’t find a spruce branch? That’s OK—O’Connell says that home cooks can pick and choose from the ingredients listed when they make the complex brine.
He recommends serving the turkey with pickled cranberries, the recipe for which is also included here. “Without it, your palate fatigues,” he explains, comparing the tangy berries to including pickles on a sandwich.
As much as holidays were a disappointment growing up, they also allowed O’Connell to spend time watching his grandmother cook in her Wisconsin home. “I always hung with her because she was a delight,” he recalls. “I didn’t think of her so much as a cook as a magician. She was capable of transforming anything that came into her path into something fantastic.”
He tries to apply the same alchemy in his restaurant, where he says that on holidays, “The people in the kitchen working, we’re having more fun.” But it’s thanks to his grandmother and her feasts that O’Connell has found the route to his own brand of magic.
The Inn at Little Washington
309 Middle St., Washington
Start to finish: 11 hours, 55 minutes
3¼ cups granulated sugar
2 cups honey
1¼ cups kosher salt
2 lemons, cut in half
6 parsley sprigs
6 dill sprigs
6 thyme sprigs
6 tarragon sprigs
6 sage sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
2 whole cinnamon sticks
5 whole bay leaves
8 whole cloves
1 tablespoon juniper berries
1 tablespoon whole cardamom pods
2 tablespoons whole black
5 whole star anise
1 tablespoon whole allspice
One 2-foot-long spruce branch, washed and cut into small pieces
One 1-foot-long piece sassafras root, washed and cut into small pieces (If you can’t find whole sassafras root, 3 to 4 ounces of loose sassafras tea can be substituted.)
2 gallons boiling water
One 18- to 20-pound turkey
One 2-by-2-foot square cheesecloth
4 cups butter, melted and kept warm
Spruce limbs, for garnish
Pickled Cranberries (see below)
In a 5-gallon heatproof container large enough to hold a 20-pound turkey, combine first 22 ingredients (through sassafras root). Add boiling water to container, and let mixture cool to room temperature. Submerge turkey in brine; cover and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Remove turkey from brine; discard brine. Rinse turkey under cold water, and transfer to a large roasting pan. Carefully submerge cheesecloth in melted butter; place buttered cheesecloth on top of turkey.
Roast turkey in preheated oven until a thermometer inserted in thickest part of thigh registers 160°F, 3 to 4 hours, basting cheesecloth with melted butter about every 30 minutes.
Remove turkey from oven, and let rest 30 minutes. Carefully remove cheesecloth, and transfer turkey to a serving platter. Surround platter with spruce limbs. Serve turkey with Pickled Cranberries (recipe below).
Start to finish: 25 minutes
One 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries, washed and picked over
1¼ cups granulated sugar
1¼ cups apple cider vinegar
½ cup apple cider
½ cup water
5 whole cloves
¼ teaspoon whole allspice
¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
1 whole cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon peeled and roughly chopped fresh ginger
In a 4-quart saucepan, combine all ingredients, and bring to a rolling boil. Remove pan from heat, and let cool. Discard cinnamon stick. Strain cranberries, reserving cooking liquid. Transfer cranberries to sterile decorative glass jars or plastic containers. Cover with reserved cooking liquid, and seal. Serve cranberries with Spruced-Up Turkey.
This story originally appeared in our December print issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.