Free Range Citrus-Stuffed Herbed Turkey

The following is from The 150 Healthiest Comfort Foods on Earth by Dr. Jonny Bowden and Jeannette Bessinger for Fair Winds Press.


From Dr. Jonny: The holidays don’t have to be a time when you stop eating healthy; you can still enjoy many of the fabulous comforting offerings the season provides in abundance. Here’s a tremendous and traditional holiday meal for you that won’t feel you leaving one bit deprived. The turkey and cranberry-orange sauce are borrowed from The Healthiest Meals on Earth—one of our most popular recipes but the dressing is all new. It’s a remake of a comfort food staple which, although classic, is usually a high-glycemic, low-nutrient affair that can wreak havoc with your waistline. Our version is way better and just as tasty.


Free Range Citrus-Stuffed Herbed Turkey

We made the turkey “sans gravy” and stuffed it with a flavor-rich combo of herbs and citrus for a juicy and aromatic bird. (Free-range turkey only, please! You don’t need the added hormones and steroids!) Traditionally, this type of a whole-bird preparation calls for at least one stick of butter, but we reduced it and mixed it with olive oil, giving you a nice mix of heart-healthy fat and valuable olive phenols. (To get all the “good stuff,” use extra-virgin olive oil.) Fun fact: contrary to popular opinion, most of the fat in butter is actually monounsaturated fat, the same healthy fat found in olive oil!


To Brine:

  • 1 18–20 lb turkey (free-range, not self-basting)

You will need 2 to 3 gallons of brining solution for an 18–20 lb turkey.

Per gallon of water, add:

  • 1 cup salt
  • ½ cup raw honey
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel, optional
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange peel, optional
  • ½ tablespoon cardamom pods, optional
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, optional


To Prepare the Turkey for Roasting:

  • 8 sprigs each of fresh rosemary (young and tender, not woody), sage and thyme, (1¼ to 1½ cups total when coarsely chopped)*
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 whole head garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange
  • ½ stick butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup sherry


Starting with 2 gallons of water, mix the brining solution (salt through thyme) in the correct proportions, stirring until the salt and honey are dissolved. Rinse the turkey and pat it dry. Place the turkey in a lobster pot or large stockpot. Pour the brining solution to cover the turkey completely. Place turkey in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours. Remove, rinse very well under running water and dry thoroughly, including cavity. If you want crisper skin, brine and rinse the day before and place it, breast side up and uncovered in the basting pan in the fridge overnight to allow excess moisture to evaporate.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Stem and coarsely chop the herbs, setting aside about ¾ (about 2/3 to 1 cup of herbs) of the total. Mince the remaining fourth (about ½ cup) of the herb mixture and put into a medium bowl.

Peel the shallots and garlic. Cut shallots in half, crush garlic cloves, and add to herbs. Quarter but do not peel the lemon and orange and squeeze them gently to make a little juice, tossing fruit and juice together with other ingredients in the bowl.

Using your hands, mix softened butter with olive oil in a small bowl until creamy.
Moving carefully so as not to puncture the skin, work your hand between the turkey skin and the breast as far as you can go to create a pocket over both breasts. Smear half of the butter/olive oil mixture over the breasts, covering as much meat as you can reach.
Place half of the reserved, coarsely chopped herbs in each pocket (on top of each breast). Do this carefully, and when complete, gently reshape (from the outside) the herb “pouches” above each breast to look rounded and smooth. Salt and pepper the inside of both cavities and stuff with fruit and herbs mixture. Tuck the wings behind the back, tuck the skin folds over the cavities to close, and truss the legs. Smear the entire bird with remaining butter/olive oil mixture, salt and pepper. Slowly pour sherry inside of the breast pockets, working it around to the leg joints.

Place V rack inside of roasting pan and cover with foil.** Poke about 15 holes into the foil. Bake on V rack, breast side down, for 45 minutes then reduce oven temp to
325°F. Turn bird breast side up, baste (can supplement juices with a few tablespoons of sherry if you wish), cover with tinfoil and continue to cook for about 2½ to 3 hours more, depending on the size of your bird. Remove the tinfoil to brown the breast and continue to cook for another 30 to 40 minutes, or until the thickest part of the breast and innermost parts of thighs and wings register at least 165°F on meat thermometer. When turkey is done, legs should roll loosely on the joint and the leg juices should run clear. Let rest on cutting board for about 20 minutes before carving.


Yield: On birds more than 12 pounds, allow ½ to 3/4 lb per person, so an 18-pound turkey can serve between 24 and 36 people.


Notes from Chef Jeannette:

*If you are working with a large bird (that will take a longer cooking time) or desire a milder herb flavoring, use the whole stems (without chopping) under the skin. Just remove the large pieces when the cooking is complete and use as a garnish.

**If you don’t own a V rack, try using 2 miniature loaf pans (4 or 5” by 3”), face down and set on either side of your roasting pan (in the middle, lengthwise). If using the loaf pans, no need for tinfoil.