Every November, the hunt for the best turkey recipe begins. From spatchcocking the bird to infusing the meat with rosemary and sage, you may think you’ve seen and tasted it all. But there are still plenty of delicious flavoring tricks you might not have tried yet. One tip that’s got our attention? Mixing soy sauce into a wet brine before submerging the turkey. This trick prevents the meat from drying out and thoroughly seasons the bird. Soy sauce can even double as a flavor enhancer for your gravy. Here, recipe developer, writer, and editor Christina Chaey (@seechaey) explains how to cook a mouthwatering Thanksgiving turkey and gravy using soy sauce. Plus, she reveals some simple cooking tricks to make tasty vegetable sides and use up leftovers.
How does adding soy sauce to a wet brine make turkey juicier and tastier?
CC: In a traditional wet brine, you often have salt, sugar, and a mix of spices. In the wet brine that I’m using for my Soy Sauce Brine and Glazed Turkey, I add about one cup of Kikkoman soy sauce (Buy from Walmart, $3.58) to the wet brine. That helps do two things: It adds just a hint of not just savory, but umami flavor to the turkey. Something that’s a little extra savory that maybe someone at the table can’t quite place, but makes it taste like the best version of itself. The other thing that the soy sauce brine does: it helps with the browning of the turkey once it’s in the oven. It’s the reddish brown color that’s a signature of the traditional brewing process that Kikkoman uses — which is going to translate to beautifully golden brown skin once the turkey’s in the oven.
How does adding soy sauce to gravy enhance the flavor?
I love how everyone’s on top of soy sauce and gravy, because it’s something that I’ve been doing for years. I think that it’s just perfect; there’s something about the flavor of the Kikkoman soy sauce that complements the flavors of gravy. Just a few drops right at the end and stirred in does wonders to make it taste like the best gravy you’ve ever had. Again, adding those savory, umami notes makes it such a nice addition to the bird.
Moving onto sides: What are your tips for making the most flavorful vegetable dishes?
My biggest tip is make sure that, especially on a day like Thanksgiving where so many things need to go in the oven, you’re setting aside enough time for your vegetables. A golden brown color equals flavor in both turkey and vegetables. So, we want to make sure they have as much time in the oven as they need to develop all of that flavor. On top of that, for a lot of vegetables like carrots, squash, or Brussels sprouts, I love a glaze. I think the glaze that we did for the [Soy Sauce Brine and Glazed] turkey — which is a mix of the Kikkoman soy sauce, some butter, maple syrup, and vinegar — would honestly be a lovely glaze on carrots or Brussels sprouts as well.
What are your ideas for making Thanksgiving cooking prep easier?
I couldn’t live without a list, so I always make one going into the week on that Sunday. I’m just mapping out day by day what I could be doing. Could I be cubing and freezing my bread for stuffing on Sunday or Monday? Absolutely. I’m a big fan of making gravy ahead and refrigerating or freezing it. It’s really about choosing even just one thing a day that you can do in advance. It doesn’t even have to be cooking through the whole thing. It could be just, Today I’m going to chop up all of the vegetables I’ll use for my stuffing. That’s going to go such a long way toward getting you set up for the big day.
On the day after Thanksgiving, what your suggestions for enjoying leftovers?
Kikkomon has this great Thanksgiving Leftover Egg Roll recipe. Another thing I love to do: We always make turkey noodle soup in my family. We have an early Thanksgiving dinner that’s usually around 4 p.m., and immediately after dinner, my dad throws the turkey leftovers and the carcass into a huge pot with carrots, onions, celery, and any leftover herbs. He makes this really delicious stock that we eat with noodles and chopped vegetables as a soup — either for a late snack on the night of Thanksgiving or the morning after. I also love to use that turkey stock, if there’s any left, for a rice porridge like congee with some leftover turkey on top. Also, it is so delicious with some Kikkoman soy sauce and chopped scallions on top.
What dishes are you most looking forward to making this year?
I talked to my mom about our Thanksgiving menu yesterday because I sent her to the store; I’m honestly really excited to make the turkey this year, because she has finally relinquished control of it. That’s the one thing that she doesn’t let anyone touch. But, after convincing her that this is the turkey that she’ll want to eat, she’s finally letting me do it. That’s probably what I’m looking forward to the most.
Soy Sauce Brine and Glazed Turkey Recipe
- 10 ounces soy sauce, divided
- 12 to 14 pound turkey
- 2 gallons cold water
- ¾ cup kosher salt
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 heads of garlic, halved crosswise
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- Handful of mixed woody herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, and/or sage, divided
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 7 pieces
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup
- ¼ cup sherry or red wine vinegar
- 1 (2-inch wide) strip orange zest
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Prep: 10 mins
- Cook: 2 hours
- Total time: 14 hours
- Yield: 8 to 10 servings
- Reserve ¼ cup soy sauce for glaze (use rest of bottle for turkey brine).
- Remove giblets and turkey neck, rinse turkey inside and out.
- In 16-quart stock pot or 5-gallon container, combine water, salt, sugar, garlic, black peppercorns, remaining soy sauce, and most of herbs (save a small bunch for glaze). Stir to dissolve salt.
- Place turkey in the pot, cover with a lid and brine in the refrigerator for at least 8 and up to 12 hours.
- Remove turkey from brine, discard brine along with garlic, peppercorns, and herbs. Pat turkey dry all over with paper towels. Place turkey breast side up on flat on V-shape roasting rack set inside large roasting pan. (If you don’t have a roasting pan, line rimmed baking sheet with foil, set wire rack inside sheet, and place turkey on wire rack.) Let turkey sit at room temperature for one to 2 hours (this will help it cook more evenly).
- Place rack in center of oven; preheat to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Working from neck end of turkey, gently slide your fingers between turkey skin and breast to loosen skin. Place 4 pieces of softened butter underneath skin, rubbing all over breast and taking care not to tear skin. Tie legs together with kitchen twine or string and pour one cup water into roasting pan.
- Roast turkey, rotating pan halfway through, until skin is nicely golden brown all over, 30 to 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine remaining ¼ cup soy sauce, maple syrup, vinegar, herbs, orange zest, cinnamon stick, and 3 tablespoons butter in small saucepan. Cook glaze over medium heat until bubbling and slightly thickened, 8 to 10 minutes. (See second slide below to watch as glaze is brushed over roasted turkey.)
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