I found the following recipe for turkey in November of 1995 in a Saveur cooking magazine. The recipe belongs to a large black lady from Memphis who does professional catering - and obviously knows a lot about good food. Later I found a link to this old article with a portrait of the chef - Anne Scott Coleman with her mother:
At first, when I read the recipe I was not sure that roasting a turkey in a brown bag without basting would produce a turkey I want - juicy, tender with nice brown skin. But the photo of a turkey in the magazine looked great, and the lady looked very trustworthy. But most of all I liked the idea of just putting a turkey in the oven and forgetting about it until it is ready. Anyway, I decided to try the recipe. The success of this recipe in our Russian-American family has exceeded all expectations. Everyone asked for a doggy bag and it was the very first time we had practically no leftovers.
The turkey turned out juicy and soft inside with a beautiful golden brown crisp skin (the best part) and with very little labor involved. As a result, I am using this recipe for over 15 years by now. Occasionally, I get the idea to try something new but our family is so aggressively against it and the turkey itself is so good and not time consuming, that I think this recipe is here to stay indefinitely.
One turkey from 5 to 10 kg (10 to 20 lb)
Salt and pepper to taste
paprika (about a teaspoon)
1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 stick of celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 cup chicken or turkey broth
Brown Grocery Bag
Preheat oven to 375 degree Fahrenheit For fresh turkey, bring the turkey to room temperature by removing it from the refrigerator 1-2 hours before cooking. If frozen, turkey must be first be thawed in the refrigerator, which, depending on the size, may take up to 3 days. If available, I recommend using fresh turkey.
Wash the turkey and wipe it dry with a cloth or paper towels. Rub the inside and out with salt, pepper and paprika. Insert into the turkey cavity coarsely chopped onions, carrots and celery. Tie the legs and push wings under the body. I usually leave only last joint of the wings and cut the rest off to make soup together with the neck and giblets that we traditionally eat on the second day of Thanksgiving. Rub the turkey with 4 tbsp. spoons of softened butter.
Get a standard brown grocery shopping bag and rub it well inside within the remaining two tablespoons of butter. If the turkey is very large, you have to extend your bag before coating with butter. I usually join them together using regular staples. Actually, this bag is the thing in this recipe that does the trick so treating it with respect is very important.
Put the bag on a baking sheet and carefully insert a turkey into it with front part first and with the breast facing up. Pour a cup of broth in the cavity and tightly close the bag (I use paper clips or staples). Put it in preheated oven and forget for 2.5 hours for a 10 lb turkey. Add 12 minutes for each extra pound after 10 pounds, that is, if you have a 20 pounds turkey, as is usually the case with me, you have to add another 120 minutes, so your total roasting time is 4.5 hours.
When the time is up, remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest in a bag for another 30 minutes. Then open the bag and carefully move the turkey on a serving platter. Congratulations, you got a beautiful, tender and juicy bird without basting it every 10 minutes. Discard vegetables from the cavity before serving.
Just in case, here are some detail of the sequence of manipulations with the bag and the turkey. First, I wash, dry and rub coated the turkey with salt, pepper, paprika and lastly butter. Butter has to be softened but not melted!
Then I rub the inside of the bag with the softened butter with my bare hand. Then I place prepared brown bag seam down on a roasting pan or whatever I use for roasting my turkey. Carefully without lifting it from the pan I insert the turkey into the bag. If the turkey is large, it is better to ask someone to hold the bag open while you are inserting your turkey into it. Next, I insert the vegetables into turkey cavity and carefully pour in broth. Lastly, I fold the ends of the bag together and seal it with the stapler or large paper clips.
There is another important thing about a bag. One time after many years of successful brown-bag turkey I had a blunder. The tragic mistake was caused by a seemingly insignificant deviation from normal operating procedures. After I rubbed the bag and the turkey with the butter, added vegetables and broth when I tried to put the turkey in a bag, I slightly ripped the bag so stock started sipping from it. I panicked but my husband, who was helping me with putting turkey in a bag, told not to worry and just pull another bag over it without rubbing it first with butter.
I did not like the idea right away but followed his advice anyway. And I was so wrong! One should always listen to one’s inner voice and not to a culinary-challenged man! When after 30 minutes rest I tore the bag open, I found a very pale steamed looking bird. There was no golden brown crispy skin or awesome aroma of freshly roasted turkey. The skin was slightly yellowish; the meat was juicy and tender, but tasted like a diet food.
The conclusion is, never double bag your turkey. During the roasting some stock leaks from the bag anyway, so I should’ve just continued with my original bag. Or I could start all over again with a new bag. One thing is certain; the second bag completely killed almost fool-proof dish.
See photos in my Russian version of this recipe: