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Lemon and fennel rubbed turkey with honey-sage brown butter

Lemon fennel roast turkey

Susan Selasky for the Detroit Free Press

Boost your turkey’s flavor quotient with a little help from fresh lemons, fennel seeds, and a lightly-spiced brown butter sauce.



Yield 12


Lemon and fennel rub

  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled, pressed or finely-minced
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • Zest from 2 lemons
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme or 1 tablespoon dried
  • 1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds, freshly ground, or 2 teaspoons ground
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, freshly ground, or 2 teaspoons ground
  • 1 tablespoon sugar


  • 1 fresh turkey (12 to 14 pounds) or frozen, thawed
  • 1 medium yellow onion, quartered
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 lemon, quartered

Sage brown butter

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely-chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


To prepare rub: In a medium bowl, combine garlic, salt, lemon zest, lemon juice, oil, 3 tablespoons fresh thyme (or 1 tablespoon dried), fennel, pepper and sugar.

To dry-brine turkey: Remove and reserve giblets and neck for making giblet stock for gravy if desired. Thoroughly pat the turkey dry inside and out with paper towels. Place on a platter and loosen the skin of the breast and legs. Spread about one-third of the rub mixture under the skin, one-third on the outside, and the remaining third inside the cavity. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

When ready to roast the turkey: Remove turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting. Transfer the turkey to a roasting rack set in a roasting pan. Place onion, lemon and thyme sprigs in the cavity. Tuck the wings under the body and tie the legs together.

Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 425 degrees.

Meanwhile, make sage brown butter: In medium skillet, stir 6 tablespoons of butter over medium heat for about 4 minutes, or until it melts and turns nutty brown. Add sage and garlic and stir for about 1 minute. Pour butter into medium bowl and let cool. Add remaining 10 tablespoons butter to brown butter and blend well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place a few tablespoons of this butter under the skin.

Roast the turkey until the skin starts to brown in spots, 20 to 30 minutes.Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and roast for 1 hour more. Brush with more of the browned butter.

Turn the roasting pan 180 degrees and tent the breast with foil. Brush again with more butter. Continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh without touching bone registers 165 degrees, 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours more.

Carefully tilt the turkey so the juices from the cavity flow into the pan. Transfer the turkey to a clean cutting board and tent with foil. Let rest 40 minutes before carving. If desired, make gravy with pan drippings.


Adapted from Eating Well magazine, November/December 2016 issue. Tested by Susan Selasky for the Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen. Nutrition information not available.

Shown: A Thanksgiving turkey prepared in the Detroit Free Press test kitchen Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. Photo by Regina H. Boone/Detroit Free Press

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