Roast Turkey with Smoked Paprika and Fennel

This smoked paprika-fennel roast turkey with gravy is perfect for Thanksgiving. It’s basted with a compound butter made with paprika and fennel and is unlike any turkey you’ve ever experienced. From chef Tom Douglas.

This roast turkey recipe, basted with butter that’s infused with smoked paprika and fennel, is unlike any you’ve ever had before. Promise. It has a taste that matches its beautifully burnished skin thanks to the subtle notes of smoked paprika. And the gravy is revelatory. Thanks go to chef Tom Douglas for the recipe. (And those of you already familiar with Tom Douglas’s recipes will stop reading right now and head to the store to collect ingredients. That’s how reliable and revelatory his recipes tend to be. Trust us. After decades of testing cookbook recipes, we know.–David Leite

Roast Turkey with Smoked Paprika and Fennel

Smoked Paprika and Fennel Seed Roast Turkey with Onion Gravy
This smoked paprika-fennel roast turkey with gravy is perfect for Thanksgiving. It’s basted with a compound butter made with paprika and fennel and is unlike any turkey you’ve ever experienced. From chef Tom Douglas.
Tom Douglas

Prep 1 hr
Cook 2 hrs 30 mins
Total 3 hrs 30 mins
10 to 12 servings
5 from 1 vote
Print RecipeBuy the How to Cook a Turkey and All the Other Trimmings cookbook

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For the fennel salt

  • 3 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds toasted in a small dry skillet over medium heat until very fragrant, then ground
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

For the smoked paprika and fennel seed butter

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter softened
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds toasted in a small dry skillet over medium heat until very fragrant, then ground
  • 1 tablespoon sweet pimentón*
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (save the stems for the turkey cavity)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the turkey

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
  • 1 large onion thinly sliced
  • One (11-to-12-pound) turkey trimmed of excess fat
  • 1 recipe Fennel Salt
  • 6 cloves garlic peeled
  • Zest of 1 lemon, preferably organic removed in long strips with a vegetable peeler
  • 4 large sprigs thyme plus the stems from the chopped thyme above

For the onion gravy

  • 7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium canned chicken broth hot


Make the fennel salt

  • In a small bowl, combine the salt, fennel, and pepper in a small bowl. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the fennel salt mixture for sprinkling on the turkey and transfer the rest to a couple of small, shallow dishes for passing at the table.

Make the smoked paprika-fennel butter

  • Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and blend well. Set aside at room temperature or cover and refrigerate for up to several days.

Make the turkey

  • Position a rack in the lowest part of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Brush a large flameproof roasting pan lightly with 1 tablespoon melted butter. Make a bed of the onions in the center of the pan.
  • Trim the wingtips of the turkey at the first joint and, if already loose, trim the tail from the turkey. Remove the neck and giblets (discarding the liver) and set them aside with the wingtips and tail for making the broth. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Place the turkey on a work surface and loosen the skin over the breasts by sliding your hands under the skin.
  • Rub all the smoked paprika-fennel butter under the skin, smearing it over the breast. Brush the turkey skin with the remaining 3 tablespoons melted butter. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons fennel salt all over the skin of the turkey (sprinkle a little inside the cavity, too). Then place the garlic cloves, lemon zest, and thyme sprigs inside the cavity. If you like, tuck the legs into the tail flap (or tie them together loosely if there’s no flap).
  • Place the turkey, breast side up, on top of the onions in the roasting pan. Roast for 1 hour and then baste the turkey with the drippings that have collected in the pan. Rotate the pan and continue to roast, basting every 20 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 170°F (77°C), another 1 1/2 to 2 hours. (If the turkey is browning too much, tent it with foil.) Set the turkey on a large platter to rest, tented with foil, for about 20 minutes while you make the gravy.

Make the onion gravy

  • Place the roasting pan with the sliced onion and juices over medium-high heat. (It may need to straddle 2 burners, depending on your stove). With a wooden spoon, stir up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan and continue stirring for a few minutes, allowing the onions to brown a little more.
  • Sprinkle the flour evenly over the sliced onion and juices and stir until the flour is well combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Start adding the hot broth, 1 ladleful at a time, whisking to dissolve anylumps before you add more broth. Continue to add broth gradually, whisking each time until smooth, until you’ve added about 4 1/2 cups broth. Add any juices that have collected on the platter around the turkey. Lower the heat to medium or medium-low and gently simmer the gravy, whisking occasionally, until it’s full-flavored and thickened, 3 to 10 minutes. If it seems too thick, add the remaining 1/2 cup broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm until ready to serve and then transfer to a gravy boat.
  • Serve the turkey and onion gravy
  • Carve the turkey. Pass the gravy and the remaining fennel salt at the table.
Print RecipeBuy the How to Cook a Turkey and All the Other Trimmings cookbook

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*What Is Pimentón And Where Can I Find It?

Pimentón, often referred to as Spanish smoked paprika, is literally paprika that’s been smoked low and slow over oak wood. It takes on a subtle smokiness that’s incomparable to plain old paprika. You want to purchase sweet pimentón if you can find it. Look for Spanish smoked paprika in specialty stores or online.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This smoked paprika-fennel roast turkey was the first test recipe in my new oven. And what a way to begin a new adventure. This turkey recipe is the one to use if you want a beautiful bird that will steal the show. It’s moist and flavorful with a comfortable blend of fennel seed and smoked paprika. And the paprika almost guarantees an almost spicy, smoky bite and the perfect skin tone (or maybe my new oven has a tanning button?).

The gravy was also a discovery for me. I had never really followed a recipe for gravy—now I know to do that! The onion bed that comforts the turkey during roasting turns into the most delicious base for the gravy. All in all, it was smoky, paprika-y, oniony, garlic-y, ummmm, FANTASTIC.

Next time I might up the fennel ante to get more of that flavor in there, but then I do like fennel. The amount in the recipe is probably perfect for everyone else.

WINNER! This smoked paprika-fennel roast turkey is great recipe that was easy to execute and the result was very, very good. The onion gravy was the BEST.

The fennel salt was easy to make, as was the paprika and fennel seed butter. There was a lot of butter and I stuffed most of it under the skin. The turkey was moist with an earthy paprika and fennel flavor. It was hard to detect the lemon but I could taste the garlic and thyme. I didn’t use the whole 2 tablespoons fennel salt as it just felt like too much. I used about 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon.

I roasted the bird as directed for 3 hours, took it out, and tented it until we were ready to eat, which was about an hour later. The gravy was so rich and flavorful. It really made the whole dish. The onions were nicely caramelized and the browned bits in the pan added great depth. I didn’t have to add any more salt to the gravy, so I feel like my decision to not add all of the salt on the turkey was correct. Oh, and it really dressed up the mashed potatoes!

But this is what I found confusing. The header mentions smoked paprika but in the ingredient list it calls for sweet pimenton. So I looked it up and found several definitions for pimenton, some smoked, some sweet, some smoked sweet. I ended up using plain old paprika, which I bought fresh at a farmer’s market, and left it at that. I looked for sweet but didn’t find any and it worked out just fine. It wasn’t overpowering like some smoked paprika I’ve used in the past and I was happy about that. I wouldn’t change anything about this and would continue to use paprika, not smoked paprika.

Originally published October 30, 2018


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