Read through these instructions at least a couple of times before beginning, to get an understanding of how everything comes together. For additional help, I’ll be demonstrating how to cut up a chicken at the Nov. 21 Holiday Farmer’s Market, much of which is applicable to this preparation.
- 1 turkey, any size
- Brine to cover turkey: 1 c. Kosher salt and ½ c. sugar (optional) to 1 gallon water (two gallons of brine usually covers a 12-15 lb. turkey, more for a bigger bird, depending on the container size)
- Herbs and spices for brine, optional, see below
- Aromatics for stock: a halved onion, 2 celery stalks, T. peppercorns, 2 bayleaves
- Freshly ground pepper
- Melted unsalted butter
- Stuffing/dressing of your choice, a minimum of 8 cups for a small turkey, but as much as you want. Stuffing should be at room temperature before beginning to roast the turkey.
- Flour for thickening gravy.
The day before roasting the turkey
Prepare the brine. Stir the salt and sugar in cold water until completely dissolved. Add other aromatics (garlic cloves, onion, bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves, coriander seeds, allspice, etc.) if desired. If using aromatics, crush them lightly and bring to a boil with a cup or two of water. Cool completely before adding to the brine.
Place the turkey in a non-reactive container (a clean 5-gallon plastic bucket works well, as does an ice chest). Add enough brine to completely submerge the turkey. Place a plate or tray on top to weigh the bird down and keep it submerged. Refrigerate overnight. If your refrigerator isn’t big enough, use an ice chest, with some ice added to the brine. You can put a container without ice outside if it’s cool enough (40º or less).
The next morning
Preheat the oven to 450º. Remove the turkey from the brine and pat it dry. Cut the skin along the inside of the turkey’s leg/thigh portion where it attaches to the body. Bend back the joint where the thigh connects to the body until you feel it pop. Using a thin flexible knife, cut along the backbone to cut out the “oyster” (the oval-shaped nugget nestled in the backbone) so that it stays attached to the thigh. Continue cutting, separating the leg/thigh completely.
Now lay the leg/thigh skin side down. Cut down middle of the thigh where the meat is thinnest against the bone, scraping the meat away from the bone. Bend the joint between the leg and thigh to disconnect it (again, it’ll pop). Scrape and cut the meat away to remove the bone and set the bone aside.
With a heavy cleaver, cut the knob off the bottom of the turkey leg about 1½-2 inches; set the knob aside.
Repeat with the other leg/thigh and set both aside.
With heavy kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, cut between the rib bones to separate the breast from the backbone. Set the backbone aside. The breast should now be in one piece with the wings attached. Fold the wing tips behind.
Pat the turkey breast and leg/thigh pieces dry again. If possible, place in front of a fan, skin side up, for one or more hours while preparing the stock and stuffing. This facilitates crispy skin.
Put the reserved bones (leg knobs, thigh bones, and backbone), plus the neck, gizzard and heart in the pan that will be used to roast the turkey. The pan should be suitable for the stovetop as well as the oven.
Roast the trimmings until well browned, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the browned pieces to a large stockpot. (Leave the browned bits in the pan bottom.) Add aromatics and water to cover – about a gallon. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a bare simmer. Cover and simmer while the turkey roasts. The stock will be used to make gravy.
Reduce the oven heat to 350º. Pour off the excess fat from the pan and reserve. Put 1/3-1/2 c. of the stuffing in the middle of each boned thigh. Fold over to enclose the stuffing and fasten with bamboo skewers.
Arrange the stuffing in an oval mound in the pan and put the turkey breast over it. Pull the sides of the breast out and press on the breastbone to make it wider if necessary. Arrange the leg/thigh quarters along the sides. The stuffing should be almost or entirely covered by the turkey. Alternatively, the leg/thighs can be roasted in a separate pan.
Brush the turkey skin with melted butter and sprinkle with pepper.
Place the pan in the oven. Baste with drippings, reserved turkey fat, and/or butter about every ½ hour. After 1 ½-2 hours, begin checking the temperature with an instant read thermometer. Inserted into the thickest part of the meat, it should read 165º. Check both the breast and leg/thighs; removing each as they’re done.
Transfer turkey pieces to a platter as they are done, cover and keep warm. Remove the stuffing to a bowl, cover and keep warm.
To make gravy
There should still be browning on the bottom of the pan. Remove any big chunks of stuffing; little browned bits are OK – actually desirable. Pour off any excess fat and add to the fat reserved from roasting the trimmings.
Pour the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a large container; discard the solids. Measure out the stock you need, reserving any extra for another use.
Place the pan on the stove over medium-high heat. For each cup of stock that you use, add one T. flour and ½ T. turkey drippings/fat and/or butter to the pan. Cook, stirring constantly and scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until no lumps remain, and the flour/fat mixture is lightly golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Add ½ T. vodka or dry white wine per cup of stock and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Whisk in the stock and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the gravy reaches the desired consistency.
With a pair of clean needle-nosed pliers, remove as many of the calcified tendon bones as possible from the base of the turkey legs. To bring a “whole” turkey to the table for carving, place the breast/wings on a platter, and arrange the leg/thighs so that the bird appears whole.
Recipe adapted from Julia and Jacque: Cooking at Home.
Note: I make another batch of stock from the roasted turkey carcass and freeze it to use in the next year’s stuffing.
Check out the article for Roasting a better bird