This post was originally published in 2013 but thought it was worth a few more words. Yesterday I was describing how I made my turkey to one of our guests. She asked if she could watch as I prepared the bird for our feast. I agreed to give her a demo as I prepped the bird. In addition to watching me deconstruct the turkey and prepare the legs and thighs, she also watched as I minced onion, sage and celery for the stuffing, diced bacon and cleaned the sprouts for George’s favorite Brussels sprout recipe, and prepare the neck and giblets used in the stuffing. The cranberries ans pumpkin pie were made yesterday but I did share my cranberry recipe with her. Then she went off to get ready for her day. It dawned on me that I had just given a mini cooking class – but without the stress normally associated with my normal classes. Here’s a thought – Perhaps I should just invite people to come and watch as I prepare dinners if they are interested in what I am doing!
Oh, and here’s the recipe for my deconstructed turkey.
Thursday I had a Turkey epiphany! For years I have been making our bird the same way generations of women in my family prepared a turkey; rinse it, season it, stuff it, roast it and hope for the best. This year I decided to try something different. I decided to make a deconstructed turkey a la Julie Child. Over the years our big turkey complaint has been that the breast is over cooked and dry by the time the legs are done. I read that deconstructing the turkey insures it will cook more evenly and result in a moister bird. I know that Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners have traditions that should never be messed with but if it meant a moist turkey – Count me in.
I followed the recipe from Cooks Illustrated and was so pleased with the results that I will never cook another intact turkey again. Here’s the recipe with my changes.
- one 12 – 14 lb turkey ( you can brine your turkey if you want. I used a Butterball so brining was not recommended)
- 3 tbl grapeseed or vegetable oil
- 1 tsp minced sage
- salt and pepper
- wooden skewers and twine
- your favorite dressing recipe – some things are absolutely sacred and stuffing is one of them!
Prepping the Turkey
Begin by removing the giblet packet and neck bone. Set aside for stock. With the turkey breast side up, cut through the skin along the leg quarter where it meets the breast. Bend the leg back until the bone pops out of the socket. Cut through the joint to separate the leg quarter form the turkey. Repeat with other leg quarter.
The next step is to remove the thigh bone from the leg quarter. Place the leg quarter skin side down on the cutting board. Using a very sharp boning knife (or paring knife) remove the meat from the thigh bone by slicing right next to the bone – almost as you would for frenching. Be sure to keep the skin intact.
Once the meat has been separate from the bone bend the bone back to pop it out of the joint and separate the thigh bone from the leg socket. Just a tip – this is much easier to do on a chicken. You will need to exert a little force. Once the bone is out of the joint use a pair of kitchen shears to separate the two.
Repeat with the remaining leg quarter. This will result in two leg quarters with the thigh bones removed.
Rub interior of each thigh with 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp minced sage and 1/4 tsp pepper.
Close up the thighs by rolling together and trussing with the skewers and twine. Use at least two skewers per thigh ( I cut my skewers in half to make them more size appropriate. I didn’t want a ten inch skewer sticking out of the leg quarter.)
Place on a plate, cover and refrigerate for up to six hours.
Next you need to separate the back from the turkey. Cut through the ribs from tapered end of breast to wing joints. Using your hands, bend the back away from the breast until the shoulder joint pops. Cut through the popped joint to remove the back. Place the breast on a plate, cover and refrigerate for up to six hours.
While I was butchering the bird I preheated the oven to 450 degrees F . I placed the thigh bones and back in a lightly oiled pan and placed them in the oven to brown. I cooked them for about 20 minutes, removed them from the oven and transferred them to s stock pot with two carrots, two celery stalks, salt and pepper. (I left the rendered fat and the fond resulting from roasting the bones in the pan. This would be the basis for my gravy. ) I put the stock pot over a low heat and let it simmer until the bones had given up all their roasted goodness – about two hours. I removed the bones and strained the stock. The bones and vegetables were discarded (after I picked all the meat off the bones – Boz lucks out this week!) The stock when back on the stove to simmer until it had reduce and had reached the flavor I was looking for. This would go into my gravy.
Make your favorite stuffing.
Cooking the Turkey
Note: The total roasting time will be from 1 hour 40 minutes to 2 hours twenty minutes plus time to rest, so plan accordingly.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Rub 2 tsps of oil over the breast of the turkey and place the turkey breast, skin side down in a large skillet. Put the skillet in the oven and roast the breast for 30 minutes. Meanwhile oil or spray the pan you intend to use to roast the bird. Place the stuffing in the bottom of the pan and spread it out into a rectangle of even thickness. When the 30 minutes are up, remove the breast from the oven. The original recipe indicates you should use two wads of paper towels to take the breast out of the skillet and place it over the stuffing mix. Paper towels weren’t going to work for me so I used my tongs. Use whatever works for you – just get the breast over the stuffing in the roasting pan. Remove the prepared leg quarters from the refrigerator and place in the roasting pan with the breast, covering as much as possible of stuffing not covered by the breast.
Transfer the pan to the 425 degree F oven and roast for 30 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and continue roasting until the thickest part of the breast registers 160 to 165 degrees and the thickest part of the thigh registers 175 to 180 degrees, about 40 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes longer.
When I pulled our bird out of the oven I was amazed! The skin was beautifully brown and crisp. After allowing the bird to rest for awhile George started carving. The breast was moist, the thighs beautifully done and, I have to admit, make a nice presentation when sliced into medallions. I regret I do not have a picture of the bird as it came out of the oven. – I was busy making gravy – but I do have a picture of the thighs
I apologize that this isn’t the beauty shot I was going for. But hey, I was getting hungry! You can see how juicy the meat is in this picture. And this was after the bird sat for 30 minutes.
There is no doubt that this preparation takes a little longer but there is no basting, no tenting the bird, and best of all, the moistest most evenly cooked bird I have ever had. And, for those of you who are die hard stuff the bird people – let me tell you the stuffing was as good (moist and full of turkey flavor) as any traditional inside the bird preparation. This is a KEEPER!