Cook's Country (October/November 2011)
When it comes to Thanksgiving cooking, are there any three words that sound more enticing? (Or more sacrilegious? After all, what is Thanksgiving Day without slaving away in a crowded, overheated kitchen while a huge bird takes up your entire oven for three and a half hours?)
Seriously, though: "Make-ahead turkey." Think of how dry it would be! How tasteless! But think of how much easier it would make your cooking! Think of how much less stressful your Thanksgiving could be!
As Cook's Country points out, many restaurants do it for holidays, with great success, so why not try it at home?
"Make-ahead turkey." We had to try it!
We're here to tell you, not only is this make-ahead turkey the easiest turkey recipe we've ever made, it's also the best turkey recipe we've ever made. Ever.
And p.s.? This is also the best gravy we've ever made.
We did have one major hurdle with this recipe, and that was finding turkey leg quarters. We called about half a dozen grocery stores looking for them, to no avail. (This may have had something to do with the fact that we were cooking a turkey in October; you might have better luck closer to Thanksgiving. But several of the stores told us they wouldn't be getting any turkey leg quarters in stock at all.) We finally found some at Market Poultry at Eastern Market, a food hall here in D.C.
Because the turkey we got was natural and unenhanced, we followed the recipe's suggestion and brined it overnight. We did a simple salt-water brine of one-half cup kosher salt per gallon of water.
Roasting the bird the day before you plan to serve it is very straightforward, but it takes a rather long time. With the cooking and cooling, you need to budget roughly five hours. But the actual work time involved is nothing: Smear the turkey with butter, salt and pepper, and throw it in the oven. Later, while the meat is cooling, you make a very simple stock and reduce it. It's honestly about 20 minutes of actual work.
Trust us: When you're doing this the day before the meal -- and not simultaneously worrying about sweet potatoes, stuffing, and everything else -- it's actually quite leisurely.
The next day -- the day of the big meal -- all you need is 20 minutes to reheat the turkey. TWENTY MINUTES!
We plated the turkey and ladled the gravy, thinking, "There's no way this can be as good as a turkey fresh from the oven."
Believe us, it's better.
The turkey was perfect. We could throw a lot of other words in there -- juicy, moist, tender, flavorful. But really, it was just perfect.
And the gravy! Oh, the gravy.... It's rich, silky and savory. It is the quintessential Thanksgiving gravy, the gravy you're thinking of when you hear the phrase "turkey and gravy." It, too, is perfect.
The only downside to this recipe is that because you cook the bird in pieces and you carve it before reheating it, you don't get a Norman-Rockwell-bring-the-huge-turkey-to-the-table-while-everybody-applauds moment. If that's important to you, well, you might not be interested in this recipe.
Us? We couldn't care less about carving the turkey in front of an audience. Plus, since you carve this bird when it's fresh out of the fridge, it slices cleanly and evenly. We've never had such great-looking slices.
So if you want an absolutely fantastic Thanksgiving bird and a phenomenal gravy -- and you want a much less stressful day in the kitchen -- don't fear the phrase "make-ahead turkey." Embrace it!
It just might revolutionize your Thanksgiving.
Serves 10 to 12
Check the label when you're shopping for turkey. If there's an ingredient list, the bird has been enhanced and will work in this recipe. If you prefer natural, unenhanced parts, we recommend brining. (Dissolve 1 cup of salt in 2 gallons of cold water. Submerge the turkey in the brine, cover, and refrigerate for 3 to 6 hours. Proceed with step 1 of Day 1, omitting the salt for seasoning.)
Notes from Zach and Clay of TheBittenWord.com:
- Several readers have written to ask about the two turkey legs are used in the making of the gravy for this recipe. Are they served or discarded? The answer is that the legs are discarded along with the other solids after you make the stock, as the flavor of them has mostly been extracted in order to make a flavorful base for the gravy.
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
4 (1½- to 1¾-pound) turkey leg quarters, trimmed
1 (6- to 7-pound) whole bone-in turkey breast, trimmed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Salt and pepper
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 cups water
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Adjust oven racks to middle and lowest positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Place onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and thyme in large roasting pan. Set V-rack inside pan. Pat turkey legs and breast dry with paper towels. Arrange 2 legs and breast, skin side up, in V-rack. Brush turkey with butter and season with salt and pepper. Place remaining 2 legs in 13 by 9-inch baking dish and season with salt and pepper.
Place roasting pan on middle rack and baking dish on lower rack. Roast until breast registers 160 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, 2 to 2½ hours. Transfer 2 legs and breast to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.
Transfer vegetables in roasting pan and remaining 2 legs to large pot, scraping up any browned bits. Add broth, water, bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon pepper and bring to boil. Simmer over medium-low heat until reduced to 5 cups, 1¼ to 1½ hours. Pour through fine-mesh strainer into large container, discarding solids. Let cool for 1 hour, cover, and refrigerate for 4 hours or up to 2 days. Wrap cooled legs and breast tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
Scrape fat from top of chilled stock and reserve 5 tablespoons. Bring stock to simmer in medium saucepan. Set aside ¼ cup stock. Heat reserved fat in large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Slowly whisk in remaining 4¾ cups stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened and reduced to 4 cups, 12 to 14 -minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Transfer legs and breast to carving board. Separate legs into thighs and drumsticks and arrange on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Cut breast meat from bone into 2 single breasts. Working one at a time, remove skin from breast in 1 piece; reserve. Slice breast crosswise into ¼-inch slices and place on 18 by 12-inch sheet of aluminum foil, keeping slices together. Pour 2 tablespoons reserved stock over each breast and top with reserved skin. Wrap tightly and place on rack with legs.
Roast until turkey is heated through and thighs and drumsticks are crisp, 20 to 25 minutes. Discard breast skin. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with gravy.