Happy Day Before Thanksgiving, my loves! My favorite holiday is upon us, and as it stands, I always start cooking the day before. You could, conceivably, do it all the day of, but why kill yourself over it? If you're the chef, like me, get started today and make room for an extra glass of wine tomorrow.
Today I'm sharing how I cook my turkey, and brace yourself, because it's a bit unconventional. It yields however, the most delicious bird ever, so get into it. Here's what's up: I cook the bird in 3 separate pieces for maximum flavor, tenderness, and to keep it super moist. That's right. I take the bird apart into the breasts, legs/thighs, and wings and cook each piece in a different way. And while it means I can't present the bird as the pièce de résistance of my table, it's so effin' good it don't even matter. Oh, my turkey also cooks in like 2 hours so that's pretty awesome also. How? Super high heat - it's the best, guys.
THANKSGIVING TURKEY 3 WAYS
- 1 Turkey (keep the neck and organs)
- Box of Kosher Salt for dry brine
- Dried herbs for dry brine like rosemary, sage, and thyme
- 1 big plastic bag/trash bag (not food but you need one)
- Canola Oil (about 8-9 cups for the confit, plus more for the breast/thighs)
- 2 sticks of butter
- 10 TBSP honey, give or take
- 1/2 cup fresh herbs like rosemary, sage, and thyme
- black pepper
- 1/2 onion
- 1/2 apple
the day before
The day before Thanksgiving, or two days before, we're going to confit the wings of our turkey and also apply a dry brine to the rest of the turkey. To "confit" means to slow cook an animal protein in it's own fat, or the fat of another animal. Because I don't want to buy gobs of duck fat, I just use canola oil to confit my turkey wings. I even buy 4 extra wings because they turn out so good. So with time in mind, I confit the day before as it takes many, many hours. The day of, I brown the wings in a pan right before dinner and they're crispy on the outside and soft and tender on the inside. It's a great way to enjoy a part of the bird that otherwise goes under-appreciated.
When the wings are removed I apply a dry brine of kosher salt and dried herbs all over my intact bird. I'll break down the bird to the breast and thighs the day of for cooking. A dry brine gives a lot of flavor to the bird and is way easier than a salt water brine. Trust me on this.
1. Wash and dry turkey completely. Save the neck and organs and set aside in the fridge. Cut off the wings of the turkey and set aside. Combine your dried herbs of rosemary, sage, and thyme with kosher salt (you'll be looking for about 2-3 cups of salt/herbs because a lot falls off). Pat the salt/herb combo all over the outside and inside of the turkey. Grab an enormous plastic bag, or a fresh trash bag (my preferred method) and place the turkey inside, making sure to twist the bag so it's air-sealed as best as possible. Put that turkey in the fridge until cook time on Thanksgiving.
2. To confit the wings, completely submerge wings in oil at 250 degrees for 4 to 5 hours (you could get away with 3.5 hours the day of) then let the wings (still in oil) to come to room temp for at least 2 hours before putting the wings in the fridge. Brown them in a pan right before meal time. You'll want to season the wings with salt, pepper, and your herbs before placing in the oil.
the day of
On Thanksgiving Day, I start early so that I can get a good turkey stock going for gravy from my turkey bones, but the actual cook time on the bird is like 90 minutes or LESS. I know - it's a far cry from your mom and grandmother's slow-cooked turkeys, but when you blast the bird with heat, skin-on, it seals in moisture, browns the skin beautifully, and makes for super tasty meat. Plus, it's really easy. As I mentioned before, I cook the breast and thighs separately at different temperatures but the same method, because they SHOULD be cooked at different temps so they can be pulled at the right time for well-doneness. The thighs inherently take longer and should be cooked at a higher temp than the breasts, so removing them from the bird makes a lot of sense. When you do this, you also get the rib bones for stock which guarantees excellent gravy.
1. Remove your turkey from it's trash bag (lol) and wipe off any excess salt/herbs that remain. At this point we'll be breaking the turkey down into pieces - if you've never done this before I highly recommend you watch a how-to video on YouTube. Remove the thighs/legs first, followed by the breast. Hold onto the ribs - break them into smaller pieces and save for stock/gravy.
2. Heat your oven to 500 degrees F for the thighs (if you have 2 ovens, heat one to 500 and the other to 450 for the breast).
3. Wash, dry and chop your fresh herbs. Rub them over the breast and thighs, then give your turkey a little massage with room temp butter to give it a layer of fat over it's skin. This can get messy, but don't worry about it. If any of the herbs fall off just put them back on. No big deal. Place the thighs in a low-lying dish (you could choose a glass casserole to make it easy) and throw in some onion and apple. Drizzle with canola oil (this helps them get nice and brown). Get them into your 500 degree oven and cook until they hit 160 degrees on your meat thermometer. They'll continue to cook a bit once they're pulled from the oven and when we re-heat the thighs for dinner they'll cook just a bit more. While the thighs cook, drench them in a mixture of melted butter and honey a few times (I use a brush to do this) so they get a nice, crunchy glaze to them. Because the heat on this part of the bird is so high, you may end up burning bits of the herbs in the pan. I tend to avoid the liquid that comes off the thighs for gravy just in case there's anything burned in it because I don't want to risk imparting that flavor into the gravy. When you cook at 500 degrees you run the risk of some brown bits that border into sort of burned territory. Worry not though - the liquid and brown bits that come off the breast will do just fine!
4. For the honey/butter glaze - simply melt butter in a sauce pan and add honey, keeping at a very low temp on the stove for easy access.
5. When the thighs are done, pull them from the oven and wrap them gently in aluminum foil. Get your oven to 450 for breast-cooking time. I like to put the breast on a rack over a pan - because they cook at a lower temp there's less risk of any burned bits in the pan, which means tasty gravy for all. Do the butter rub along with the herbs, and the canola and add onion and apple to the pan. Cook the breast at 450 for about 30 minutes to get a nice brown on them (and moisture seal), and make sure to get the butter/honey glaze going on it during this time. Drop the heat to 300 degrees, then cook the breast until they hit 145 degrees. Again, they'll cook more after being pulled, and they'll cook a bit more when re-heated for dinner. Wrap in aluminum foil until you're ready for dinner. If you serve the breast right away let it sit for at least 15 minutes before eating so that the meat re-absorbs all the liquid that comes to the surface.
6. When it's time for dinner, get your wings out of the fridge so you can brown them in a pan. Add a bit of canola or clarified butter and brown them up. Once brown you can cut pieces off of them - they will surely be the hit of your Thanksgiving meal.
7. Reheat your breast and wings for about 5 minutes at 300 degrees, and slice into beautiful pieces for a serving platter for your Thanksgiving table.
8. Eat up, and enjoy the tastiest bird you've ever eaten.