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Author Notes: For all sorts of reasons, you might want to knock out the turkey early this year—the oven’s on the fritz, or too many sides or pies will be hogging it, or maybe you just like to get ahead so you can kick back come Thursday. The recipe looks long, but it requires more organization than active time, and the smart techniques give you super-juicy white meat and a rich gravy hefty with bits of dark meat. It's a good time to grab a loved one in the kitchen to help you keep it all straight, and have more fun cooking it together. Adapted slightly from The Preservation Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2012). —Genius Recipes
Serves 6 to 8
To break down the turkey and make the stock:
- One 15-pound turkey
- Turkey backbone, neck and wings (from above)
- 2 onions, roughly chopped
- 2 carrots, roughly chopped
- 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
- 1 gallon water
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 black peppercorns
- Butcher the turkey (or ask your butcher to do it—as early as Sunday): Cut away the wings from the breasts and reserve for the broth. Remove the gizzards and save for the Smothered Gravy. Remove the heart and liver from the cavity and discard or reserve for another use (Virant puts his in his stuffing).
- With the bird breast side up on the cutting board, remove the legs with a sharp boning knife: make a cut in between the breast and thigh joint, and then sever the connection between the thigh and the back. Once both legs have been removed, detach the thighs from the drumsticks, then cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. With sturdy knife or pair of kitchen shears, cut out the backbone and neck, leaving the breast meat on the breastbone. (When propped breast-side-up, the turkey will look ready to roast, just without legs.) Reserve the backbone and neck for the stock and refrigerate the breast meat tightly covered in plastic wrap until ready to brine.
- Make the stock (as early as Sunday—you'll need about 4 hours of inactive time): Heat the oven to 400° F. Place the backbone, neck, and wings in a roasting pan and roast until the skin and bones begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and roast until the vegetables have caramelized, about 15 minutes more. Scrape the bones and vegetables into a stockpot and cover with about 1 gallon of water. Deglaze the roasting pan with a splash of water and scrape the caramelized bits into the pot. Add the thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns and bring to a boil. Decrease to a gentle simmer and cook for 3 hours. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer, cool, and refrigerate. Before using, scrape away any fat that has risen to the surface and reserve for your stuffing. Makes 16 cups stock, 8 cups for the Smothered Gravy, with extra to use in your stuffing or reserve for another use.
To brine and roast the breast and braise the legs ahead (and finish day-of):
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil
- Turkey drumsticks and thighs (from above)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season
- Gizzards (from above, optional)
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 1 carrot, roughly chopped
- 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
- 5 to 7 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 cup white wine
- 8 cups turkey stock (from above)
- 1 gallon water
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup Herbes de Provence
- 2 heads garlic, halved crosswise (but left unpeeled)
- 1 onion, sliced
- Bone-in, skin-on turkey breasts (from above)
- 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- Braise the drumsticks and thighs (Monday or Tuesday—you’ll need about 2 1/2 to 3 hours inactive time): Heat the oven to 300° F. In a large saute pan over high heat, heat the oil. Season the legs, thighs, and gizzards well with salt and pepper. In batches, sear the turkey pieces until well-browned all over (if they’re sticking, just leave them a bit longer—they’ll release once they get a good sear) and transfer to a large roasting pan. In the same saute pan, saute the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic until soft and lightly caramelized, about 6 minutes. Deglaze with the wine, scraping up the brown bits, and simmer to reduce the liquid by half. Spoon the stock and vegetables over the thighs and legs, cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil, and braise until the meat is very tender, about 2 hours. Cool the legs in the braising liquid and refrigerate overnight.
- Pull the drumstick and thigh meat (Wednesday or Thursday): Scrape off any fat that has risen to the top of the braising liquid and set aside to use in your (delicious) stuffing. Remove the legs and thighs from the braising liquid and pull the meat of the bones. Bring the liquid to a boil, then strain and set aside to make the gravy or cool and refrigerate until ready to make the gravy.
- Make the brine (up to a week ahead): In a large pot, bring the water, salt, sugar, herbs, garlic, and onion to a boil. Simmer until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Cool (in a water bath, if you’re in a hurry) and refrigerate.
- Brine the breasts (Tuesday or Wednesday): Place the breasts in a large storage container or pot and cover with the chilled brine (the meat should be completely submerged). Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 but no more than 2 days.
- Roast the breasts (Wednesday or Thursday—you will need about 2 hours inactive time): Remove the breasts from the brine, pat dry, and let sit at room temperature for an hour. Heat the oven to 425° F. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter, place the breasts in a roasting pan fitted with a rack, and brush the skin all over with melted butter. Roast until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 135° F to 140° F, about 45 minutes. (Note: This lower internal temperature helps prevent the meat from drying out—the meat will finish cooking through gently in the gravy when rewarming. If you’re roasting on Thursday and would prefer to take it closer to 165° F and serve the gravy on the side, that is fine too.) Let the meat rest for about 15 minutes. Cool the breasts, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
- Make the gravy (ideally Thursday, but can be made Wednesday and rewarmed if needed): In a small saucepan, melt 1/2 cup of the butter. Stir in the flour and cook until the roux turns pale gold and smells slightly nutty, like browned butter. In a large pot, bring the reserved braising liquid and milk to a boil. Decrease to a simmer and whisk in the roux. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the gravy coats the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Add the reserved drumstick and thigh meat and simmer until the meat is hot. Keep warm. If you need to make the gravy ahead and chill it, rewarm it in a heavy pot or saucepan over medium heat, whisking in extra stock as needed to thin to your preferred consistency. Take care not to let the bottom scorch.
- Warm and serve the breasts (Thursday): With a sharp knife, remove the whole breasts from the breast bone, then slice each breast crosswise in 1/2-inch slices. (If the breasts are still slightly pink, the hot gravy and warm oven will finish cooking the meat, while keeping it moist.) Place the slices in a large casserole and spoon the hot gravy over the top. Place the turkey in a warm oven (250° F) until ready to serve.
- This recipe is a Community Pick!