Make Ahead

Paul Virant’s Make-Ahead Roasted Turkey With Smothered Gravy

November 14, 2017
2 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten
  • Serves 6 to 8
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

What You'll Need
  • 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
  • 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
  1. To break down the turkey and make the stock:
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  1. To brine and roast the breast and braise the legs ahead (and finish day-of):
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Karen McLachlan
    Karen McLachlan
  • Kristen Miglore
    Kristen Miglore
  • creamtea
  • Paul
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

12 Reviews

Paul November 22, 2020
I've made this two years in a row, the first year I kept the dark meat out of the gravy for the traditionalists. On year two I made the "smothered gravy," told everyone where the dark meat was hiding, and it was a hit. Guests definitely went back for meaty gravy. The daily tasks are broken down, and it very manageable. *Bonus- no-one stares at you while you carve the turkey in a hot kitchen!
Karen M. November 15, 2017
Solid food chemistry here. Refreshing to see. The recipe may look long but it's one of those complete technique recipes.
Every step is solid and well thought out.
lambchop November 15, 2017
Sorry, Kristin. I've had some pretty hearty eaters around my Thanksgiving table over the last 45 years, but after plates have been polished off, no one has gone back to the buffet for a "side" of gravy. :)
Kristen M. November 15, 2017
Fair enough—some families won't go for it if they're wedded to seeing the dark meat on a platter. But some will love it! I think gravy should be its own food group.
Karen M. November 15, 2017
Yes I can see it would be a totally cool treat. It's not like the dark meat is pureed or anything :)...
And this gives you brined poultry And gravy...which you you usually can't do when you brined a bird. The gravy would be Way too salty. This is clever
newood November 15, 2017
Am I reading this correctly? It looks like the recipe only serves the breasts and everything else is getting used for gravy.
Kristen M. November 15, 2017
Yes, but since it's so hefty with delicious braised dark meat, the gravy becomes much more than a sauce, but a side in itself.
lambchop November 15, 2017
Nancy, I totally agree with you about doing as much as you can ahead of time. I make stuffing, sweet potato praline casserole, birthday cakes (we celebrate three over the Thanksgiving holiday!), frosting, soup, cornmuffins, stock, gravy, icecream cake, ahead of time and freeze. A few days ahead, I make cranberry relish, prep veggies for roasting and green salad ingredients. I always have a home made vinaigrette on hand. The night before, I make my pumpkin pies. On Thanksgiving morning this year, i'll drape my turkey with a robe of latticed bacon as a treat for one of the birthday boys. Even with making almost everything in advance, it's a huge amount of work, but a huge labor of love. And smelling the turkey roasting on T-day is a tradition we are loathe to give up!
creamtea November 15, 2017
agree, lambchop. I try to do everything in advance, just have the turkey, dry brined, to roast on the day of. This involves loosening the skin and placing my "secret" mixture of various savory ingredients and alliums underneath, then poking in an electronic thermometer from W.-S. that I can check on every so often without opening the oven door. I don't make an elaborate thickened gravy, just pan drippings and deglazing, which is not hard to do on the day. I might make a stock in advance for that, or use water or wine; I like a simple gravy of pan juices. Otherwise, cranberry chutney (made up to a week in advance), pie filling, carrot soufflé components, dressing, can all be broken down in steps over the course of the week and refrigerated or frozen.
creamtea November 15, 2017
plus, we love to eat the legs and wings!
Anonymous November 15, 2017
Lambchop, I am somewhat inclined to agree with you, but I do like to make my gravy earlier in the week, in a method similar to above: make a rich turkey stock, and proceed with gravy. I add the drippings from the turkey to enrich it the day of Thanksgiving. Carving the bird, making the gravy, mashing the potatoes, preparing the veggies, and doing everything "the day of," can be overwhelming and makes clean up a huge undertaking, especially if one is hosting the entire event (which I always do). Working ahead, however you choose, is a good plan.
lambchop November 15, 2017
This is a ridiculous amount of work for an undercooked turkey. Just stick the bird in the oven on Thanksgiving morning for the proper amount of time. It will be delicious!