At its best, turkey is a tasty meal that can feed your entire extended family, and look good doing it. But in the wrong hands, turkey is an overly dry bird that your family is going to have to pretend is delicious as they douse it in more and more gravy to help it go down.
One mistake most people make is roasting a turkey whole – sure, it makes for an Instagram-worthy, nostalgia-inducing centerpiece. But chances are, it’s going to be dry. The solution? Salting it and roasting the light meat and dark meat separately.
Salting provides the benefits of brining in a very simple step. The dark meat can be fully cooked a day ahead, providing drippings for a beautiful golden turkey stock. The breast meat can be salted a day ahead and cooked in less time, providing juicy meat to be carved just prior to serving.
This is a fairly simple process that guarantees flavorful, hot, moist turkey breast, and gold roasted turkey stock for gravy and stuffing. Preparing the turkey this way also eliminates the pressure of carving the unwieldy bird at the table with everyone watching. Most importantly, you’ll experience a stress-free holiday meal.
- 12 - 14 pound Turkey
- 1 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
- 3 bay leaves (optional)
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground thyme
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest, fresh
- 2 onions, cut in eighths
- 4 celery stalks cut in 1-inch pieces
- 2 carrots cut in 1 -inch pieces
- 1 lemon cut in 8 wedges
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 Grind rosemary and peppercorns in a coarse stone mortar until fine. Add salt and grind lightly to combine. Add sage, thyme and lemon zest, and combine.
- 2 Preheat oven to 350ºF and position one oven rack just below the center of the oven.
- 3 Remove neck, heart and gizzards from turkey.
- 4 Separate the dark meat (thighs and legs) from the breast meat cavity to roast the dark meat a day prior to serving while the breast meat is salted and held overnight to be cooked just prior to serving. With a sharp knife cut between each leg and the breast cavity. Set the knife down and reach under the turkey, lifting the backbone up until it breaks between the dark meat and breast meat cavities. Turn the turkey on its side and cut through the back bone at the break to separate both halves. Remove the second and third joint of the wings.
- 5 Rinse turkey breast and leave wet. Rub the salt mixture on the inside and outside of the breast cavity, cover and refrigerate overnight.
- 6 Spread half the vegetables and lemon on the bottom of a medium sized roasting pan. Rest the turkey hind quarters (dark meat), neck, wings, heart and gizzards on the bed of vegetables. Rub with butter and season lightly with salt and pepper.
- 7 Add small amounts of water or chicken stock to the pan to avoid burning and baste with the liquid from the pan and rub with butter every 30 to 40 minutes. Roast for 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh reads 165ºF.
- 8 Once cooked, cool the turkey until it can be handled. Pull all the meat and skin from the bones (reserve bones, neck, wings, heart and gizzard) and place in a shallow baking pan with the skin on top. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- 9 Place reserved bones, back in the pan with the neck, wings, heart, gizzard and vegetables, and return to the oven. Once nicely browned, transfer to a pot, cover with 8 to 10 cups of water and bring to a boil. Heat pan with drippings over a medium flame and use some of the liquid to deglaze the pan, reduce liquid and pour into pot. Simmer for two hours, strain and reduce by half. Reserve stock (approximately 6 cups) for gravy and stuffing.
- 10 ON THE DAY OF SERVICE: Preheat oven to 350ºF. Remove salted turkey breast from refrigerator and rinse salt mixture from the inside and outside of the turkey. Pat dry, rub with melted butter and place in a medium sized roasting pan on a layer of the remaining vegetables and lemon.
- 11 Add small amounts of water or chicken stock to the pan to avoid burning. Baste with the liquid from the pan and rub with butter every 30 to 40 minutes.
- 12 When turkey is about 45 minutes from being cooked (at about 145 or 150ºF) place the pan of dark meat in the oven uncovered and pour 1/4 cup of stock over meat.
- 13 When turkey breast reaches an internal temperature of 165ºF, remove from oven, cover to keep warm and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
- 14 With a sharp knife cut each breast away from the carcass and cover with foil to keep warm. Pull all remaining meat from the carcass and place on serving platter. Remove dark meat covered with skin from pan and place on cutting board. Cut 1 1/2-inch slices through skin and meat and transfer to serving platter. Slice the breast meat in 1/4-inch slices and transfer to serving platter. Heat remaining stock to a boil and drizzle 1/4 cup over turkey just prior to serving.