Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How to roast a turkey, the easy way

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I am a Thanksgiving renegade. Oh, in most ways I'm quite conventional: I make stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, even pumpkin desserts. But there's one key way in which my Thanksgiving kitchen is pure rebellion.

I refuse to roast a whole turkey.

It takes too long. It takes up too much space in the oven. The breast is dried out by the time the legs are done. It takes up too much space in the refrigerator the night before. Et cetera.

Many years ago my friend Kasey shared with me her secret for hassle-free turkey: She asks the butcher to cut it into parts, like a chicken. That way you can roast it flat. You can store it overnight in a plastic bag. You can roast the white and dark meat separately, so you can pull them at different times. And it cooks in half the time of a whole bird.

I've been doing turkey this way ever since. I go one step further and have my butcher bone the breast halves, which makes carving a snap. I also order an extra breast to be sure we have enough leftovers.

You have to be willing to give up on the big reveal of the burnished bird. I'm fine with that; everyone's too busy to notice anyway. You also need a friendly butcher, like the guys at my beloved Bob's Market in Santa Monica, which shouldn't be a problem unless you're buying a frozen supermarket turkey. (If you are, you'll have to learn to take it apart yourself. Think "big chicken.") It's worth finding a butcher, because the absolute best thing about this method is that it gives you plenty of time to concentrate on the sides - aren't they the stars of the show, anyway?

Roast turkey, in pieces
  • 1 turkey, any size, cut into eighths; breasts boned, skin left on
  • olive oil
  • garlic salt
  • paprika
  • any other spices or herbs you like
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Put the breast halves skin-side up in one roasting pan. In another, put the legs, thighs, and wings. Rub everything with a little olive oil and sprinkle it liberally with the garlic salt, paprika, and/or whatever spices you prefer. I keep it really simple, but it's up to you.

Put the turkey in the oven. You want to roast it to an internal temperature of about 165 degrees, because once you take it out, it will rise to the desired 170 while it's resting. For a 15-pound turkey, I start basting after an hour and checking the temperature after 90 minutes. If yours is smaller, start everything sooner. There's nothing worse than overcooked turkey.

When the turkey parts reach 165, take them out of the oven, cover them with foil, and let them rest at least 20 minutes before carving. Note that you do not have to pull the dark and light meat at the same time - that's the beauty of this method. Take each pan out when it's ready. Carve, which should be extremely quick and easy. If, after carving, you need to rewarm the meat, pour some of the pan juices over the carved meat, cover the dish with foil, and put the whole platter in the oven for a few minutes.

12 comments:

Julie said...

What about the most important part....the stuffing?

Erika said...

Yep, another way in which I am a renegade. I bake it separately. Food safety paranoia.

Caren Gittleman said...

love this!

Rachael Ray did something similar but not having the dark meat as well...I believe she just did breasts. I love your simple ingredients with this as well.

I am like you...I always bake my stuffing separately! :)

Patti at Worth The Whisk said...

This is too smart for WORDS.

Anonymous said...

I make my stuffing separately, but when it comes to the bird, I like it whole. It's more fun and authentic and Thanksgivingy.

Julie said...

Maybe at Christmas you'll post your stuffing
recipe? ;-)

Erika said...

@Julie - the stuffing I made this year was with figs and chestnuts, and the recipe is on the California Fig Advisory Board website, here:

http://californiafigs.com/recipe.php?id=99

and it was DELICIOUS!

Nancy said...

Brilliant Erika!! What a wonderful idea for those who are intimidated by cooking the whole bird!! Don't know if I will every be able to get away with this method but the ease of preparation is alluring!!

Do you put the turkey pieces on a rack or straight on the bottom of the roasting pan??

Barbara @ Modern Comfort Food said...

Your system makes perfect sense, in any number of ways, and truly would make for a moister Thanksgiving turkey. But for reasons I can't quite rationalize, the "reveal" of the whole turkey is still important to me. I need to work on getting over that the way you have done. And thanks for the tip on your fig/chestnut stuffing, which is a stunner!

Erika said...

@Barbara - it's definitely a switch if your family likes the big "here's the bird" moment. Mine never cared, so easier for me to make the switch.

Erika said...

@Nancy - I put them straight in the roasting pan, which, if I remember, I spray with cooking spray first. And I do baste, particularly the breasts, at least a few times. Truthfully, I have found little difference with any variations I've tried (oil the skin or not; many herbs, or just salt; lemon slices scattered around and on top). The key to moist turkey is not overcooking, period. And that is much easier to do when you roast the light and dark meats separately.

Nancy said...

You are so right... not overcooking the bird is key!! This year I have to say my bird turned out beautifully (but heck, with all the butter I massaged into it, it should have been!!)
I am definitely going to have to try this - the repeated basting with stock yields great drippings - a must for gravy!!!

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