It’s Part 1 of my Nomtastic Thanksgiving series!
No, I said BUTTERFLIED—not BUTTERFRIED. Sorry to disappoint, butter lovers! And for you strict Paleo peeps, a note of warning: there’s butter in this recipe, though ghee is a fantastic substitute. (If you’re zero-tolerance when it comes to all forms of dairy, substitute duck fat or schmaltz.)
With this post, I’m starting a series of Thanksgiving-related recipe posts, and I figured I’d tackle the hardest one first. Every November, the prospect of roasting a whole turkey strikes fear into the hearts of even experienced cooks. The entire process—from picking a bird to carving it—can be daunting. No one wants to serve a dry, powdery turkey to their gathered friends and family…especially if you’ve got an in-law who’s just waiting to pounce on a kitchen blunder. But never fear: even if Olivia Soprano is your mother-in-law, this foolproof method will keep you in her good graces.
Step One: Pick a Bird
This article by Serious Eats covers everything you need to know about selecting a turkey. (In fact, it covers all things turkey.)
By the way, I learned a valuable lesson this year: Don’t get greedy. The first turkey I roasted to test this recipe was waaaaay too big. The gigantic 18-pounder(!) that I bought from Tendergrass Farms was delicious and came out beautifully (It’s the one I photographed for this post!), but it barely fit in my oven. My second bird (which I didn’t photograph) was a much more manageable 12-pounder that actually fit on my roasting tray.
Step Two: Gear Up
For my recipe, you’ll want to make sure you have a sharp, sturdy pair of poultry shears (to tear through thin bones and cartilage like a skilled orthopedic surgeon). You’ll also need an oven-proof wire rack and a baking sheet or large broiling pan.
Lastly, you’ll need an accurate meat thermometer to ensure perfectly cooked meat. If you don’t want to keep having to open the oven to check your turkey, your best bet is to get an in-oven thermometer.
Seriously: a meat thermometer is not negotiable. It’s the only way to make sure you don’t overcook your big, pricey turkey and disappoint your guests.
Step Three: Mark Your Calendars
If you don’t want to eat turkey-flavored popsicles on Thanksgiving, you have to start thawing your bird in the fridge beginning on the Friday or Saturday before Turkey Day. It’ll take 3 or 4 days to fully defrost, and then you’ll want to dry-brine the bird and let it sit for 1 or 2 more days in the fridge before roasting.
On Thanksgiving Day, make sure you allow for at least 30 minutes of resting time before you carve up the bird. So if you want the bird on the table by early afternoon, you need to pop it in the oven in the morning.
Step Four: Cook!
My Butterflied Big Bird recipe combines Judy Rodgers’ dry-brining techniques with J. Kenji López-Alt’s Crisp-Skinned Butterflied Roast Turkey and my own simple herb butter.
The turkey is spatchcocked and dry-brined with kosher salt, and then left to sit loosely-covered in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours. Underneath the crispy skin, the tender meat is flavored with an herb-infused butter (or ghee, if you prefer).
Serves 10-12 people
Here’s what you need:
Here’s what you do:
Remove the innards from the turkey and reserve the neck and giblets for gravy or bone broth. Dry the turkey well with paper towels.
Grab a sharp pair of kitchen shears and start cutting from the tail-end open cavity along one side of the backbone until you reach the neck hole.
Once you’ve cut all the way through, cut along the other side of the backbone, and remove the spine. Add the backbone to the neck and giblets you’re saving for gravy or broth.
Use a knife to make a shallow cut in the cartilage on the underside of the breastbone…
…and use your hands to firmly push the breasts flat like an open book.
Now, it’s time to salt the bird.
Use your fingers to loosen the skin away from the flesh. (Be careful but forceful; the skin is fairly elastic, and shouldn’t tear unless you pierce it with sharp acrylic nails.) Rub salt directly onto the meat under the skin, as well on the outside and underside of the turkey.
Loosely cover the bird with plastic wrap, and dry-brine it in the fridge for 1 to 2 days.
On Thanksgiving Day, preheat the oven to 450°F with the rack in the lower middle position. Take the brined turkey out the refrigerator. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on top.
Grab your softened butter and fresh herbs.
I tend to pack more sage and thyme in my quarter-cup than rosemary; it’s a matter of personal preference, but I find rosemary a bit too medicinal-tasting in large amounts.
Once the herbs are measured out, mince ’em…
…and mix with the softened butter/ghee to form an herb butter.
Take two-thirds of the herb butter and use it to spread under the skin of the breast and thigh meat.
Another method: you can just place a dollop between the skin and meat, and smush down the skin to spread the butter evenly.
Spread the remaining herb butter on the outside of the bird.
Lay the bird flat on the wire rack and tuck the wing tips under the turkey so they don’t burn.
Pour ½ cup of water into the tray. This’ll keep the drippings from burning and smoking.
Place the turkey in the oven and stab an in-oven thermometer into the thick part of the breast.
The turkey’s done when the breast meat reaches 145°-150°F, and the thigh meat is 165°F, about 80-90 minutes.
If you see that the skin is already nice and bronzed before the meat is even close to the correct temperature, don’t fret. Just place an aluminum foil bra loosely over the bird boobs before returning the turkey to the oven so they don’t burn.
When the turkey is done, take the tray out of the oven and check the temperature one last time.
Let the turkey rest for at least 30 minutes before carving it at the table…
…or just hack it up with a cleaver, Chinese-style!
Stay tuned for more Thanksgiving recipes! They’re about to come fast and furious…assuming I can get my blogging butt in gear.
Looking for more recipes? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes on my iPad® app, and in my cookbook, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel, December 2013).