Who knows when it started. Used to be: bronze the turkey, a few sides from the family cookbook, pie for everyone. Now there’s brining in trash cans, vegans at the table, someone asking for more baba ganoush. Keep a level head. The Thanksgiving turkey is the one dish each year that’s make or break, and it’s all yours. Get the turkey right and you’ll be giving warm handshakes and sipping bourbon all night; dry it out and you’ve brought a dark cloud over the extended family. The good news is, roasting the big bird is easier than running the fumblerooski against the in-laws — and that works every year. To find the most direct route to turkey perfection, we consulted with Harold Moore, chef at Commerce, a top-notch restaurant on a quiet block in New York City’s West Village. Moore, a veteran of acclaimed restaurants including Daniel, Jean Georges and Montrachet, is known for his sophisticated comfort food; he’s a master of tartares, ragus and roasted chickens for two. This is his perfect Thanksgiving turkey. Get out there and cook it.
The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey
Thanksgiving dinner is arguably all about the whole roasted turkey bronzed and glistening at the center of the table, but the difficulty of cooking the bird evenly is well known, addressed with clever solutions like foil tenting and icing breasts. If you’re concerned less with a classic presentation and more with a good meal, chef Harold Moore suggests breaking the bird down. Here’s how it’s done.
- The day before Thanksgiving, remove breast meat from the raw turkey and place in bags (sous vide, cryovac, ziplock).
- Cook in water at 180 degrees F for three hours or until meat measures 165 degrees internally. Remove and chill.
- On Thanksgiving day, sear the skin of the breasts and reheat until warm.
- Separate thighs from drumsticks, season with salt and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees for one hour. Let rest for 15 minutes.
- To serve, slice breast meat and place alongside dark meat.
- 1 (18- to 20-pound) turkey (preferably fresh)
- 1 pound of soft unsalted butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 small bunch of sage
- 1 small bunch of rosemary
- 1 small bunch of thyme
- 1 quart of apple cider
- Half cup of apple brandy
- 2 cups of stock (chicken or turkey)
- Enough large-cut mirepoix (carrot, celery, onion) to cover the bottom of your roasting pan
Turkey: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Truss the turkey. Rub the turkey with soft butter. Season it with a copious amount of salt and pepper, both inside and out. Put turkey on top of the vegetables and into the oven. Pour all the liquids together and bring to a boil, then immediately take off the heat. Tie the herbs into a bouquet. After one hour of cooking, add the liquid to the roasting pan and use this to baste the bird with the herb bouquet. Total cooking time is approximately three to four hours. Cook the turkey until the juices run clear or until the thermometer reads 165 degrees. Let the bird rest for an hour before carving.
Gravy: Take the liquid from the bottom of the roasting pan and put through a de-fatter (alternatively, cool and skim fat from top with a spoon). Reserve liquid and fat. Take the fat you just separated from the liquid and place it on heat in a saucepan until it begins to bubble. Stir in flour to begin making a rue. If you have half a cup of fat you should use 1/4 cup of flour. When you see the rue turning a golden brown, add the reserved liquid and some stock (turkey, chicken, whatever fits your fancy) — enough for about two cups. Add to that some Bells Poultry Seasoning (will give the gravy that “fall” flavor) and simmer until your desired thickness. Season with salt and pepper, strain, and serve.