Deconstructed Turkey & Stuffing

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I love that Thanksgiving is a celebration of sameness, that it’s so deeply grounded in tradition that no one will let the turkey dinner menu they grew up with change – ever. There could be a jellied salad jiggling on the table for decades, one that everyone refused to actually eat, and yet they’d all likely freak out a little bit if it disappeared. There’s comfort in routine.

At our house, as at many, there has to be turkey. We’re lucky to have Darrel Winter and Corrine Dahm raising turkeys out in Dalemead for the past forty years – a good bird is a great start. But the challenge for most is the managing of a large turkey – the thawing of it, the stuffing, and calculating the roasting time, getting it in and out of the oven – and how between all that to avoid getting up at the crack of dawn to get the bird in.

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In the past I’ve streamlined things by spatchcocking a turkey (cutting out the backbone and then butterflying it, laying it flat), which eliminates the possibility of stuffing. Then again, so many people cook their stuffing separately anyway – something I could never fully get behind. But then a couple weeks ago I was chatting with chef Jamie Harling of the new Deane House, getting some turkey tips for this Friday’s issue of Swerve, and he suggested roasting turkey pieces – breaking down the bird first, so that the pieces cook far more quickly. This is a brilliant idea, I said, but what about the stuffing? And he was like, I don’t know, cook it separately? Which I know is something a lot of people do, but stuffing just isn’t the same when it’s not cooked inside the turkey. And it’s not stuffing when you don’t stuff anything, right? It’s just bread casserole.

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But it got me thinking – why not roast the turkey pieces on top of a large panful of stuffing? The juices would still seep down out of the turkey as it roasts, and get soaked up by the bread underneath. Being in a large pan, in direct contact with the oven, would allow it to cook more thoroughly than it would being hidden in the middle of a bird, and with more surface area, you’d get far more crispy bits.

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Right???

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I mean, you could do whatever kind of stuffing you like, and prep your turkey as you normally would – I pat the skin dry and rub it with soft butter and canola oil, and sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and that’s it. I added some fresh thyme here just to make it look pretty. The stuffing is pretty classic – cubes of day old sourdough, onions, celery, butter, sage, stock.

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When you buy your turkey, you can ask the butcher to break it down for you – it’s not as difficult as it sounds. I asked one of the butchers behind the counter at Co-op, and I think he was secretly thrilled at getting the opportunity to do something different. I picked one out, and he broke it down in five minutes while I shopped, packaging up the inner carcass and giblets so I could still make stock. I stuck it (along with the wings, which don’t have much meat on them anyway) in another pan and roasted them in a skillet alongside the pieces and stuffing to get browned bits for the gravy. Rather than struggle to strain the pan juices, I took the roasted bones out of the pan, stuck it on the burner, and proceeded to make the gravy. Bonus: roasted bones make for particularly dark and flavourful stock.

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A 5.6 kg (12 lb) bird took an hour and twenty minutes. ONE HOUR TWENTY.

There are in fact many bonuses here: handling the pieces is easy. There’s no worry about thawing an enormous bird properly. Once roasted, the pieces are easily and neatly placed on a cutting board for the easiest carving ever. The kitchen doesn’t look like a roasted turkey massacre took place after you’ve struggled to carve it. And you don’t have to then cram the remains into a pot to make stock. And did I mention the extra crispy bits?

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I’ve brined birds, barbecued them, smoked and deep fried them, and none have been game changers until this. This may have changed the course of history, right here. And because we’ve never brought the whole roasted turkey to the table, Norman Rockwell-style, we’re not sacrificing anything. Did I mention roasting the whole thing took less than an hour and a half?

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Game changer! Thanks Jamie for planting the seed.

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Deconstructed Turkey & Stuffing

Recipe link

  

October 3, 2016

Ingredients

1 10-15 lb (5-7 kg) fresh turkey (or whatever size you like)

canola oil, for cooking

butter (lots)

4 celery stalks, chopped (with leaves)

2-3 garlic cloves, crushed

1-1 1/2 large crusty sourdough loves, torn or cubed

2 Tbsp chopped fresh sage, or 1 Tbsp dried

salt and pepper, to taste

1-2 cups chicken or turkey stock

a few sprigs of fresh thyme

Directions

1Break down your turkey or get your butcher to break it down for you - I left the drumsticks and thighs intact, so wound up with two thigh/drumsticks, two breast pieces and two wings. He also gave me the carcass to take home for stock.

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3Preheat the oven to 350?F. In a large skillet, heat a generous drizzle of oil with a generous dab of butter and saute the onion and celery for 4-5 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

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5Meanwhile, tear or cube your bread into a large bowl. Add the sauteed veggies along with the sage, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Melt about 1/2 cup butter and drizzle it over the bread, toss again and spread out in a large, shallow roasting pan. Sprinkle over some chicken stock - enough to moisten the bread without making it soggy. (This kinda depends on the type and age of your bread - just go with your gut.)

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7Place the chicken carcass and wings in an ovenproof skillet, drizzle with a bit of oil if you like, and slide it into the oven. Pat the leg and breast pieces dry with paper towel and rub all over with oil or soft butter. Set on top of the stuffing mixture and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pull the leaves off a few sprigs of thyme and sprinkle that over too. If you like, tuck a few sprigs into the stuffing as well.

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9Roast for 1-1 1/2 hours, or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a breast or thigh reads 160?F (it will continue to rise in temperature as it rests). Rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving. While it rests, make the gravy; move the bones to a pot for stock, and make the gravy on the stovetop out of the browned bits in the bottom of the pan.

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11Serves 8 or more.

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38 comments on “Deconstructed Turkey & Stuffing

  1. Jen
    October 3, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    Great idea! Will use this method for non-holiday turkey cravings, when roasting a whole bird for just the 2 of us seems a bit of a chore. I can see myself popping half the parts into the freezer for a later date. Thanks!

    • Julie
      October 3, 2016 at 11:21 pm

      Thanks! Yes, it seems like a good solution for smaller gatherings, too!

    • Anne
      November 22, 2017 at 8:54 am

      Julie, Last year I made the stuffing in a 9/13 dish as usual. It raised up high, ran over the dish and then went very flat. W hat void I do wrong?

      • Julie
        November 22, 2017 at 5:49 pm

        Huh, that’s interesting! I don’t know!

  2. Maria
    October 4, 2016 at 7:51 am

    This changes everything!! Did you cover the bird while in the oven?

    • Julie
      October 5, 2016 at 10:54 am

      Nope! I like getting everything nice and crisp!

  3. Jennifer
    October 4, 2016 at 9:20 am

    Also great for those of us with smaller ovens! Holey pants, this IS life changing!

  4. Lesley
    October 4, 2016 at 9:44 am

    I always cook my unstuffed turkey from mostly frozen (thawed overnight in the fridge). It leaves the breast moist while the thighs cook through. After an hour and a half or so at 325F, I can pull out the giblet bag. Total time is about 50% longer than cooking a thawed turkey. I just make sure to stick my meat thermometer down into the breast, rather than near the surface. Even when the outside is hot (“Hot on the outside, icicle in the middle,” to quote Encino Man from my youth), the meat does not dry out.

    • Julie
      October 5, 2016 at 10:54 am

      Ooh, great tip!!

  5. Linda
    October 4, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Julia Child has a recipe for deconstructed turkey as well, I did it for Christmas last year.i don’t like the stuffing so I will try yours this year. Thanks

    • Julie
      October 5, 2016 at 10:54 am

      I just heard this! Of course she does.. she’s a genius :)

  6. Lorraine
    October 4, 2016 at 10:01 am

    It’s like you read my mind. I was going to do this as well even ordered the turkey from Co-Op. Unfortunately a family emergency has cancelled our thanksgiving but I wanted to say Co-Op was really great about canceling the order.. Once things settle down, I’m definitely going back to them and trying this again.

    • Julie
      October 5, 2016 at 10:50 am

      I’m so sorry to hear it… hope everything is OK! Yes, they’re pretty great about that sort of thing! :)

  7. Amy
    October 4, 2016 at 11:43 am

    What a great way to get the flavors of Thanksgiving without all the hassle! Plus shorter cooking time! Love it!

    • Julie
      October 5, 2016 at 10:49 am

      Yay! So glad you love it! :)

  8. Natasha Thurston
    October 4, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Great idea, as always, Jule. This may be a dumb question – but it seems to me this method captures the vast majority of the meat from the turkey anyway. Would you say that’s true? We’re making a turkey for a big crowd this weekend and I want to make sure I can feed everyone.

    • Julie
      October 5, 2016 at 10:46 am

      Oh yes, definitely! There was very little meat left on the carcass inside.

  9. Carol S-B
    October 4, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    Whew, you had me worried about a lack of gravy, but you’ve neatly put that to rest, too!

    • Julie
      October 5, 2016 at 10:46 am

      All the elements must be there!!

  10. Loeber
    October 6, 2016 at 10:37 am

    Thanks Juilie!
    We do this with instant box stuffing and chicken thighs all year long! I like to lay thin sliced parsnip ribbons on the bottom to brown up and add that unmistakable bit of “parsnippy-ness”

    • Julie
      October 6, 2016 at 11:44 pm

      oooh, that’s brilliant!

  11. Anne
    October 6, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Julia Child’s recipe for deconstructed turkey is a holiday classic, (that woman thought of everything) but I think I would like your stuffing better!

    I admit I have a love of boxed stuffing though. There’s no helping me.

    • Julie
      October 6, 2016 at 11:44 pm

      Does she do the turkey on top of the stuffing too?

  12. Nicole
    October 7, 2016 at 9:01 am

    Your directions call for onions, but not the recipe list – how many did you use?

    Looks fantastic for post-thanksgiving too when there are turkey parts on sale :)

    • Nicole
      October 10, 2016 at 1:19 pm

      I ended up using one onion and it turned out really well! I even took the bird apart myself, just to see if I could. Thanks for another super recipe. We finally tried your kale and Brussel sprouts salad too, and now we are hooked.

  13. Sam
    October 7, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Oh, this looks like such a good idea! Stuffing is my favourite part of Thanksgiving dinner!

  14. Chiara
    October 7, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    I tried spatchcocking our 20lb bird last year, per your suggestions, and it turned out great, but I didn’t have a sheet pan big enough for the whole thing and it was very precarious taking it out of the oven to check on the two sheet pans I rigged together with tinfoil… This looks like a safer option. Any thoughts on how long I should leave per pound of meat? Our neighbours outdid themselves this year and just presented me with a 26lb bird!!

    • Chiara
      October 10, 2016 at 3:05 pm

      If anyone else is wondering how long to cook a huge bird, our 26lb one took 2h45m. We did the wings separately, which made for a delicious gravy and the stuffing turned out really well (I added bacon and mushrooms to mine, but it was otherwise the same).

      This was a game changer of a recipe for these huge birds I keep getting. I had space in the oven for another dish underneath the turkey, and the skin crisped up beautifully.

  15. Janeen
    October 8, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    This is a game changer for singles who still want to have thanksgiving dinner but for one! Mine turned out great!

  16. lisa
    October 10, 2016 at 8:33 am

    We did this for our thanksgiving yesterday, and yummers! Thanks for the idea, it was quite delicious! A definite keeper!

    • Julie
      October 10, 2016 at 12:29 pm

      So glad it worked out well for you!

  17. Cath in ottawa
    October 11, 2016 at 3:34 am

    I used your recipe yesterday and it turned out great! I should maybe have cut the breast in two but was too intimidated to try! :) thanks so much!

  18. Siobhan Troyer
    October 14, 2016 at 2:13 am

    Julie, I’ve being baking my turkey dressing separately for years, & there’s a far simpler, well known method to making it at least as richly flavourful as that cooked inside the bird, & far safer. Before you put the dressing in the oven, remove the wing-tips from the roasted turkey. Drizzle several spoonfuls of the turkey drippings over the dressing, lay the wing tips on top, & put the casserole in the oven. Voila, by the time the bird’s carved & the gravy’s made, the dressing is ready to serve. This has several advantages … you don’t have to mess with cutting up a large raw turkey, or having it cut up for you. Or try to figure out how to spread all of those large pieces in your biggest roasting pan, which will still be far too small. Or have to prepare a vast quantity of dressing, in order to have enough to a make a decent layer under all of those large turkey pieces … And, you’ll have the awesome sight of a beautifully browned turkey to bring to the dinner table, as is traditional, rather than its dismembered parts. Yes, it takes time to roast a turkey, but that’s largely unattended time, & meanwhile its fragrance wafts through the house …
    To be fair, I think the strategy you’ve devised would work beautifully if you were baking chicken thighs &/or legs, & wanted to serve them with dressing.

  19. Ginger Dudek
    November 22, 2016 at 8:36 am

    This will be my 3rd year cooking my deconstructed my turkeys. I do 2 turkeys every year and this simplies the process -turkey beasts in one pan, all other parts in another. Makes cooking, carving and cleanup so much easier. No to mention if you are the one bringing the turkey to the event, it won’t be rolling around in the back seat!

  20. Dawn Kling
    October 9, 2017 at 11:26 pm

    I did this today with a 22 pound turkey…and it was absolutely spot on. Because I had such a large bird, only the breast halves fit on my stuffing. I cooked each leg/thigh in separate cast iron pans. Worked like a charm, and sine it cooked in only 2 hours and 15minutes, I will not go back to any other way! Thanks so much for this!

    • Julie
      October 15, 2017 at 7:29 pm

      So great to hear!!

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