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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
Game changer! Thanks Jamie for planting the seed.