Turkey: The Roast/Braise Method. All photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman

The two great turkey conundrums: 1) how to have juicy breast meat and tender dark meat and 2) how to serve it all hot to a lot of people.

Answer: the roast/braise method.

Last year, chatting with my neighbor, the excellent chef Doug Katz (Fire Food and Drink), described how he cooks the turkey in stock up to the drumstick so that the legs braise while the breast and skin cook in dry heat. Last year I tried it and it works brilliantly. Thank you, Doug.

Doug posted his version on the restaurant’s blog.

I’ve simplified and added a couple steps to make it easier for perfect doneness. (Step-by-step pix below.)

The basic idea is this: cook the turkey half submerged in flavorful liquid and lots of aromatic vegetables. When the breast is barely done, remove the turkey from the pan. Remove the legs (and wings if you wish). Return them to the braising liquid and finish them on the stovetop, while the breast rests. When the leg and thighs are done, remove the breast whole from the carcass, put them back into the pan skin side up and broil to crisp the skin and finish cooking the breast.

Slice the breast and cut the dark meat off leg and thigh and wing. Put all the meat into a large service dish (or the roasting pan after you’ve strained the delicious cooking liquid into another pot). Ladel the hot braising broth over the carved turkey and keep it warm in oven or on stove top till you’re ready to serve. Use the broth to moisten and flavor a pan dressing (we don’t stuff our turkey anymore, nostalgic as I am for my Grandma Spamer’s stuffing).

Roast/braise is the perfect technique, especially if you order from a local farmer (farm-raised birds can be tough in the leg—but not when you use this roast/braise technique). We bought the above from Aaron Miller who also raises great grass-fed beef, and will soon be offering lamb.

Here’s my recipe and technique for perfect turkey served hot to all. Quantities will vary given the size of your bird and roasting pan, so I don’t always give amounts. You’ll have to use your most important cooking tool for this: your brain. We cook with our senses, one of which is common sense. Relax, don’t freak out, ask the right number of people to help in the kitchen, have fun and rejoice in this truly unique and wonderful holiday that celebrates the cooking and eating and sharing of food with the people we love.

The Roasted/Braised Thanksgiving Turkey

  • Plenty of onions, carrots, celery roughly chopped (I used 3 big Spanish onions plus one for stuffing into carcass, 5 carrots, and would have used 5 ribs celery if I’d have remembered to put it on the shopping list!)
  • 5 or 10 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 or 3 bay leaves
  • fresh herbs (I used sage and parsley, still from the garden, tarragon or rosemary would be good too)
  • cracked black pepper as needed
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 cups of white wine
  • Chicken stock, turkey stock or water (I need needed between 2 and 3 quarts)
  • kosher salt as needed
  • 1 turkey (Doug recommends 1 pound per person; the one we used here is small, 10 pounds)
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • melted butter, turkey fat or chicken fat for basting
  1. Preheat your oven to 425 to 450 degrees F/218 to 232 degrees C.
  2. Combine all the vegetables, garlic, bay leaves, most of the herbs, pepper and tomato paste in a roasting pan just big enough to hold turkey and vegetables. Stuff a quartered onion, remaining herbs and the lemon into the cavity of the turkey.
  3. Nestle the turkey in amongst the aromatics (notice how all these ingredients are what we use to make stock?).
  4. Pour in the wine and enough stock and/or water to come up above wing and thigh. Add an aggressive 4-finger pinch of salt.
  5. Put the roasting pan over high heat on your stove top and until the liquid comes to a full simmer. Put turkey in the oven, reduce heat to 350 degrees F/177 degrees C. Roast until a thermometer in the fattest part of the breast, just above the wing joint, reads 155 to 160 degrees F./68 to 71 degrees C. I use this cable thermometer which sounds an alarm when I hit the right temperature and I don’t have to keep opening the oven and jabbing at the breast. Baste with butter or fat every 20 to 30 minutes. This bird took 80 minutes. A bird twice or more its size will take around 2.5 to 3 hours. Give yourself ample time (it all keeps warm so better that it’s done early rather than late).
  6. Remove the turkey to a platter. Now this is important: Present the turkey to everyone. Parade it, admire it.
  7. Remove the legs at the thigh joint.
  8. Return the legs to the braising pan.
  9. If you wish, remove the wings as well and add them to the pan.
  10. Continue simmering on the stove top, another half hour or so, until the thighs and drumsticks are tender.
  11. The breast should rest like this for at least a half hour or for up to an hour if you need that long to finish the dark meat.
  12. When the dark meat is done, preheat your broiler and arrange an oven rack so that you can put your roasting pan close to the broiler element.
  13. Remove each side of the breast.
  14. It should be a little pink at the center. (The meat on the carcass will flavor your stock tomorrow.)
  15. Add the whole breasts to the roasting pan skin side up. With all pieces skin side up, finish the turkey under the broiler until the skin is crisp and the breast has been rewarmed and cooked.
  16. Slice the breast cross-wise so that every piece has some skin.
  17. Separate the leg and thigh and carve the dark meat off the bone. Strain the braising liquid into a pot, discarding the vegetables, and bring it to a simmer (it helps to have someone else do this for you while you’re cutting turkey!). If you’ll be serving the turkey from the roasting pan, rinse it out and rewarm it. If you’re using another service dish, warm that.
  18. Arrange the turkey in the serving vessel and ladle the hot broth over the turkey. You can cover this with foil and keep it warm in the turned off oven, or on the stove top, while you ready the rest of the meal. Be careful not to overcook the breast, though the broth will always keep it moist.
  19. Serve and be grateful.

Notes: If you want to add even more flavor to this, saute the vegetables in the roasting pan first. Have a look at Doug’s recipe, linked above; he puts things like apple and parsnips in his. I roasted the neck and gizzard and added it to the braising liquid. If you want, finely chop the gizzard and add it to your gravy. When you’re done, you should have plenty of braising liquid. Add this to your stock pot when making stock from the leftover carcass and bones.

Braised and Roasted Turkey Slideshow

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© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved