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

I love how every year the major food media come up with some new way to do the same old thing. This year The New York Times tells you to steam your turkey! Not that there’s anything wrong with the story or the technique (by the Jacques Pépin, after all). My view is why mess with what works? For important occasions, the rule is: go with what works. And of all my years roasting a turkey, I’ve found that the braise/roast method works best, as I wrote last year.

The reason is that this method solves the two great Turkey Conundrums: 1) how to have both 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.

Year before last, I was chatting with my neighbor, the excellent chef Doug Katz (Fire Food & Drink), and he 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. (Step-by-step pix below.)

The basic idea is this: cook the turkey half submerged in flavorful liquid (preferably stock, but water and wine will do) and lots of aromatic vegetables; the dense, moist heat of the water increases the speed of the cooking. When the breast, browned in the circulating dry heat, is barely done (if you’re measuring, push a thermometer deep into the breast near the wing joint and pull the when the breast measures 150˚F); 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, simmering them in the liquid while the breast rests. When the legs 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 the legs, thighs, and wings (in the Times recipe, by the way, Pépin chops off the knobby ends of the drumsticks so that you can easily dispose of all those meddlesome tendons in the leg; a cool idea that I’m going to try). Put all of the meat into a large service dish (or the roasting pan after you’ve strained the delicious cooking liquid into another pot). Ladle the hot braising broth over the carved turkey and keep it warm in the oven or on the 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 for a big bird, 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, chicken, and 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. And remember the words of New York Times editor Sam Sifton, in his new book Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well: “This is the most important message of Thanksgiving: Everything really will be all right.”

The Roasted/Braised Thanksgiving Turkey

  • Plenty of onions, carrots, and celery, roughly chopped (I used 3 big Spanish onions plus one for stuffing into the carcass, 5 carrots, and would have used 5 celery ribs 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°F to 450°F.
  2. Combine all of 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, the remaining herbs, and the lemon into the cavity of the turkey.
  3. Nestle the turkey in amongst the aromatics (notice how all of 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 the turkey in the oven, reduce the heat to 350°F/177°C. Roast until a thermometer in the fattest part of the breast, just above the wing joint, reads 150° to 160°F. I use this cable thermometer, which sounds an alarm when I hit the right temperature, so 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, especially if you’re serving cocktails).
  6. Remove the turkey to a platter. Now this is important: Present the turkey to everyone. Parade it, admire it. It’s important that all present regard and admire the bird.
  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 or overnight.)
  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 through.
  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, sauté the vegetables in the roasting pan first. 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 (I’ll post my gravy method on Wednesday; I hope you made stock over the weekend if you’re responsible for the gravy!). When you’re done, you should have plenty of braising liquid. Add this to your stockpot when making stock from the leftover carcass and bones.

Braised and Roasted Turkey Slideshow

If you liked this post on roasted and braised turkey, check out these other links:

© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

Share

26 Wonderful responses to “Holiday Classic: Braised & Roasted Turkey”

    • xeno

      I would add it after straining, making it like a turkey demi glace or a thin gravy.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      nope, or you could thicken with a roux, won’t ber quite strong enough for gravy. I like the broth to keep things moist.

  • DJK

    All this needs is a Step 1A: how to wrestle the cooking of the turkey from your mother-in-law.

    Either way, this looks great, and I’m archiving the link somewhere.

  • phil

    You say stick to proven basics for celebrations, and then you put this fantastic option out. I have 14 coming for dinner on Thursday… I will give this a shot.

  • Rich

    I need to cook two twenty pounders at home and transport them to the party, so my approach is very different. I will butterfly the birds, then brine, rinse, and dry. Inject them with melted butter and roast them in the Caja China, starting skin side down and turning after one hour. Brush olive oil on the skin after turning. Total cook time about two hours, then wrapped in foil and into the ice chest with some towels.

    I tested this a week ago with one bird and the results were excellent. The backbone was used in the gravy stock.

  • John K.

    I read the post on this technique last year and followed it for our Thanksgiving turkey. My family all agreed — the best turkey ever. Started with a local, pasture raised turkey from Brunty Farms, and did the braised-roasted approach. I was a bit concerned about carving off the legs of a hot bird — so I cut the thighs/legs and wings off first. Was glad I did as it made the whole process quite easy. I’ll be doing the same this week!

  • Rich M

    How about this? Forget the stock in the first phase. Roast the turkey until the breast is done — this gives you a fond and fat for the gravy. Then remove the leg/thigh joints and simmer half covered in wine/stock til tender. Best of both worlds?

  • Ed Tiesse

    Let us know if removing the leg tendons works. I read the same NY Times article and was Intrigued by this idea. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! I give thanks for writers like you who, like cooking, make the world a better place.

  • Charlotte

    I inherited one of those ginormous shiny aluminum roasters with the domed lid and I’ve been using it to roast/braise turkeys for a couple of years now. My sweetheart loves turkey, and the local Hutterite colony raises really good ones. I put the turkey in on a bed of leeks and other veg, add wine/broth, and roast for the first hour or so covered, which steams the whole bird. Then I take the lid off for the last hour or so to crisp up the skin. Since Himself only likes white meat, and I really like dark, plus, this makes it easy to make turkey soup the next day.

  • Natalie Luffer Sztern

    I think you have developed smell-avision cause I can literally smell the aroma of that Turkey. I make Turkey exactly like this because I get to have all the veggies as an extra side-dish to serve. Is there anything better than those veggies for someone to consume? Left over braising liquid goes into a soup the next day and if I am in the mood I make Matzoh Balls, too.

  • Ed

    I’ve got Pepin’s turkey in the oven right now. Looks/smells great. Regarding the leg tendons, it appears that all you really need to do is to simply make a cut around the base of the knob, making sure you cut through the skin and tendons. The skin will shrink back, exposing the tendon ends. (Next bird I’m going to try this on one drumstick and remove the knob on the other and compare the results). FWIW – I removed the knobs with a rubber mallet and a chefs knife.

    Also, I had a question about the cuts he made on the drumstick/thigh and wing/breast. The NY Times provided some pictures that clarify things: http://projects.nytimes.com/qa/events/thanksgiving-help-line/question/8510

    Hope everyone gets to spend some quality time with their families!

  • Mike

    Reading this post on braised and roasted turkey I actually found the new thermometer I need (the RediCheck Remote) that you suggested and I will be ordering it ! I will be making a trial run on this recipe in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thank you !

  • Gael N

    The technique that worked pretty well for me last year was cooking it upside-down over potatoes and other vegetables. If the breast and legs need to cook at different temperatures then it stands to reason for me that the breasts must be shielded. I use the potatoes and other root vegetables in the pan as a sort of insulation layer for the breasts while the legs get maximum heat. That way the legs and breast actually finish about the same time. Near the end I flip over the whole bird to brown the skin. If the goal is to keep the bird together then I believe this is the best way to go.

    One thing that never made that much sense to me was trussing the bird. If the legs need to cook at a higher temp then why tie them close to the bird? If anything it means it will take much longer for the legs to cook. After watching Heston Blumenthal recommend untrussed birds for the same reason I’ve been doing the same with much better results.

  • Jenny

    I don’t understand why you spend all the effort to make the skin crisp, then douse it with liquid. Doesn’t that just make it soggy?

  • Cris

    This was simply put, stupidly good. I’ve been doing a blast method forever with great results, doing a 550 degree start for 40 minutes or so and then dropping to 375 to finish. Foil over the breast for the initial blast helps keep the breast meat moist. But, with Amish birds and the like, as the post describes, the dark meat is tough and stringy. The last few years, I’ve avoided them for this reason in spite of their excellent flavor.

    I did a salt/sugar brine overnight and then followed the recipe more or less exactly. I had to add more liquid than I expected to cover the thigh, and it took longer to come to a simmer than I expected as a result. Other than adding an extra quart of liquid and 15 more minutes to get it to a simmer, everything else was the same. I think a slightly larger roasting pan can make a seemingly disproportionate difference.

    The outcome was total perfection. The dark meat had the full flavor of the aromatics, whereas I normally just get the hint of it in spite of dumping $20 worth of herbs and veg in there. The braise really tenderized the dark meat quite a bit, so you had the flavor of a more “natural” bird without the tough chew. The white meat picked up the flavor as well from the steam, though not as much as the dark.

    The only suggestion I’d have is, pull the bird when the white meat hits 150. I waited until 155, and by the time the time the skin was crisp under the broiler, even after a full rest, it was starting to dry out. Going all the way to 160 would have been too dry. At least on a smaller bird (10lbs for me), the broiler is really going to get the meat cooking before the skin crisps nicely.

    Thanks for this brilliantly obvious yet perfect method. I don’t know where it has been all my life.

  • Joanie

    This was incredible–even my daughter, who generally dislikes turkey, raved about how it was the best bird I’d ever made. Because of the size of my roasting pan, I had tons of broth to use for gravy and for soup, so I’m set until the next turkey holiday!

  • ruhlman

    thanks for people who tried and liked and took time to comment. my sis-in-law, a cia grad, tried it with 23# bird and is a convert too. love how it makes easy to serve hot.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1.  First turkey | Daria's World – things that make me smile
  2.  Thanksgiving Test « The Talent Code
  3.  How To Make Thanksgiving Gravy & Amazing Cranberry Sauce | Michael Ruhlman
  4.  Allow Me To Brag for a Moment About My Amazing Husband and Our Incredibly Delicious Turkey and Thanksgiving Meal | Salmon and Souvlaki