Around this time last year, I posted a guest feature from one of my favorite professional chefs, Chef Ryan, on how to cook the perfect turkey. I have now used this recipe several times and, without fail, each turkey turns out amazing. If you’re looking for the perfect turkey recipe, don’t look any further! Please note, this recipe takes some prep time, so be prepared to get started a few days before T-Day. It’s worth it, though. Your guests will most definitely be thankful.
See below for the original post!
My Special Guest, Chef Ryan, trained at and graduated from Johnson & Wales Culinary School and has been a professional chef for over 12 years. Chef Ryan has worked at a number of 5 star hotels and restaurants, including the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas and the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. After years of working in fine dining establishments, Chef Ryan is now applying his culinary expertise and experience to restaurant development and operations in the Central Coast and Los Angeles area.
The Best Thanksgiving Turkey…EVER!
First of all, I wish people would cook turkey more often than just on Thanksgiving. If you choose to prepare your turkey using my method you will see that you don’t need to cook your bird for 8 hours, taking up the entire oven, and basting it every 20 minutes. It also doesn’t need to take up all the room in your fridge for 3 days. I gave up cooking whole turkeys many years ago because I hate dried out white meat that needs cranberries and gravy just so you can swallow it. I also decided a few years back that, as much as I love cooking Thanksgiving, I also enjoy spending the time with my family rather than only in the kitchen. Along with everything else included in my Thanksgiving menu, my turkey is prepared a day or two before, and only needs about 2 hours to cook. The trick is cooking the legs/thighs separately from the breast. This turkey carves easily, presents beautifully, tastes amazing, and guarantees success.
One Week Before Turkey Day: Order a fresh turkey from your butcher a week before Thanksgiving (note from Aimee: I buy a Mary’s Organic Turkey from Whole Foods). It you decide top buy a frozen turkey, make sure it has not been brined or has had any added water. If you’re not experienced in butchering birds, ask your butcher to separate the leg/thigh quarter from the breast and remove the rib cage from the double breast. Make sure to leave the bones in and skin on. Also, make sure the butcher saves the neck bone and rib cage (cut in 4 pieces). He can keep the liver, heart, and other trimmings.
Two Days Before Turkey Day: Soak your bird in an extremely flavorful liquid called a brine (recipe below). Through the power of osmosis (two liquids trying to be equal) your plain, dry, flavorless bird will absorb some of the brine, making it moist and delicious. I suggest that you place your 2 leg quarters and double breast in a large heavy duty trash bag, cover it in the cold brine, remove all the air you can, twist the bag tight, then use 2 zip ties to seal the bag. Place that bag inside another bag and repeat the process. Refrigerate. This process ensures that the turkey will come in complete contact with the brine without taking up a huge amount of space in the fridge.
Turkey Stock: Quarter 2 onions, peel and chop 3 carrots, chop 3 stalks of celery and toss in a bowl with the neck, rib cage bones and just enough oil to coat. Roast in a 400 degree oven on a foil-lined cookie sheet for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown. Place everything in a pot and cover with 2 inches of cold water. Over a low flame, slowly bring the water to a SIMMER, and cook for 4 hours. DO NOT LET IT BOIL. Strain and place in the fridge.
Turkey Day: Remove your bird from the brine, pat dry, and rub with seasoned butter (recipe below). Place the pieces on a roasting pan with a rack, and roast in a 350 degree oven until cooked. I can’t tell you for how long, so don’t even ask. Cooking time depends on many factors: When was the last time your oven was calibrated? What temperature was the turkey when it went in? How many times will you open the oven while it’s cooking (don’t do that!, by the way)? What else is in the oven with your turkey? What type of pan is the turkey in? Etc… The turkey is done when a kitchen thermometer says it is done. Use a thermometer like this one, which allows you to run the cord outside the oven so that you can monitor the temperature without opening the oven door. The breast is done when the center of the breast meat is 160 degrees; the leg/thigh meat is done when it reaches 170 degrees. This may or may not happen at the same time. Don’t worry. You will need to rest the bird anyways, so just pull the pieces out when they are done and tent them in foil.
While the turkey pieces are resting, pour the melted butter and drippings from the bottom of the roasting pan into a pot and place over a medium heat. Simmer until the fat stops splattering (water is cooked out of the oil) and sprinkle with flour 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring until you get a something that looks like wet sand, otherwise known as a roux. Be sure to add the flour slowly to avoid lumps. Continue to cook until the roux is golden brown, then whisk with a wire whisk and slowly pour in the cold turkey stock that you made two days earlier. Return to a slow simmer. If the gravy is too thick, pour in the drippings from the resting turkey or a few drops of water. If the gravy is too thin continue to cook for a few more minutes. Season the gravy with salt and pepper to taste, then add some fresh chopped parsley for color.
As for serving, I like to pull the dark meat off the leg and thigh bones into nice chunks, removing all those little bones. Then I remove the entire breast from each side with the skin on, so you can slice it across the grain. This way, if people want dark meat, they don’t look like Fred Flintstone munching on a whole leg or need to deal with a lot of people trying to share only a few pieces of dark meat. Besides, the breast meat will be so moist that, once the dark meat runs out, people gladly will take seconds on the breast meat.
This may seem like a little more work than just sticking a 22 lb. bird in the oven, but trust me it’s not. The bird will cook in far less than time, and will taste so good that you might even cook a turkey more than once a year.
Good luck, and Happy Turkey Day!
- Chef Ryan
Poultry Brine Recipe
- 64 oz apple cider or juice (non-alcoholic)
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ½ cup salt
- 1 tsp. chili flakes
- ¼ cup pickling spice
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 12 black peppercorns
- 1 thumb fresh ginger, smashed
- 1 head fresh garlic, split
- zest and juice of 1 orange
Boil 4 cups of the cider, and chill the remaining cider. Add all the ingredients to the boiling cider, simmer for 2 minutes while stirring until everything is dissolved. Add the rest of the cold cider, then marinate the bird for approximately 48 hours. Do not begin marinating the poultry until the brine has completely cooled.
Turkey Butter Rub
- 3 sticks butter, soft
- 10-12 fresh sage leaves, torn into small pieces
- 1 tbsp. paprika
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. brown sugar
- a pinch of cayenne powder or chili flakes
Place the ingredients in your food processor and process until well-incorporated and smooth. If you don’t have a food processor, chop the sage finely by hand, then incorporate all the ingredients in a bowl with a wire whisk or spoon. This can be made days or weeks ahead and stored, but bring it to room temperature before rubbing onto the bird.