Batting around Thanksgiving menu options with an old friend with whom I’ve cooked MANY elaborate dinners, I was surprised to hear him say: I’d like to rethink the traditional meal this time, and simplify it. It’s so much work and last-minute stress for an overloaded plateful of food that gets eaten in a few minutes. My sentiments exactly. What is really essential, we wondered, to make the meal FEEL like Thanksgiving?
We briefly considered replacing the giant, many-hours-to-cook turkey with a pork roast, or wrapping the whole bird in pancetta, when we suddenly hit on it: spatchcock it, i.e. butterfly the bird — removing its backbone and spreading it out flat — to cook it in way less time while exposing all of its skin to hot oven heat and crisping. The dark meat gets done before the white meat has the chance to dry out (the problem when roasting birds whole).
I’ve used the spatchcock technique a million times with chicken, both on top of the stove weighted with a brick (recipe here), and roasted in the oven on a sheet pan when I needed a bird cooked in half the time as a regular roast chicken. It is not gorgeous looking but WILL be once it is sliced and arranged on a platter.
Here’s my hybrid method that employs the technique of dry brining I’ve used for years with a spatchcocked turkey. Serious Eats completely demystifies “spatchcocking” with a terrific tutorial and the video above. All you need is a sharp chef’s knife (if necessary with a mallet or hammer to pound it through the bone) or heavy shears. OXO’s Poultry Shears will cut through just about anything. I like OXO Good Grips Multi-Purpose Kitchen Shears because they can handle MANY jobs around the kitchen. The other tool I swear by for roasting a bird is an instant-read thermometer like the Digi.
The key to getting a really moist bird with super-crisp skin is to salt it 2 to 3 days in advance, AND leave it uncovered skin-side-up uncovered in the fridge for the last 24 hours. The salt penetrates the flesh and seasons it while the skin dries in the open air of the fridge.
If you want to serve stuffing, make it as usual and place in a buttered baking dish. Cover and put it in the oven to bake with the turkey for the last hour. When you carve the bird, moisten the stuffing with some of the salty juices.
Recipe: Dry-Brined Butterflied Roast Turkey
One 10-12 pound turkey
Small bunch of fresh thyme and/or rosemary
To spatchcock the turkey, place it breast down on a cutting board. Pat dry with paper towels and use them to get a secure grasp of the bird. Holding firmly with one hand, use a heavy, sharp knife or shears to cut along one side of the backbone, starting at the tail end (the bones are thinner there). Make an identical cut along the other side of the backbone (make sure not to get any fingers in the way of cutting implements). Watch the video above or checkout Serious Eats Excellent Tutorial. Save the backbone, neck and giblets to make a rich turkey broth (below).
Rub the turkey all over with Kosher salt, figuring about one tablespoon per 5 pounds, or 1/2 teaspoon per pound (Exact amounts are not critical). “Fold” the turkey so the rib cage halves are pressed against each other. Place the turkey in a large plastic bag, seal and place in the fridge in a shallow bowl or platter. If you don’t have a plastic bag, place in a shallow bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Turn every day, massaging the salt and juice into the flesh.
IF you have room in your fridge, a day before roasting remove the bird and pat dry. Place the bird skin-side-up on a platter and refrigerate uncovered, which allows the skin to dry (and eventually crisp). (If you don’t have the room or energy to do this, this step is not essential).
One hour before roasting, remove the turkey from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels and arrange breast-side-up on a flat, elevated baking rack set in large sheet or roasting pan. Splay and flatten the legs and tuck the wings under the back. Tuck herb sprigs liberally under the bird, in the leg crease and nestled in the wing creases.
Roast 20 minutes. Baste with the pan juices and return to the oven. Reduce the heat to 400’F. Roast 15 minutes longer then check the internal temperature: insert an instant read thermometer into the thigh. It should register 165′. If it’s not there yet, continue roasting, basting, and checking the internal temperature every 10 minutes. A 10-pound bird should take about 45 minutes so you can gauge more or less time according to the size of your bird, approximately 4 minute per pound. Since the cooking time can vary greatly depending on your oven, testing the bird with an instant read thermometer is the best way to go.
If the breast is browning too quickly, cover lightly with a piece of aluminum foil.
Transfer the turkey to a platter and let it rest in a warm place for 10 to 15 minutes before carving. To carve: remove the leg thighs first and cut apart at the joint. Slice the thing meat. Remove the wings. Using a thin, sharp knife, peel the breast meat off the ribcage in one piece. Place on the cutting board and cut crosswise. Arrange the turkey pieces on a platter. Scroll down here at Serious Eats for excellent pictorial for how to carve.
Turkey Broth and Pan Gravy. I recommend using the backbone, giblets and neck to make a turkey broth to augment the pan juices and cool out their saltiness. You can make it days ahead and keep it in the fridge or freeze it until ready to use.
To make a Turkey broth, place in a saucepan with some homemade or store-bought (low-sodium) chicken broth, along with a halved shallot, two cloves, a sprig of thyme, bayleaf and a chopped carrot. Simmer about 45 minutes until the broth is very rich, then strain and discard the bones and aromatics. Skim the fat.
To make a rich unthickened pan sauce, pour the fatty drippings in the roasting pan into a small bowl. Place the roasting pan on a burner over medium heat until hot and splash in about 1/2 cup dry white wine. Boil down, stirring and scraping the caramelized bits on the bottom of the pan, until almost dry, and add some of the turkey broth and as much as the drippings as you like. Continue stirring, scraping and simmering until you have a richly flavored turkey ‘jus’.