What If You Only Make the Parts of the Turkey You Like?

What If You Only Make the Parts of the Turkey You Like?
Photo: Claire Lower

It’s accepted culinary wisdom that breaking down a turkey into its various parts and cooking them to their own, unique target temperatures is the best way to prepare the bird. But for a lot us, there’s no reason to buy a whole bird this year at all. If you happen to live in a house with people who love the same parts of the turkey as you, use this opportunity to focus on those portions of beast, and say to hell! with the rest of it.

Confit some thighs in lard

I am a dark meat enthusiast, and one of my favourite ways to prepare thighs — or whole legs — is to give them the confit treatment. Full instructions can be found here, but you’ll start with a dry brine, then treat the meat to a luxurious lard bath, followed by an overnight rest in the fridge. Once you’re ready to serve your turkey, simply heat the thighs in a low-temp (110 C) oven until the lard has liquified. Remove the thighs and finish them off in a nonstick pan, heating them on all sides until they are warm and the skin is nice and golden brown.

Buttermilk brine a breast

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

Unfortunately, most of the people I love do not share my enthusiasm for turkey thighs and legs, and my desire to please often overwhelms my hunger for dark meat. Luckily, this buttermilk-brined breast is so good, I’m willing to take the L and let the white-meat eaters prevail — mainly because I am extremely impressed with myself each time I make this recipe.

Buttermilk can brown quite rapidly, so I like to dilute the soured dairy with a little water to slow it down. I heat the water with some sugar, salt, and peppercorns, as well as a few smashed garlic cloves and a bay leaf, then cool it, combine it with the buttermilk and let the turkey hang out in the resulting mixture for a full 24 hours. After that, it’s simply a matter of roasting the thing in a 190 C degree oven until the thickest part of the breast reads 150℉. Let rest for 15 minutes, then serve.

Make a couple ren faire-style legs

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

If quarantine has made you long for a simpler time, a time when you could wander around a renaissance faire or Disney World while gnawing on a turkey leg, unencumbered by fear of disease, this is the turkey recipe for you.

It is kind of a project (of which you can read the details here), but I think it’s worth your time. The legs are first dry brined, then sous vide-ed in duck fat, then deep-fried. You can swap sous-vide for the confit method mentioned above and get pretty much the same result, but an immersion circulator lets you use less fat, which means you can use a more expensive fat (duck fat, in this case).

Make a giant turkey skin crisp

If your primary issue with not cooking a whole bird is that it will leave you with a paltry amount of poultry skin, consider asking your butcher for any skin scraps they may have lying around. Then, simply roast the (seasoned) skin between two parchment-lined sheet pans in a 190 C degree oven for 30-45 minutes. Once it’s a deep, sultry, golden brown, remove it from the oven and let it dry on a cooling rack, where it will crisp up further. Serve with the rest of your turkey, if you can stand to wait that long.

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