Skip The White Meat, Braise The Dark Meat and Your Turkey Will Never Be Dry

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Here’s the thing about turkey. If I were making it for my family, this year, I’d go the Gina DePalma route (click that link for her excellent essay on how to keep it simple): a whole roasted bird, some butter, some stuffing, the end. But, as it happens, I’m not cooking for my family this year (we’re going out! “It’s just easier”) so last week I made a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for some friends and threw tradition out the window. The first thing to go? The white meat. Sure, you can monitor the temperature and hope that it doesn’t taste like sandpaper when you roast it in the oven, but why bother when the dark meat–legs and thighs–are so much better? (Note: if you must have white meat, slow-roasting the breast is best.) Best of all, if you braise them, you can do everything the day before and it will only taste better. Let me repeat that. You can have all the turkey cooked the day before and don’t have to stress on Thanksgiving Day. That’s worthy of a parade right there.

Instead of using your stockpot to deep fry a turkey (which can be dangerous, expensive and often not worth it), use it to braise as many turkey thighs and legs as you need. You can buy them all separately, one thigh or two legs for each guest. One tip: thighs are better than legs because legs have lots of little bones (I actually swallowed one while eating this when it was done and that put a damper on my otherwise rah-rah attitude about the braised turkey). Start by seasoning the legs and thighs with lots of salt and pepper.

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Then pour in a layer of vegetable or canola oil to coat the bottom of the stock pot and turn up the heat. Warning: this can actually be a little tricky because it’s so deep, the thighs and legs can be hard to maneuver while searing. I used tongs and made a big effort not to splash myself with hot oil.

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That said, take your time getting them good and brown; in fact, when you get home from the store, do what I do and just start browning right away and then, while that’s happening, you can chop up the carrots, celery, onions and leeks. (Oh, I forgot to mention: I adapted a recipe from Bon Appetit.)

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Once you have all your turkey browned on all sides…

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You pour off the excess oil–leave a few tablespoons–and add all the vegetables and a big pinch of salt.

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When those are nice and soft, add white wine (I used a whole bottle), thyme and sage:

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Let that evaporate by half and then add all the turkey back in and cover with chicken stock. Turn up the heat, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover and cook, just like that, for three hours–stirring every so often.

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When you’re done, the turkey will be falling off the bone (see lead picture) and will be infused with all that flavor from those vegetables, the garlic (did I mention there’s garlic?), and white wine. Now all you have to do is let it come to room temperature, refrigerate it (you’ll have to make room) and on Thanksgiving, take this out a few hours before to come to room temperature again, bring back to a simmer and guess what? You can make gravy from the braising liquid.

Strain some of it into a pot, then pour out about a cup of liquid and whisk with a cup of flour.

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Whisk that flour mixture into strained braising liquid, bring to a boil and cook until thick, seasoning to your liking.

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There you have it: gravy. As for the turkey, check it out.

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This isn’t a Norman Rockwell moment. But everyone who ate it raved about how moist it was. And how often do you hear that when you make turkey? Not often, I say. Which is why if you’re cooking for a crowd of food-lovers–and not, say, all-American Aunt Agnes–take my advice and braise all the dark meat you can. It’s a preparation that gives turkey a good name.

Recipe: Braised Turkey Legs and Thighs

Summary: My adaptation of a Bon Appetit recipe. Note: theirs feeds 4, mine feeds 10.

Ingredients

  • 10 medium-sized skin-on turkey thighs (or add some turkey legs instead, though those bones…I’m traumatized)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 leeks, white and pale green parts, cleaned and chopped (separate the layers to avoid getting grit)
  • 6 celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • 6 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 10 garlic cloves, crushed
  • A bottle of dry white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
  • 8 sprigs thyme
  • 8 sprigs sage
  • 2 quarts chicken stock (may need more to cover; or use water to supplement)
  • Chopped parsley (for garnishing)

Instructions

  1. Season the turkey thighs generously with salt and pepper.
  2. Pour enough vegetable oil into your stock pot to coat the bottom. Turn up the heat and when very hot, begin searing your thighs—well not your thighs, the turkey thighs. Put them in skin side down and leave them alone; check with tongs after 4 minutes. They should be deep chestnut brown before you flip them. (Be careful when flipping, though, that oil is hot. If it helps, use a spatula along with the tongs.)
  3. When the turkey is brown on all sides, remove to a platter and continue browning the remaining turkey. When all the turkey is brown, pour off any excess oil (leave a few tablespoons) and add the vegetables to the pot–the onions, leeks, celery, carrots, and garlic–and season with salt. Cook, picking up the brown bits as you stir, until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes or so.
  4. Pour in the bottle of white wine and add the thyme and sage, bring to a boil and allow to evaporate until reduced by almost half. At that point, add your thighs back in and cover with chicken stock. Add a pinch of salt for good measure. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover and cook just like that for three hours. Check every so often: you don’t want the bubbles too active–it shouldn’t be boiling–just simmering.
  5. When the meat is falling off the bone, your turkey is done. Turn off the heat, allow to come to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to use. You can do this up to three days ahead.

Preparation time: 1 hour(s)

Cooking time: 3 hour(s)

Number of servings (yield): 8

My rating 5 stars:  ★★★★★ 1 review(s)

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22 comments

  1. This looks fantastic. I’m from Austria so I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving but I’m thinking maybe Christmas might be the right time for this…Thanks for the inspiration! (I was never a fan of the white meat anyway :) )

  2. I can only agree.
    But since I raise Poultry myself I use the right thigh only.
    I observed, that they only stand on their left leg when they sleep. This makes the muscles tougher then the meat of the right leg.
    For my Restaurant I found a wholesaler who specially selects Chicken thigh meat of the right thigh only. I am gladly pay the extra cost because the difference (more tender meat) is well worth it.

  3. What a delicious recipe! I use the leg and thigh quite a bit, they’re inexpensive here and good if you’re on a budget! I’ve never tried them like this though but will certainly do so next time. May I share this recipe for the legs and thighs which is easy and looks after itself! Great for a Sunday lunch. http://agypsieswife.wordpress.com/2013/10/23

  4. Hi!! I just wanted to tell you that I used your turkey confit recipe for a two-person Thanksgiving dinner this year, using thighs rather than drumsticks, and it was fantastic. Really, really, fantastic. I served it with simple steamed green beans, baked mashed potatoes with parmesan and romano, and a mushroom gravy. I’ve done braises in the past (notably, Mark Bittman’s), and while they’re really tasty, they also make a boatload more food than two people need. Plus, the beauty of sauteeing the confited thighs is that it gives you a base for gravy, which braising does not do. So I just wanted to pass that on, and to thank you for the wonderful idea.

  5. Yes-indeedy-do!!!!!!! man, this was good-a-licious! I really liked how my kitchen smelled as I both browned the turkey and as I deglazed the pot with the veggies. My ex used to braise a whole, small turkey but the important liquid was Welch’s Grape Juice. I used to enjoy it but had to hurry to the pot to get the dark meat. I used two thighs, two legs, and the drumstick portion of the wings. I’m gonna make spicy turkey nachos with one of the breasts. I’ll bake the back and the wing portions after I salt cure ’em w/ rosemary, thyme, garlic, ‘n lemon.

    Thank you! (my daughter loved it too)

  6. Nice Healthy Recipe! Great for fitness lovers like me. Low fat, low carb, high in protein and best of all HEALTHY. Well done! I will make this for christmas!

  7. I made the recipe as is and then made the gravy. I used the turkey and veggies with the gravy to make a pot pie. Incredibly flavorful and wonderfully warm on a cold winter day.

  8. I made the recipe as is and then made the gravy. I used the turkey and veggies with the gravy to make a pot pie. Incredibly flavorful and wonderfully warm on a cold winter day.

  9. I made the recipe as is and then made the gravy. I used the turkey and veggies with the gravy to make a pot pie. Incredibly flavorful and wonderfully warm on a cold winter day.

  10. I made the recipe as is and then made the gravy. I used the turkey and veggies with the gravy to make a pot pie. Incredibly flavorful and wonderfully warm on a cold winter day.

  11. I made the recipe as is and then made the gravy. I used the turkey and veggies with the gravy to make a pot pie. Incredibly flavorful and wonderfully warm on a cold winter day.

  12. I made the recipe as is and then made the gravy. I used the turkey and veggies with the gravy to make a pot pie. Incredibly flavorful and wonderfully warm on a cold winter day.

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