Perhaps you’ve pondered getting a “natural,” pastured or heritage breed turkey. Sure, you could probably roast these turkeys whole, smoke them, deep-fry them or cook them any number of other ways.
But to really showcase the natural flavor of these expensive birds, chef Bob Perry suggested a traditional French method: confit the dark meat and roast the breast.
To “confit” the meat involves cooking it in oil but don’t worry, this method isn’t remotely like deep frying.
“It’s not what you think with the oil,” said Perry, who teaches food production and gastronomy in the University of Kentucky Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition. “The meat does not absorb the oil.”
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Instead, it seals in the moisture of meat so it stays juicy and ultra tender. This is a method used in France, Perry said, often using goose or duck, to preserve the meat and works very well with natural turkeys. But it won’t work with conventional turkeys, such as Butterball, which are injected with brine.
Every year for his Thanksgiving dinner, Perry cooks the dark meat — the wings and legs — this way, and roasts the breasts, which gives guests a nice browned, seasoned alternative.
The method requires taking apart a whole raw turkey, something that many people might find intimidating. But Perry said it is not only simple, it’s economical.
“Nothing is wasted,” he said. All the bones, skin and extra parts can be roasted with carrots, onions and celery then boiled for 1 1/2 to 2 hours with water, white wine, bay leaves, whole black peppercorns and herbs to make stock the day before Thanksgiving. Refrigerate the stock then skim off the congealed fat and use the fat for the roux to make your gravy.
“Can’t have Thanksgiving without gravy,” he said.
The deconstruction and preparation is simple but must be done the day before you plan to cook and serve your bird.
The trick to taking off the wings and legs is to break the joint and cut through it, he said. Take the breasts off by cutting carefully around the ribcage after removing the wishbone, which is right in front of the neck opening.
If you like a stuffed turkey, you can stuff the breasts before tying them into a roll, or just dress them with salt, pepper and herbs (Perry, who trained in France, prefers herb de provence.)
Salt the dark pieces liberally with kosher salt. Place the dark meat in a large bowl, elevating them slightly on an upturned dish to keep the pieces out of the liquid that the salt will pull out of the meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight, along with the boned, seasoned and tied breasts.
After 24 hours, wash the salt off the dark pieces and pat them dry. Put them in a baking dish deep enough to cover completely with canola oil. Make sure the oil gets underneath and between all the pieces.
This will look like a tremendous amount of oil, but Perry pointed out that it doesn’t have to go to waste either because it can be saved to flavor risotto, rice or anything you’d like to add a little extra turkey flavor to later.
Cover and bake the turkey in oil at 325 to 350 degrees for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is tender. Let it cool in the oil and drain it off. The skin will pull free and the meat will fall off the bone.
You can roast the boned, seasoned and tied breast at the same time at 350 degrees until it reaches 160 degrees inside. (Use a meat thermometer to be sure.) Take it out, cool and slice.
Perry likes to arrange the dark meat pieces around the sliced breast on a platter, then let guests serve themselves.
The flavor of the dark meat “is pure turkey,” Perry said. “And the turkey’s already carved.”
Want a natural turkey?
Good Foods Co-op, 455 Southland Drive, has frozen natural turkeys available and will have fresh turkeys beginning Friday, including some from Farmer Joe’s in Mercer County and fresh turkey wings, thighs and drumsticks from Dutch Creek Farm in Shelby County. Call 859-278-1813 for more information.
Clark Family Farms, which raised the turkey prepared by chef Bob Perry, is sold out already this year.