Deconstucted Turkey


Kelly Rossiter Photo
Kelly Rossiter

Difficulty Level Easy

I've been to a lot of Thanksgiving dinners in my time, some years we've had three of them. Never once have I seen the turkey brought to the table a la Norman Rockwell. Carving a turkey takes a bit of time and is a messy business and we've always opted for cutting the bird in the privacy of the kitchen. No doubt there are families who do a very formal Thanksgiving dinner with Father at the head of the table wielding the cutlery while Mother accepts the congratulations for a beautifully roasted bird, but I think times have changed somewhat and family Thanksgiving dinners have changed with it.

In my childhood and young adulthood we could easily have twenty or twenty-five people at the Thanksgiving table and my aunt would roast the largest turkey she could get. My cousins all have grandchildren now and have their own family traditions. My own family Thanksgiving has dwindled to five of us. Sometimes the thought of a huge turkey for five people is a bit daunting. My mother can no longer stuff the turkey by herself, nor can she lift the roasting pan into the oven, and family traditions being what they are, she refuses to come to my house for Thanksgiving, so it was with great excitement that I came across this idea for a deconstructed turkey from Epicurious.

Essentially the idea is to buy the turkey in manageable pieces, brine it, roast it and then serve it on a platter already carved. This solves so many problems for us. You can mix and match the turkey parts you want. Does your family fight over the legs? Buy a few more of them. All five of us prefer white meat, so I wouldn't buy any legs or wings at all, just the breast. The other fantastic benefit is that it takes significantly less time to roast than putting the bird in whole so you are saving energy.You don't have to worry about the breast drying out while the legs finish cooking, you can stagger the cooking time a bit. You can still buy enough to have leftovers, but you don't have to be overwhelmed by them. I cooked a single turkey breast for my husband and I to try out this recipe and we got the initial dinner plus a few sandwiches over the next couple of days. My husband was so happy not to have to eat any turkey casseroles.

For me, the only downside to this is a lack of dressing (or stuffing, if you prefer). However, many people choose to cook the dressing separately anyway, to avoid the problem of salmonella. Especially with a large bird, the meat could be cooked well before the interior of the bird has come to a safe temperature.

If you don't want to take the time to brine the turkey, go ahead and just roast it, however I thought brining it made a huge difference in the moistness of the meat and the flavour. My mother always over cooks the turkey (another family tradition), but I think even she would have trouble making a brined turkey dry. It was fantastic, and I'll never cook another turkey without brining it first. The recipe calls for putting the turkey in resealable bags, but I don't use stuff like that in my kitchen, so I just put it in a large bowl and it worked just fine. I also didn't put water in the bottom of the pan, most because my turkey breast wasn't that big and it didn't cook for very long at all.


To brine turkey
1 turkey breast on the bone
3 turkey drumsticks
2 turkey thighs
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup honey
1 head garlic, cut in half
2 dried bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 large whole sprigs fresh sage
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
2 teaspoons allspice berries
1/4 cup fresh celery leaves
To roast turkey
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Leaves from
2 large sprigs sage, plus several whole sprigs for garnish
For gravy
2 to 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
(6 1/2 to 7 pound)(about 2 1/4 pounds total)(about 1 1/2 pounds total)(do not peel)(from 1 bunch)(1/2 stick)


To brine turkey

  1. Rinse turkey parts and place in doubled 2 1/2-gallon resealable plastic bags (or large stockpot). Add salt, honey, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, sage, peppercorns, allspice, and celery leaves. Add enough cold water to cover turkey -- about 3 quarts. Press out air, close bags, and place in large bowl or other container to protect against leaks. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

To roast turkey

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven.
  2. Remove turkey parts from brine, pat dry with paper towels, and place, skin side up, on racks set in 2 medium roasting pans (be sure to leave space between parts for air circulation). Pour 1 cup water into each pan. Drizzle turkey parts with melted butter and scatter with sage leaves. Place 1 pan on each oven rack and roast until beginning to brown, about 30 minutes.
  3. Lower heat to 400°F, switch positions of pans, and rotate each pan 180°. Continue roasting until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of breast, avoiding bone, registers 165°, about 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Transfer turkey parts to platter and tent with foil.

To make gravy

  1. Pour pan juices into 4-cup glass measuring cup, let stand until fat rises to top, 2 to 3 minutes, then skim off and reserve fat.
  2. Set 1 roasting pan across 2 burners, add 2 cups chicken broth, and bring to simmer over moderately high heat, scraping up any browned bits. Add simmering broth to pan juices in measuring cup, then add additional chicken broth, if needed, to equal 4 cups liquid.
  3. In medium saucepan over moderately low heat, melt butter, then whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly, until smooth, approximately 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in broth mixture and any collected juices from platter holding turkey, then raise heat to moderately high and boil mixture, uncovered, until thickened, about 8 minutes.
  4. Season gravy with salt and pepper to taste. Carve turkey pieces and garnish with sage; serve with gravy.

    Less is More Thanksgiving

This recipe appears in: Fall
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