When fall rolled around and I started thinking about Thanksgiving, I decided this would be the year I finally roasted my own turkey (we don’t host, this was simply for fun/a learning experience – however you want to look at it).  I even put it out there in a post a few weeks ago so I’d be held accountable.  Turns out I know myself pretty well because I started to have second thoughts about the turkey as it came time for me to actually go out and buy one.  Suddenly it seemed like such a monumental challenge.  I couldn’t back out though, right?  Not only had I publicly told all of you I’d be making a turkey, but I’d also mentioned it to Shane and he was really looking forward to it.  After visiting 3 stores last week, I finally found a fresh turkey that wasn’t 20+ pounds (apparently not many people are making turkeys for just 2 people; for the record, my bird was just under 14 pounds) and got to work.   

I’d decided to try a recipe I’d seen in a recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated, mainly because it called for butterflying the turkey before cooking it and that’s a method I’ve become fairly comfortable with in the past few months after making countless chickens in the same manner.  I quickly discovered that butterflying a turkey is a bit harder than butterflying a chicken.  For starters, the turkey was 3-4x bigger than any chicken I’ve roasted.  That means the bones I had to cut through to remove the backbone were thicker, offering more resistance; an even greater challenge was trying to avoid spreading the raw poultry mess all over the kitchen.  I tried to keep it contained to one cutting board, but the surface just wasn’t quite large enough.  I’d love to hear how you prep your turkey – really large cutting board or something else I haven’t thought of??


So, long story short, wrangling the bird was not easy.  Everything that came after that though was a piece of cake.  Seriously.  If I’d known it was so easy to roast a turkey I would have done it a long time ago!  The process for this recipe does take a while, but just about all of the time is hands-off while the bird is either roasting or resting.  Don’t be concerned if the skin doesn’t brown much during the first few hours in the oven.  My skin crisped up beautifully, but it was still pretty light in color.  There’s a great tip in this recipe about rubbing the bird with a combination of salt and baking powder before roasting, which really helps to draw out the moisture and aids in getting the skin crispy.  Browning will occur once you apply the glaze and pop the turkey back in the oven at a higher temperature.  One other note – I’ve included the instructions for the gravy below in the recipe, but I didn’t actually make the gravy (laziness) this time so I can’t comment on it. 

I thought the finished turkey was stunning – nicely browned with crisp skin.  More importantly, though, it was delicious!  The meat was moist and tender, which I attribute at least in part to the even cooking of the breast and thigh thanks to the butterfly method.  Though the glaze starts with more apple cider than anything else, we found that the cranberry and molasses flavors were the ones that were prominent in the end.  Maybe that shouldn’t have been surprising given the name of the recipe 🙂  The glaze is the perfect combination of tangy and sweet.  I think we’ve got enough leftover turkey to get us through to Thanksgiving day, if not longer, but I doubt there will be any complaints about that.        
Butterflied Turkey with Cranberry-Molasses Glaze
from Cook’s Illustrated, November/December 2010

1 turkey (12-14 lb)*, giblets and neck removed
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 large onions, peeled and halved

3 cups apple cider
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup light molasses
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Butterfly the turkey by first using kitchen shears to cut through the bones on either side of the backbone; remove and discard it.  Then, turn the turkey over and use the heels of both hands to press down firmly and flatten the breastbone. 

Use your fingers or the handle of a wooden spoon to carefully separate the skins from the thighs and breast of the turkey.  Use a skewer to poke 15-20 holes in the fat deposits on the breast halves and thighs.  Flip the turkey over (so the bones are facing you) and rub evenly with 2 teaspoons of salt and  1 teaspoon of pepper.  Flip the turkey back over and rub 1 tablespoon of salt under the skin on the breast and thighs.  Tuck the wings under the turkey then push the legs up to rest on the lower portion of the breast, tying them together with kitchen twine.  In a small bowl, combine the remaining tablespoon of salt, teaspoon of pepper, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder.  Pat the skin dry with paper towels then sprinkle the skin with the baking powder mixture.  Rub the mixture in evenly with your hands.  Finally, transfer the turkey to your roasting pan, skin side up. 

Create a makeshift roasting rack by placing 1 onion half under each breast and thigh (cut side of the onion down) – basically you just want to elevate the turkey off the bottom of the pan.  Allow the turkey to stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 275 F with a rack in the bottom third.  Roast the turkey until an instant-read thermometer registers 160 F when inserted in the breast and 170 to 175 F when inserted in the thigh, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  Remove the pan from the oven and let the turkey rest (in the pan) for at least 30 minutes (or up to 1 1/2 hours).  Raise the temperature to 450 F at least 30 minutes before returning the turkey to the oven.

To make the glaze: While the turkey is resting, add the cider, cranberries, molasses, vinegar, mustard and ginger to a boil in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is reduced to about 1 1/2 cups, about 30 minutes.  (Keep an eye on the glaze – mine boiled over when I turned my back.)  Strain the reduced glaze through a fine-mesh strainer into a heat-proof measuring cup.  Discard the solids – you’ll have about 1 1/4 cups of glaze.  Transfer 1/2 cup of the glaze to a small saucepan; set aside. 

Brush the turkey with 1/3 of the glaze left in the measuring cup.  Return to the oven and roast for 7 minutes.  Remove the turkey from the oven, brush with half of the remaining glaze and roast for an additional 7 minutes.  Finally, brush the remaining glaze on the turkey and roast until the skin is browned and crispy, about another 7-10 minutes.  Transfer the turkey to a cutting board and let rest at least 20 minutes before carving. 

To make the gravy: Remove the onions from the roasting pan.  Strain the liquid in the pan through a fine mesh strainer into a fat separator – you’ll have about 2 cups of liquid.  Allow the liquid to settle for 5 minutes then add it to the pan with the reserved glaze, discarding the fat.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat and cook until slightly syrupy, about 10 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter to finish the gravy. 

*I don’t see any reason this method wouldn’t work on a larger bird.  The main issue would probably be finding a roasting pan large enough to hold the turkey once it had been butterflied.

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