The centerpiece of any great Thanksgiving dinner is the bird. But it's sometimes the most stressful part of the meal. Uneven cooking, dried-out breast meat, long cooking times, excessive leftovers, and smoke-filled kitchens leave many of us wishing we could just eat quiche. This Thanksgiving, eliminate stress and make turkey-cooking easy with one of these simple ideas:
1 - Butter, Garlic, and Sage Turkey for Two.
Cooking for a smaller crowd? Skip the whole bird, and roast just a breast. One 6-pound bone-in turkey breast will feed two with leftovers. Make a paste of 1/3 cup softened butter, 1/4 cup finely minced fresh sage leaves, and 4 finely minced garlic cloves. Gently loosen the skin from the meat and rub half the butter paste over the meat. Rub remaining butter paste over the skin. Arrange breast in roasting pan and add 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup white wine. Cook at 325°F for 1½-2 hours.
2 - Pomegranate-Glazed Spatchcocked Turkey.
Cut turkey time in half by spatchcocking, or butterflying, your turkey. Generally, you'll remove the backbone (ask your butcher to do the honors), then lay the bird flat, breast and skin-side up. To make the glaze, whisk together 1 cup pomegranate molasses, 1/2 cup orange juice, 4 minced garlic cloves, and 1/4 cup Dijon mustard. Thinly slice 2 onions and layer on bottom of roasting pan; generously cover with rosemary sprigs. Place turkey on top of onion and rosemary, and cook at 425°F for about 11/2 hours. During the last 15 minutes of cooking, brush half the glaze over the turkey. Finish cooking, then remove from oven and brush on remaining glaze.
3 - Dry-brined Turkey with Apple and Fennel.
Brining-soaking a turkey in salted liquid-keeps flesh moist, but it's messy and difficult. Dry-brining your bird by rubbing the skin with salt and herbs is a faster, simpler solution that, like traditional brining, keeps the meat from drying out. Mix 1/2 cup kosher salt with 3 Tbs. fennel seeds, 1 Tbs. crushed red pepper flakes, and 1/4 cup brown sugar. Rub over turkey and refrigerate overnight. Stuff turkey with 1 quartered onion, 4 quartered fennel bulbs, 2 quartered apples, and a handful of fresh thyme sprigs. Roast at 400°F, reducing heat to 350°F after 30 minutes, for a total cooking time of about 3 hours.
4 - Applewood-smoked Turkey with Chipotle-Maple Glaze.
If you can't stand smoky kitchens or the smell of turkey lingering for days after the event, this recipe's for you. Smoking a whole turkey on an outdoor grill over woodchips adds a depth and complexity of flavor everyone will love, and keeps smoke and smell out of the house. Purée a cup of maple syrup with 2 canned chipotle peppers and 4 garlic cloves, and brush glaze over turkey and inside cavity.
Place whole turkey, breast side down, in disposable foil roasting pan. Scatter damp applewood chips over a charcoal grill. Place pan on the cooking grate and roast turkey at 350-400°F, adding more damp wood chips several times during cooking. After 1 hour, turn bird over so breast side is up. Cook for about 21/2 hours total.
5 - Plank-roasted
Turkey Breast with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Figs. Turn your Thanksgiving into a "planksgiving" this year by cooking turkey breasts on a cedarwood plank for tender meat and manageable leftovers. To start, soak plank in a mixture of white wine and water for several hours, then remove from liquid and rub with olive oil. Rub 1 split turkey breast with butter, and sprinkle lightly with salt and generously with coarsely ground black pepper. Place soaked and oiled plank in a roasting pan, put turkey breast on plank, and scatter 1 chopped onion, 2 lbs. sliced mushrooms, and 1/2 lb. bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, around pan. Roast at 350°F for about 2 hours.
Meet the Chef
Chef Taylor Boudreaux takes Thanksgiving turkey and a traditional side dish to new heights with fresh herbs and unexpected flavors in two of his signature recipes (featured above): Lemon Verbena Brined Turkey and Rainbow Carrots with Honey Ginger Butter. "In composing a dish, I cook so that each part could stand on its own, but together the dish can be amazing," says Taylor, who has his own organic vegetable garden at home.
Boudreaux's accomplished career includes working as the executive chef for Mastro's Steakhouse in Beverly Hills, as well as at Wolfgang Puck Worldwide. Today, Taylor lends his expertise to Napa Valley Grille in Los Angeles, where he is the executive chef. He emphasizes fresh, quality ingredients to create rustic cuisine in which the elements are perfectly balanced-and the Rainbow Carrots are a popular item on the menu. Visit napavalleygrille.com/westwood to learn more.