By Scott Smith
---- — There are all kinds of ways to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey, many of them beyond tedious.
The key to a juicy turkey is simple, however. You need to keep the liquid from evaporating. This means cooking the bird in a covered pot.
Basting, which involves pouring liquid over something, in order to watch it fall quickly down the sides, is not particularly useful.
A chef once showed me the trick of cooking a whole bird breast side down, uncovering it and turning it over about 30 minutes from serving to brown the top. Because the fat from the dark meat drains downward through the breast meat, this works nicely, if you don’t mind turning over a large, hot bird. It’s not for the faint of heart.
There is also the question of stuffing. Inserting regular stuffing into a bird’s cavity does two things: It soaks up the wonderful juices a bird produces, and it turns into a gummy, half-edible mess.
My foolproof method, which serves about 10, dispenses with a few things: dark meat (meh), bread stuffing (make it in another pan if you must, I don’t much care for it), and basting.
It’s pretty simple, but it requires a nice five-quart, cast-iron Dutch oven (or an equivalent-sized creuset), and some stout cooking shears.
Purchase a good frozen whole turkey breast (5-7 lbs.), and completely thaw it (this will take at least two days) in the fridge. Now you’re ready.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and then prepare the bird.
Discard the innards, which aren’t needed for this recipe, and proceed to cut the back completely out of the turkey breast. Discard the back. This is simply to make the breast fit comfortably in the Dutch oven, with the lid on.
Chop up three large peeled carrots, three or four stalks of celery, one onion and three or four cloves of garlic and mix all of that with one bunch of roughly chopped parsley.
Rub butter, salt, pepper and perhaps some poultry seasoning under the skin of the breasts, then place half of the vegetables/parsley in the bottom of the Dutch oven, place the turkey breast side up on top of the vegetables, and then place the rest of the vegetables/parsley around the sides of the bird.
Drizzle the whole thing with about two tablespoons of olive oil, cover, and cook for about 3 ½ hours. If the top isn’t brown enough for you, turn the heat up to 425 and cook uncovered for a few minutes until it reaches the desired brownness.
Remove the turkey to rest for a few minutes, while you pour all of the beautiful liquid/vegetables into a colander over a large container (or just strain all of the liquid from the pot). Discard the vegetables, and use the liquid (there should be two cups, if there's less add water or chicken stock to make up the difference) for gravy, using the standard gravy ratio of three tablespoons of butter, three tablespoons of flour and two cups of liquid. Make a roux with the flour and butter, and then whisk in the hot liquid. Cook the gravy for about 10 minutes, and season to taste.
Carve the breast meat, and serve with the gravy and whatever else you’ve made. Tender, juicy and delicious turkey, is there anything better?
Scott Smith worked as an apprentice chef at d'ell Ugo in London, Bravo, Peter's and Ambrosia restaurants in Indianapolis, and the Uptown Cafe in Bloomington prior to becoming a journalist.