Last year, I hosted Thanksgiving (something I don’t normally do) and bought what I thought was a reasonably sized turkey. Then more family members said they would come, so I bought a small turkey breast to roast in addition to the whole bird. Then I panicked thinking about how I still might not have enough meat (I desperately wanted leftovers for turkey sandwiches) and about how my dad really likes dark meat, so I bought some extra legs and thighs to cook up. Because I didn’t have enough space to roast them, I braised the legs the night before and then reheated them on the stove in their braising liquid to serve. I had plenty of food, and people raved about the braised turkey.
I may be hosting a smaller gathering this year, and if so, I’m just going to roast a breast, braise some legs, and skip the whole bird entirely. Here’s why: roasting a breast instead of a whole bird means you can take the breast out of the oven as soon as it’s done—without having to wait for the legs and thighs to finish cooking. No overcooking keeps the breast nice and juicy. Braising the dark meat makes it especially tender while the liquid itself adds savory flavor. Plus, the braising can be done two days ahead, and the turkey will only taste better for it.
My turkey offerings will be tastier than ever because I’ve asked chef John Ash, author of Culinary Birds: The Ultimate Poultry Cookbook, to supply the recipes. He suggests brining the breast in a mix of maple syrup and soy sauce to both season it and keep it from drying out. The results are so good, you almost don’t need his mushroom and tarragon gravy, but then you would be missing out on some plate-licking goodness. Because you don’t need the pan juice from the turkey to make the gravy (it would be too salty from the brine anyway), it also can be made a day or two ahead.
For braising the turkey legs, chef Ash employs lots of aromatics, including garlic, onion, herbs, and spices, plus white wine to complement rather than obscure the dark meat’s flavor. (And unlike red wine, it doesn’t turn the meat purple.) Braising works wonders on the meat but leaves the skin a little flabby, which is why it comes off. But don’t despair: some crisped pancetta sprinkled over the meat adds a similar satisfying crackle.
the flavors of both the turkey breast and legs mingle happily. of course, you can go with just one method, but if you treat your thanksgiving guests to both braised and roasted turkey, they will be very thankful indeed.