Why can’t turkey taste more like lamb — specifically, a Provençal-style leg of lamb, rubbed down with garlic, anchovies and rosemary?
This was the question my father asked whenever talk turned to Thanksgiving. He’d threaten to make something other than a bird for our group of 20 or more friends, relatives and neighbors — anyone who needed a place to go. But he gave in to tradition every time, grumbling at first, then lovingly fussing over each detail.
He liked to dabble in cooking trends, experimenting in an attempt to top the previous year’s effort. We ate our way through the Brining Years, the Slow-Roasting Era, the Spatchcocking Phase, the Basting-With-Butter-Every-30-Minutes Period, and a brief Cheesecloth-Over-the-Breast moment. All the turkeys were juicy, with crisp brown skin. But he never rested. A better bird — more flavorful, more tender, more bronzed — was always in reach, if only he could find the right technique.
What my father was never able to try was treating the turkey as if it were a leg of lamb, and that’s what I’ve done here. Copying his (perfected) lamb-leg method, I pierced the turkey legs, making tiny slits in which to stuff a paste of garlic, anchovies and rosemary. After marinating the bird overnight, I roasted it until it was almost as gorgeously golden as his was. The garlic-scented drippings make the most wonderful gravy, which was not something he’d tried with lamb — no matter how much he loved experimenting.
— Even “fresh” turkeys are sometimes sold partly frozen. If yours has a cavity full of ice, give it a rinse with warm water to dislodge any icy chunks, then pat it dry and marinate as directed. It will continue to thaw as it marinates in the fridge.
— You’ll need to start marinating the turkey at least a day ahead, although two or three days is even better if you have the time and the space in your refrigerator.
— Chilling the turkey uncovered helps dry out the skin, yielding a particularly crisp and golden bird.
— Cutting tiny slits into the turkey legs helps evenly distribute the garlic-anchovy paste, which flavors the meat all the way through.
— Some turkeys, especially heritage birds, can have pinkish meat even after they are cooked through. If you see a little pink around the leg joints even after roasting, fear not; as long as the temperature reaches 165 degrees at the thickest part of the thigh, the turkey is done.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings with leftovers
Total time: 3 1/2 hours, plus overnight marinating
For the turkey:
8 garlic cloves
8 to 12 anchovy fillets, to taste
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon drained capers
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
Kosher salt, as needed
1 (10- to 13-pound) turkey, giblets removed
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 small fennel bulb, diced
1/2 lemon, seeded and thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine
1 to 2 quarts turkey or chicken stock, as needed
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
For the gravy:
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup turkey or chicken stock, more as needed
1 tablespoon tarragon leaves
Kosher salt, to taste
1. In a blender, small food processor or large mortar and pestle, combine garlic, anchovies, rosemary, capers and pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt per pound of turkey (i.e. 5 teaspoons salt for a 10-pound turkey). Process or pound to a paste.
2. Place a wire rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Cut tiny slits all over turkey legs. Rub two-thirds of the paste all over the turkey, under its skin and in the cavity, then stuff remaining paste into holes in the legs. Transfer to the rack on the baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered overnight or for up to 3 days.
3. Remove turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting.
4. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Scatter onion, shallots, fennel and lemon in a roasting pan fitted with a rack. Pour in wine and 1 cup water, then add enough turkey or chicken stock so there is 1/4 inch of liquid in the pan. Place turkey on the roasting rack and brush with oil. Roast for 30 minutes, then cover breast with foil.
5. Reduce oven to 350 degrees and continue to roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees, 1 1/2 to 2 hours longer. If the bottom of the pan dries out entirely, add a little more stock to keep it from burning. Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes on the roasting rack. Transfer to cutting board and rest another 10 to 15 minutes before carving and serving.
6. While the turkey rests, make the gravy: Remove the roasting rack and use a slotted spoon to remove lemon slices, onions, shallots and fennel from the pan. Pour in wine and bring to a simmer over medium heat, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Simmer until liquid is nearly evaporated, then whisk in butter and flour. Let it cook, whisking, until flour mixture turns pale gold, about 3 minutes. Whisk in stock. Bring to a simmer and heat until thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes, whisking occasionally. If you want a very smooth gravy you can blend in a blender or pass the mixture through a sieve. Or serve as is. Taste and add salt if necessary.
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