Published November 1, 2011. From Cook's Illustrated.
Roast turkey is the norm today, but early American cookbooks often recommended another cooking method. We wondered if maybe they knew something worth learning.
Contrary to what you might expect, simmering meat in liquid is no guarantee of juiciness. In fact, if cooked too long or at the wrong temperature, braised meat can dry out just as readily as roasted meat.
We wanted to find the optimal cooking time and oven temperature and just the right ingredients to produce complexly flavored, moist braised turkey.
First, we opted for readily available turkey parts so we wouldn’t have to bother with any butchering. We assembled enough bone-in, skin-on breasts, drumsticks, and thighs to total around 10 pounds per batch—enough to feed a crowd of 10 to 12. We’d wanted to avoid the extra step of brining if we could, but we couldn’t deny its benefits: It keeps the meat moist and seasons it. Per our usual approach, we also amped up the flavor of the solution by stirring in some sugar. Now, when the turkey pieces were braised in a moderately hot oven for only two hours, each piece of turkey—breast and dark meat alike—was super juicy and tender.
After perfecting the meat, it was time to address the turkey’s sallow skin. We had no illusions of truly crisp skin, but some browning was a must. Not only would it improve the look of the skin, but it would also add flavor that would make its way into the braising liquid. Searing the pieces in the oven before adding the liquid was the most efficient method. We cranked the heat up, placed the turkey pieces on a layer of aromatics and dried porcini mushrooms (which infused the braising liquid with flavor), and roasted the turkey until it was lightly tanned, at which point we lowered the heat and added the braising liquid, a combination of chicken broth and white wine. Some of the color washed away during the long braise, but the rich, roasted flavor that it added to the broth made for a worthy compromise.
All that remained was to turn the rich braising liquid into gravy. Once the turkey was cooked, we let the parts rest while we skimmed the fat from the liquid and used some of that flavorful fat to produce a golden roux. We then whisked in some of the liquid and let the mixture simmer until it thickened into glossy gravy.list of recipes