That’s what this unconventional tactic from chef David Tanis of Chez Panisse makes us think. Tanis allows us to circumvent the usual turkey roasting conundrum—the maddening trickiness inherent in trying to cook a turkey until the dark meat is done without punting the white meat into dry oblivion—by bucking tradition and cooking the dark and white meat separately. The legs luxuriate in a long, slow, wine-sloshed bath with aromatics, simultaneously being braised and tenderized and infused with fragrance and flavor. The breast simply gets blasted by a hot oven, just long enough to plump it, no longer. Of course, this untraditional technique preempts the pretense of carving at the table. We’re not certain that’s such a bad thing.
One last thing. Tanis reminds us that the secret–well, the other secret–is to season the turkey overnight. So just a reminder, you’ll need to begin things the day before.–Renee Schettler Rossi
LC Essential Butcherspeak Note
Tanis savvily suggests you ask your butcher do the heavy chopping for you. Simply request-nicely, please–for the turkey legs to be lopped off with the thighs attached, for the wings to be hacked from the body, and for the breast to be cut into 2 boneless but skin-on halves. While you’re at it, smile sweetly and request that what remains of the carcass be chopped up into large pieces for your stock. (Make sure to request the giblets, too.)
Place all the turkey pieces on a cutting board and season well on both sides with salt and pepper.2. Mix the sage, thyme, and garlic in a small bowl. Add the olive oil and spoon the mixture over the meat and under the skin and smear it in well. Place the legs and wings in a container, cover, and refrigerate. Wrap the breasts in plastic and refrigerate overnight.
Make the broth
Preheat the oven to 400°F (204°C). Place the turkey bones, onion, carrot, celery, and bay leaves in a roasting pan and into the oven. Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything is nicely browned.
Transfer the browned vegetables and bones to a big soup pot. Splash a little water into the roasting pan and stir to dissolve any tasty bits left in the pan, then pour the liquid into the pot. Add the dried mushroom and water and bring to a boil. Skim off the scum, turn the heat down to a simmer, and let it cook slowly for 11/2 to 2 hours.
Strain the broth through a sieve. You should have about 5 quarts of turkey broth. Cool, then refrigerate; when ready to use, skim off the fat that has risen to the surface.
Roast the turkey
Preheat the oven to 400°F (204°C). Put the legs and wings in a large roasting pan, making sure they have enough room so they’re not crowded. Put the pan in the oven and let the parts roast while you prepare the braising liquid.
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and season them with salt and pepper. Let them cook gently, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Turn up the heat and let the onions color a little bit. With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour and tomato paste and mix well. Slowly add first the red wine and then 2 cups of the turkey broth. Bring to a simmer, stirring almost constantly as the sauce thickens. Gradually stir in 2 more cups of broth and stir until the sauce thickens once again. Remove from the heat.
Remove the pan of legs and wings from the oven. They should be nicely golden but not too dark. Pour the braising liquid over the turkey parts, cover the pan tightly with foil, and return to the oven. Reduce the heat to 350°F (176°C) and braise the turkey for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on the size of your bird, until the legs are tender when tested with a fork. Transfer the braised turkey legs and wings to a cutting board and let them cool slightly.
Strain the braising liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into a saucepan, skimming off any fat that rises. This will be your gravy. Taste the sauce for seasonings and texture. If it’s too thin, reduce it a bit over medium heat until it reaches a consistency you like. Set aside. (The braised turkey process can be done hours ahead or the day before and refrigerated.)
When the braised turkey parts are cool enough to handle, remove the leg meat from the bones in large pieces and tear the meat from the wings. Cut the meat into rough slices and put in a baking dish. Cover and hold at cool room temperature.
Meanwhile, remove the breasts from the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature. The breasts will take only about a half hour to roast, so they can be started up to an hour before dinner in a 375°F (190°C) oven. Put them in a shallow roasting pan, skin side up, and into the oven. Check at 30 minutes—you want an internal temperature of 140°F (60°C). (The temperature will continue to rise as they rest.) Let them rest on a platter, loosely covered, for 15 to 30 minutes before carving.
Serve the turkey
Slice the turkey breasts on an angle, not too thickly. Arrange the turkey on a warm platter and garnish with parsley or watercress.