Roasted Spatchcock Turkey
Well, it is that time of year again, the holidays! It is already here and I haven’t even decided yet whether I am going to cook or not. Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. For me it is like an informal relaxed version of Christmas with all the fun and none of the stress, and best of all NO PRESENTS! What can be better than a house full of loved ones, comfort food, football, and a fire in the fireplace? I have been in charge of Thanksgiving almost every year for as long as I can remember and I have tried every possible way of cooking the bird you can imagine (with plenty of hits and a few misses). It was just couple of years ago when I stumbled upon a technique I hadn’t tried before, and it was by far the best and easiest turkey I have ever prepared. It is called “spatchcocking” (I know it sounds dirty, but it’s not). You could say you are going to “butterfly your bird,” but spatchcocking is the technical term, and much more fun to say particularly if you say it to people who have never heard the term before and are afraid to ask. Spatchcocking is a great technique for cooking a turkey for various reasons, and I can tell you that once you go spatchcock you never go back. For one, it cooks faster typically start to finish in around 90 minutes depending on the size of the turkey. It cooks faster because it is flat, which also means it cooks more evenly. If you have ever cut into a perfectly brown turkey, and found it still pink inside, you will understand the advantage to that! Cooking it this way results in all the skin on the top. It will brown and crisp perfectly not only yielding the tasty and crispiest skin you will ever eat, but also sealing in the juice underneath. If a better tasting bird isn’t enough to convince you, there’s more! A flat bird means more precious oven real estate, extra room for Aunt Minnie’s Candied Yams or Green Bean Casserole! I don’t brine my turkey, but if you do, a flat bird will take less brine, and fit in the fridge a whole lot easier. If you are making stock for gravy or stuffing, make sure you reserve the backbone to simmer for stock. There are a couple disadvantages, but I think they are minor. If you like to present the turkey at the table for carving like a Norman Rockwell painting, you are out of luck. I have heard of people cooking the stuffing under the bird, but I don’t think that is a good idea as it would be too greasy, and you wouldn’t have any drippings for gravy. I got away from stuffing the bird years ago since I always make tons of stuffing, and you can only get a small amount of it inside the bird anyway. Spatchcocking will lend itself to many recipes and variations. If you can get the butcher to do it, certainly let him, but it isn’t that difficult. You will need a good heavy cleaver, and some good heavy duty kitchen shears. Ready? Let’s get started.
Let’s Talk Turkey
There is always a great deal of debate regarding turkey. For years I always bought a “fresh” “natural” turkey. After reading enough test kitchen comparisons that found no difference in taste or texture to frozen, I decided to start buying frozen turkeys on sale somewhere. By law to be sold as “fresh” it must never be held below 26 degrees, but that is cold! Logic would dictate that the huge volume of turkeys that are slaughtered at this time of year for Thanksgiving would have to be butchered well in advance to get to the store in time. Frozen turkeys are flash frozen immediately after processing and wrapping, so they are virtually as fresh as the day they were slaughtered. Other terms like “organic” and “free range” refer to the way that the turkeys are raised. They are generally antibiotic-free and mostly raised in a relatively more humane environment. The decision is yours. The important thing is to observe safe food handling. Do not thaw at room temperature, do not stuff a turkey the night before and make sure to cook thoroughly. The internet is full of great tips so check them out if you are new to cooking turkey dinner, or if you have nearly poisoned anyone over previous holidays.
- 1 Turkey, thawed
- Olive Oil
- Coarse Salt
- Fresh cracked pepper
- Step one: spatchcock your bird. Remove from refrigerator; cut off the wrapping and remove the neck and giblets from inside the bird (return them to the fridge if you plan on using them later or discard). Place the turkey on the board breast down. With a sharp knife, slice down along each side of the backbone as far as you can go (to the bone). This is where you will be cutting. The bigger the bird the more difficult this will be, but don't worry, you can do it. Take your shears and cut all the way through the incisions you just made. This may be a bit tough. You made need to hack through it with a cleaver. Stand it up if you need to. Watch your fingers and hands of anyone you might have enlisted to help you and hack away. When you have it out, throw it into the fridge or into the stock pot. Next, flip the bird over and push down on the center of the breast to flatten it; you should hear a “crack”. OK, you are done! Hopefully that wasn't so hard. Dab the turkey dry with paper towels, and place it on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Depending on the size of the turkey, cook using the following instructions as a guide:
- For a 12-14 pound turkey, cook in a 450 degree oven for 80-100 minutes or until the instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees.
- For a 16-18 pound turkey, cook in a 450 degree oven for 30 minutes, then lower temperature to 375 degrees, and cook for another 60-90 minutes or until the an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees.
- When cooked, remove from oven and let stand for 20 minutes before carving.
- Use Butter or a combination of Olive oil and butter instead of just oil.
- Add your favorite fresh or dried herbs and garlic.
- Brine the turkey before cooking.
As the saying goes, great minds think alike and, I may add, so do great cooks. In my short list, Tim is one of the greatest. That’s why I was so delighted to see in today’s New York Times a note about the same spatchcock meal that Tim just wrote about. I may not be absolutely impartial here, but I find Tim’s writing more gastronomically inspiring and tempting than Mark Bittman’s. I wonder what other readers may think.