Turkey dinner can be an elaborate undertaking for a lot of people, so I teach my students how to simplify turkey dinners. Brining is one way to ensure a moist bird, and it’s easy—it just takes preparation. And the stuffed turkey legs are a bonus that will blow everyone away.
By Chef David Robertson, The Dirty Apron
- 1/2 lb cranberries (fresh or frozen)
- juice and zest of 1 orange
- juice and zest of 1 lemon
- 1/2 c sugar
- 1/4 c dry red wine
- 11/2 c water
- 2 Tbsp cornstarch mixed with 4 Tbsp cold water
- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
Roasted and stuffed turkey
- 1 turkey, 12 to 15 lbs
- 2 Tbsp smoked paprika
- 5 Tbsp unsalted butter
- juice of 1 lemon
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 4 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 4 c chicken stock
- 2 sprigs of Italian parsley,leaves only
- 2 sprigs of thyme, leaves only
Chestnut and apple stuffing
- 1/4 c unsalted butter
- 1 white onion, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, in 1/4-inch dice
- 3 c chestnuts (about 1 lb), peeled, roasted and cut in half
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch dice
- 6 c day-old brioche bread or Pullman loaf, crusts removed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/4 c chicken stock
- 1/4 c whipping cream
- 4 sprigs of thyme, chopped
- 4 sprigs of sage, chopped
- 4 sprigs of Italian
- parsley, chopped
Place the cranberries, orange juice and zest, lemon juice and zest, sugar, red wine and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for about 5 minutes. Pour in the cornstarch mixture, reduce the heat to low and stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Add the thyme and set aside.
Roasted and stuffed turkey Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Begin by removing the turkey legs. To do this, hold the thigh and slide a boning knife along the inside of the thigh against the breast. Continue to slide the knife down all the way to the joint, then pull the thigh away from the breast with your hands. When the round end of the thighbone is visible, cut through the joint to detach the thigh. Repeat on the other side. Wrap the legs tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. Remove and set aside the giblets, then rinse the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels.
Season the turkey inside and out with 1 Tbsp of the smoked paprika and some salt and pepper. Rub 2 Tbsp of the butter, lemon juice and vegetable oil over the turkey breast.
Place the turkey breast and giblets in a roasting pan and cook for 11/2 to 2 hours or until the turkey is golden and the juices run clear. (To test for doneness, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the meat; it should read 165°F.) Remove from the oven, transfer the turkey to a plate and allow to rest for 30 minutes. Reserve the giblets and the pan juices for gravy.
Remove the giblets from the pan and set aside. Pour the pan juices into a medium saucepan, bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until they have caramelized, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour off all but 4 tablespoons of the fat. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
Sprinkle the flour into the pan and stir for 1 minute. Using a whisk, add the chicken stock a little at a time until the gravy thickens and becomes smooth. Season with salt and pepper, then strain into a clean saucepan. Reserve the giblets to make soup.
Chestnut and apple stuffing
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, then add the onions, garlic, celery and chestnuts and sauté for about 3 minutes. Stir in the apples and bread, cook for another 2 minutes, then add the chicken stock, cream and all the herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the stuffing into a shallow baking dish and bake, uncovered, until the top is golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before stuffing the turkey legs.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut 2 squares of aluminum foil large enough to hold the turkey legs. Unwrap the turkey legs. Using a boning knife, hold a turkey leg and run the knife along the side of the bone to separate the meat from the bone. Try to keep the meat in one long piece. Repeat with the second turkey leg. (Reserve the bones to make stock.)
Place the meat on a clean work surface and season with 1 Tbsp of smoked paprika and salt and pepper. Arrange 1/4 of the stuffing down the centre of each piece of leg meat. (Spoon the leftover stuffing into a small casserole dish.) Tightly roll the leg meat over the stuffing. Rub 1/2 of the remaining butter on each piece of foil, then rub the foil over the turkey rolls. Place a rolled turkey leg onto each piece of foil. Fold the bottom half of the foil over the turkey leg, then the top half and fold in the ends as if you were wrapping a parcel, ensuring the turkey legs are tightly wrapped. Set the foil-wrapped legs in a roasting pan and cook for 25 minutes. (Cook the stuffing in the casserole dish at the same time.) Remove the turkey from the oven, unwrap and discard the foil and cook the meat unwrapped until the legs are fully cooked. (To test for doneness, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the meat; it should read 165°F.) Reserve any pan juices to add to the gravy.
Arrange the turkey on a large platter. Reheat the gravy, stirring in the parsley and thyme just before serving, then pour into a gravy boat. Spoon the compote into a serving bowl. Serve the gravy, compote and stuffing alongside the turkey.
Chef's Note: Prepare the compote a day ahead to allow the cranberries to soak up all the flavour of the added ingredients. It will also go very well with your next cheese platter or dessert.
For added flavour and a juicier turkey, you can brine it for 24 hours in classic brine before starting this recipe. Allowing the turkey to rest for a solid 30 minutes before even thinking about carving it results in a much juicier turkey.
There are other stuffing options: add bacon or try other herbs such as oregano, marjoram or rosemary. Have fun with this recipe.
If you are not confident deboning the turkey leg yourself, ask your butcher to do it for you.
I use this simple brine when I want a moist meat with a neutral flavour. Always make sure to cool the brine before using it, for food safety. Yields 4 cups
- 4 c water
- 2 Tbsp salt
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1/4 onion
- 5 black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
Bring the water to a boil in a large stockpot over high heat. Turn off the heat, add all the remaining ingredients and allow to cool to room temperature. Set a fine-mesh sieve over a clean bowl, then strain the brine. Discard the solids. Will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 10 days.
Chicken Stock (Yields 8 cups)
- bones from 2 to 3 chickens, chopped
- 8 c water
- 1 onion, skin on, roughly chopped
- 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
- 1 large carrot, skin on, roughly chopped
- 1/2 bulb of garlic, cut in half
- 3 sprigs of thyme
- 8 white peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
Wash the chicken bones thoroughly in cold water. Place them and all other ingredients in a large stockpot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 1/2 hours, using a spoon to skim off any impurities that rise to the surface. Remove from the heat and allow to settle for 30 minutes.
Set a fine chinois over a clean bowl and strain the stock through it. Discard any solids. Once cooled, will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days or frozen in small batches for up to 2 months.
- 4 c bread flour
- 1 Tbsp instant yeast
- 1/2 c whole milk, warmed (90°F–95°F)
- 5 eggs
- 2 1/2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 c unsalted butter, room temperature (65°F), cut into cubes
Brioche dough: To make the sponge, stir together 1/2 c of the flour and the yeast in a large bowl. Stir in the milk until all the flour is moistened. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until the mixture is light and bubbly and rises and falls when you tap the bowl, about 20 minutes.
Place the sponge in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a hook attachment. Add the eggs and mix until well combined. Gradually add the remaining flour, sugar and salt and mix until the ingredients are moistened and evenly combined. Allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes.
With the motor running at medium speed, add 1/4 of the butter and mix until fully combined. Repeat with the remaining butter, 1/4 at a time. Continue mixing for about 6 minutes until the dough is uniform and it windowpanes (see Chef’s Note) when stretched.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly spray it with oil. Cut a large rectangular piece of plastic wrap and lightly spray one side with oil. Place the dough on the baking pan, form it into a 6- × 8-inch rectangle and cover tightly with the plastic wrap, oiled side down. Refrigerate the dough for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
Chef's Note: Windowpaning is a way of checking that the gluten has properly formed and that your dough is emulsified. Once the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl and makes a slappy sound as you’re mixing it, pinch off a fist-size piece. It should look shiny and feel silky smooth. Shape it into a rough rectangle, then, holding opposite sides of the rectangle in each hand, gently pull your hands apart to stretch the dough. Turn the dough 90˚ and stretch it again. Do this a few more times until you have a thin, translucent “windowpane.” If your dough has not yet reached this stage, throw it back into the mixer and mix it for 2 minutes more.