As a curious home cook, I’m always looking for new ideas. One place that consistently provides great stuff is an online community for home cooks called Food52. The site is run by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, and has just published its first cookbook with recipes created by members of the community. One of the cooler ideas I’ve come across from Food52 is the method of removing the backbone of a chicken and laying it out flat in a pan to roast it. The method and recipe, posted by Merrill, produced a juicy, evenly cooked whole 4-pound chicken in less than an hour. Since then, every time I make a roast chicken I use this approach.
The next step was to transfer this approach to cooking a whole turkey. The one thing I wasn’t sure about was the cooking temperature. While researching temperature suggestions for cooking turkey, I came across a website called Amazing Ribs by Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn. The site has an amazing amount of information about cooking all kinds of meat, and on the “Ultimate Turkey” page, Craig recommends cooking turkey at 325ºF to keep the meat moist and evenly cooked and also to allow the skin to brown properly. He also suggests keeping a pan filled with water in the oven while the turkey cooks, which puts “moisture into the atmosphere” and “helps slow evaporation from the surface of the meat.” To avoid undercooking or overcooking the turkey, a thermometer is essential. I used a digital oven thermometer with a probe that I could set to beep when the turkey reached proper temperature, and then used a digital instant-read thermometer for a second opinion. The USDA-recommended temperature for safely cooked turkey is 165ºF; the thermometer should read 165ºF when inserted in the thickest part of the breast and 175ºF when inserted in the thickest part of the thigh.
For seasoning the turkey, I used herbs and lemon zest mixed with butter and spread it underneath the skin of the breast and legs. Following a tip from amazingribs.com, I also rubbed olive oil over the skin of the turkey. With a nod to Marcella Hazan’s “Roast Chicken with Lemons” from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, I put lemon slices underneath the cavity, legs, and wings of the bird. The 10.32-pound turkey cooked in less than two hours and turned out nicely browned with very moist, well-flavored white and dark meat. The hard part was not eating it before I took these pictures. Spatchcocked turkey, welcome to my cooking repertoire!
Spatchcocked Turkey with Butter, Herbs & Olive Oil
(adapted from Food52.com and amazingribs.com)
1 10-lb turkey, fresh or thawed
3 tablespoons kosher salt for overnight dry-brining of turkey
For the herb-butter mixture:
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon dried sage, crumbled
1 tablespoon dried rosemary, crumbled
1 tablespoon dried thyme, crumbled
zest one of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
extra-virgin olive oil for the rubbing over the skin
2 lemons, sliced into rounds, to place underneath turkey
oven-probe thermometer (one with a temperature alarm and timer is helpful)
large, shallow baking sheet (recommended so the turkey is evenly exposed to the heat)
large, deep metal pan to use as water pan in oven
sturdy kitchen shears to remove backbone
The evening before:
Wash turkey, removing neck, gizzards, or any other parts not attached. Dry the turkey and place on the large baking sheet, breast side down. Using kitchen shears, starting at the tail end, cut along one side of the backbone all the way to the end where the neck would have been. Repeat this for the other side of the backbone until it is removed. This will take a bit of muscle, so if you’re not up to it, have someone stronger do the job for you. Once the back bone is out, turn the turkey over so the breast is facing up, and spread it out, pressing down on the breast bone until it cracks and the turkey lays flat. Sprinkle the turkey all over, on the breast side and the cavity underneath, with the 3 tablespoons of salt. Lay turkey flat on the baking sheet, breast side up, and position the legs on each side of the breast so they lay flat against the pan with each drumstick pointing out. Cover completely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Clean the work area thoroughly with soap and water and a diluted solution of bleach and water.
The next day:
Fill a large pan with water and place on an oven rack adjusted to the second lowest position in the oven. Adjust the other rack, which will hold the turkey, to the middle position in the oven. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Remove turkey from refrigerator. Mix softened butter, herbs, lemon zest, salt and pepper to form a paste. Loosen the skin from the breast and legs of the turkey by carefully sticking your fingers in between the skin and the meat, starting at the neck, working a little bit at a time until the skin is separated. Rub herb-butter paste in-between the loosened skin and meat of the breast and legs, and spread around until evenly distributed. Place the slices of the lemons underneath the breast cavity, legs, and wings. Rub the skin generously with olive oil, and salt and pepper lightly all over. Tuck the tips of the wings behind the shoulders so they remain covered and fixed while cooking.
Place the oven-probe in the thickest part of the thigh, and place the turkey in the oven, with the cord from the thermometer trailing through the side of the oven (through the padded oven seal) and connected to the thermometer display. Keep your instant-read thermometer ready to use when the turkey reaches proper cooked temperature. If the oven-probe thermometer has a temperature alarm, set it to 175ºF. If it doesn’t, check the temperature on the thermometer display at least every 15 minutes during the first hour or so, then every 5 minutes towards the end of the cooking time.
Once the turkey reaches 175ºF on the probe thermometer, remove from the oven and double-check the temperatures using the instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast (165ºF) and in the thickest part of the other thigh (175ºF). Juices should run clear when thigh is poked. Let turkey rest for 30 minutes. Carve and serve.
Serves 8 to 10 people, or 6 to 8 hungry people