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Ellen’s Kitchen & Garden

The best and easiest way to roast a Thanksgiving turkey

Posted Thursday,
November 20, 2014
0 ·
Photos/Ellen Fox Emerson
Once split and flattened, this 18-pound turkey barely fit into the roasting pan.
Spatchcocking produced crisp skin and moist meat — an easily-carved bird.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

It sounds strange.

“You did what to your turkey?”

I spatchcocked it.

Originally “spattlecocking,” spatchcocking seems all the rage this year.

Martha Stewart has done it. So have celebrity cooks Tyler Florence, Alton Brown and Mark Bittman.

This month’s edition of Bon Appétit features a spatchcocked turkey on the cover. Although not a new method, I think it’s the obscure name that makes it so alluring.

From what I could find, spatchcocking is an English term dating to 1775. Originally applied to eel, the word started as slang for “butterflying” —similar to “French split.”

The dictionary defines the noun as “a fowl that has been dressed and split open for grilling” and as a verb: “to prepare the roast in this manner.”

Simply put, it means removing the backbone and breaking the breastbone.

I had one reservation: Would my 18-pound turkey — after spatchcocking — fit in the roasting pan? Luckily it did. A little snug, but it fit.

I used a half-sheet pan. But the broiler pan that comes with your oven should work just as well. I’m not sure what would happen with a larger turkey.

For this procedure, you’ll need sharp poultry shears. Sharp knives will work as well, but that gets a little dangerous.

It’s a little bit of a challenge the first time you try this. But you’ll find it the most timesaving method for cooking any bird. You might want to practice on a chicken.

This method produces much juicier meat and crispier skin. By far, it yielded the easiest turkey I’ve ever carved.

If you have an independent grocery store, the butcher might be able to “spatchcock” the turkey for you. I’ve learned that chain stores unfortunately can’t provide this service because of health regulations.

Spatchcocked turkey

A 13- to 18-pound turkey*
1 cup of melted butter
Sprigs of thyme
Salt and pepper

Remove the giblets and neck from the turkey and save them for making the gravy and broth. Rinse the turkey out and pat it dry. Bring the bird to room temperature by letting it sit on the counter for an hour or two.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Have the turkey on its side. At the tail end of the bird, with the breast side down, cut along the backbone, holding it in place at the other end. Once you have the first side cut, the second side will be easier. Remove the backbone (and keep for broth) and lay the turkey out flat — breast side up. With both hands, press down hard and you’ll hear the breastbone break. You’ll want to flatten the carcass as much as you can.

Place some thyme in the roasting pan and then put the turkey on the thyme. Slather the bird with the melted butter and put the remaining thyme under the wings and legs and season well with salt and pepper.

Place the turkey in the oven and roast for one to 1-1/2 hours, depending on the size of your bird. If you’re cooking a 12-pound turkey, it will take approximately one hour. A 17-pound turkey takes 90 minutes. To test for doneness, check the temperature at the thickest part of the thigh. It should reach 165° F.

When the turkey is done, cover with foil and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving.

*If you are cooking a free-range organic turkey you may want to brine it first for 12 to 24 hours.

Another method would be to cover it for the first 30 minutes of roasting with cheesecloth soaked in a butter and water mixture. These birds are much leaner than the processed turkeys, such as Shady Brook or Butterball. Click here for a previous article on roasting and organic turkey:
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