A Different Approach to a Turkey

2,485
492
Joined Oct 9, 2008
I decided to try a new approach to cooking a turkey. The thing is, next year I'm going to have to host Thanksgiving, and I really hate spending the whole time in the kitchen instead of with my friends and family. I also really  hate dry turkey. So my idea was to cook the turkey sous vide the day before, reheat it 15-20 minutes before serving, then brown it up fast.

My Approach
  1. I disjointed the turkey into wings, leg-thighs, and whole breast. I roasted the removed bones (wishbone, back and part of ribs, wishbone, wing ends, leg nubs) at high heat and then simmered to make a brown stock. I brined the disjointed turkey parts in a 7% salt, 2% sugar brine for about 15 hours.
  2. I rinsed the brined turkey and soaked it in cold water for an hour, changing the water every 15 minutes.
  3. I blanched the turkey for 30 seconds in rapidly boiling water, a piece at a time, then chilled fast in lots of ice water. Each piece got 2 blanchings, and cooled thoroughly after each blanch. I then patted everything well dry and laid it out on a rack set in a cookie sheet, skin up, and put it uncovered in the fridge for 24 hours. The idea is to firm the skin so it will crisp extra-well.
  4. I put the pieces into very heavy ziploc bags, vacuum-sealed, and cooked everything sous vide at 145F for 8 hours. Based on my research reading Modernist Cuisine  carefully, 6 hours should be more than enough to pasteurize everything. I chose 145F because I wanted the flesh to be white, not pink: the pink might actually have a better texture and perhaps flavor, but we are well trained to avoid raw-appearing poultry. Then I refrigerated the bags.
  5. 30 minutes before serving, I put the bags into 140F water for 15 minutes to get nice and warm. Then I removed them from the bags, patted them very dry, laid them skin-side up on my rack in the cookie sheet, and brushed very thoroughly with a mixture of melted butter and melted turkey fat. I ground some pepper over the top.
  6. I set the sheet in a convection oven set to 550F, as high as it will go. I expected it to turn golden brown in about 5 minutes.
BUT...

The skin did not brown noticeably. I suspect that my oven was not in fact at 550F, and I'm not convinced the convection blower was running. But whatever the cause, it didn't brown. I let it go another 5 minutes, then turned on the broiler instead (electric, alas). Eventually I got enough browning that it looked pretty appetizing, so I pulled it and carved.

Ta da!


Results
  • The meat was amazingly juicy.
  • The breast was a tiny bit drier than it should have been, almost certainly because it should not have sat in a very hot oven for 20 minutes. By comparison to any Thanksgiving turkey I have ever eaten, however, the breast was juicy and succulent.
  • The thighs where they met the drumsticks were definitely pink and raw-seeming; knowing they were fully pasteurized, we ate it anyway, and it was delicious, but there was definitely an aesthetic problem there.
  • The drumstick meat did not shrink along the bone as it usually would when you cut off the nub, so I could not pull out more than about half of the tendons. Not that I've ever seen anyone but Jacques Pepin do this, but I would have liked to have tendon-free drumsticks.
Thoughts and Queries

I think next time I'd do some things differently, and I wonder what you all think:
  1. I might disjoint the drumsticks from the thighs, which I hope will solve the unappetizing pink flesh problem.
  2. I was very unhappy about the whole browning thing. I don't understand why it didn't work. On the assumption that it wasn't just my awful stove, my current theory is that the sous vide process made the skin extremely wet and disinclined to brown. If so, perhaps the thing to do is to change the order of operations:
    1. Disjoint and brine
    2. Cook sous vide and chill
    3. Dry uncovered for 24 hours in the fridge
    4. Reheat sous vide
    5. Bake
  3. I wonder what if anything I can do about the drumstick tendons, i.e, if there's any way to get the meat to shrink along the bone and reveal/release the tendon ends. My only thought -- and it's a wild guess -- is that I could blanch the drumsticks separately several times before doing the actual sous vide cooking. I wonder whether doing this would make the muscles seize enough to start the process, which would then be completed by the long slow cooking and the overnight drying.
  4. If I have to broil the meat at the end, the main difficulty is that the breast is so much taller than everything else. The obvious solution is to carve the breasts off the bone before broiling. What worries me is that this will make them even less durable with regard to drying out.
Any ideas?
 
3,266
1,156
Joined Jul 13, 2012
My guess is too much moisture in the skin for it to crisp.  Souse vide is a wet process and unless you dry the crap out of the now cooked bird's surface you won't get a golden crispy skin.
 
2,485
492
Joined Oct 9, 2008
 
My guess is too much moisture in the skin for it to crisp.  Souse vide is a wet process and unless you dry the crap out of the now cooked bird's surface you won't get a golden crispy skin.
Okay, so I'm not nuts, then. That's why I was going to try doing sous vide before the 24-hour drying. Think it'll work?
 
1,841
543
Joined Aug 15, 2003
I'll weigh in,

I don't understand the blanching process. Not for food safety I assume, so why do it?

You are better off, in my opinion, cooking the dark meat and the light meat at different temperatures. I would do the dark meat probably in the 170f range because with the dark meat you kind of want that braised texture, especially in contrast to the breast meat. That's just me though. That is for whole legs. 

The breasts I wouldn't do higher than 140f. I'm sure they are still delicious at 145, but I think even at 140 you get more moisture retention and a bit more tender texture. 

I would just take off the skin and serve the breast sous vide. There are a couple of options for the skin depending on how fancy you feel. You'll want to lay the pieces of skin out on a baking sheet and cook until you get crispy skin cracklings. 

 Take these crackings and pulverize them to the texture of about panko. Then mix the crispy skin bits, butter, breadcrumbs, herbs, salt and pepper and spread this mix on the breasts right before they go under the broiler. You get a crunchy, turkey skin texture with the flavor of turkey skin but also the added bonus of butter and herbs, etc. 

Or you could just serve the crispy skin with the breast.

Chef steps has a really nice turkey leg roulade recipe that I've tried at the place I work with great results. We adapted it a little, but the outline is the same. Check it out...great way to serve dark meat for a turkey roast. 

I'm a big proponent of chopping up a turkey to cook, since dark/light meat need different times and temps to be ideal. The reason why most home cooked turkeys taste like garbage is because people stuff them and overcook the breasts while waiting for the legs to hit temp. 

Plus, turkey stock is AMAZING and your gravy will be 100x better with homeade stock vs. just pan drippings. 
 
2,485
492
Joined Oct 9, 2008
Wow, thanks Someday! When I started reading your post, I thought you were going somewhere quite different, and was all prepared to be kind of truculent. But then I read on. Yikes!

First: the idea of blanching and drying came from Heston Blumenthal, who uses it for roast chicken in his In Search of Perfection. He developed this method while working on Peking Duck, though he ultimately went in quite a different direction with that one. The idea is to make the skin very, very dry and tending to separate from the flesh; that way, when you broil or fry or whatever at the end, it turns into a weakly-connected sheet of crackling. It's a great idea, but it didn't work with the sous vide process I used. That's why I was considering reversing the order of operations: sous vide first, then dry.

But you've proposed a whole different approach!

I have to wrap my mind around this, but it makes good sense. As long as you're sous vide-ing in advance, why cook the dark and light meats to the same temperatures? Why prepare them the same ways? Why indeed?

I love the idea of doing the breasts skinless sous vide, with a crispy crackling/herb crust.

Questions about the breasts:
  1. Are the breasts originally cooked entirely boneless? Don't they lose flavor that way?
  2. For serving, would I be right in thinking that I drop the breasts (in their bag) back into a warming bath for 15-20 minutes to return to target core temp (140F), pat dry, roll in the coating, and broil briefly for extra crispiness and color?
  3. Assuming so, how long can I expect the broiling to take?
  4. How should I plan to slice the boneless breasts? (I'm thinking that if I slice them thin, the coating will be lost, but perhaps I'm wrong?)
As for the leg-thighs, I have to think seriously about a roulade. I'm not sure it would satisfy the audience: the whole drumsticks are very popular, and I am skeptical that I could get just a thigh alone to hold together smoothly. Perhaps if it were just plain, though.

So one thought would be to approach the legs and thighs like the breasts, in a sense. Remove the thighbone and expose the tendons at the knee. Peel off the skin. Cook the leg-thigh sous vide, to a higher target temperature than the breast. Cut the thigh from the drumstick, rewarm both to 140 along with the breast, roll in the panko mix, and broil as above.

Or alternatively, disjoint the leg-thighs, debone the thighs, skin everything, and continue from there.

Or alternatively again, I could do the leg-thighs sous vide, dry them 24+ hours in the fridge, then reheat in a bag with the breasts, slather with herb butter, and broil. I still think that ought to work, but I didn't like what it did to the breasts -- but you've solved the breast problem completely separately!

I should note that I chose 145F for the target temperature based on Modernist Cuisine, which recommends 144F for turkey legs. I think the next time I do them, I'll try taking them up to 150-155 or so: they were very good, just a little pinker than people wanted to deal with.

Thanks, chef!
 
4,474
422
Joined Jun 27, 2012
Gorgeous technical ideas!

I know your guests enjoyed it and raved for hours.

When it comes right down to it you invested a lot of heart and soul and I am hoping you didn't downplay your creation as a simple time saver.

Did you meet your goal of being able to spend more time visiting and less tied to a hot stove?

/img/vbsmilies/smilies/smile.gif

mimi
 
1,841
543
Joined Aug 15, 2003
 
Wow, thanks Someday! When I started reading your post, I thought you were going somewhere quite different, and was all prepared to be kind of truculent. But then I read on. Yikes!

First: the idea of blanching and drying came from Heston Blumenthal, who uses it for roast chicken in his In Search of Perfection. He developed this method while working on Peking Duck, though he ultimately went in quite a different direction with that one. The idea is to make the skin very, very dry and tending to separate from the flesh; that way, when you broil or fry or whatever at the end, it turns into a weakly-connected sheet of crackling. It's a great idea, but it didn't work with the sous vide process I used. That's why I was considering reversing the order of operations: sous vide first, then dry.
I don't know if drying something that has already been cooked is a great idea. Only because you'd run the risk of drying out the meat as well. I've done plenty of sous vided, skin on chicken breasts that needed no more than a pat dry and a nice hot pan to get a crispy skin. So I know it can be done. But I also know that once you sous vide the skin it gets a weird rubbery texture that never truly replicates that of a roasted or pan roasted chicken

In my experience, anyways, most people don't even eat the skin (I don't know why, cause everyone who knows anything knows its the best part) and I remember I got tired at some point of seeing all my patient, post sous vide searing efforts go to waste. Most of the time I'd see someone's empty plate--well, empty except for a small pile of turkey skin on the rim. 
I have to wrap my mind around this, but it makes good sense. As long as you're sous vide-ing in advance, why cook the dark and light meats to the same temperatures? Why prepare them the same ways? Why indeed?

I love the idea of doing the breasts skinless sous vide, with a crispy crackling/herb crust.

Questions about the breasts:
  1. Are the breasts originally cooked entirely boneless? Don't they lose flavor that way?
  2. For serving, would I be right in thinking that I drop the breasts (in their bag) back into a warming bath for 15-20 minutes to return to target core temp (140F), pat dry, roll in the coating, and broil briefly for extra crispiness and color?
  3. Assuming so, how long can I expect the broiling to take?
  4. How should I plan to slice the boneless breasts? (I'm thinking that if I slice them thin, the coating will be lost, but perhaps I'm wrong?)
1. Well, I don't know why you would leave the bone in if you are doing sous vide. The bone is usually left in to help regulate roasting heat and help keep the meat succulent, but if overcooking is a non issue (thanks to sous vide) I really don't see a benefit. If you were straight roasting turkey breasts I would advise you to keep it on the bone, but for sous vide I'd skip it. I don't think you'll miss it. I've done sous vide turkey for the place I work at the last few years for thanksgiving (we butcher and treat dark/light meat different similar to what I told you about) and I've never missed the breast bone. 

Now, it won't hurt anything, to be sure, so if you want to leave it on go ahead. I personally wouldn't bother, but I don't see any harm. 

2. Exactly right. I usually (at least for service at the restaurant) use a water bath a few degrees below the original target temp (for example, I might cook a beef steak at 131F, but only re-therm it at 120F). The main reason I do this at the restaurant is because things like a chicken breast and a steak have different core cooking temps, and I only have 1 bath I use for service. We use secondary cooking methods on all our proteins as well (searing, grilling, etc) so it usually doesn't affect anything. 

I would also only put the crust on one side of the turkey breast (where the skin was) and broil that side. Then remove and slice as normal. 

The place I've worked at we actually did this with duck breast (where I got the idea) but the logistics should be the same. We would remove the duck skin, render if down in a pot until we got cracklings (you can do this in the oven), then blend the cracklings with breadcrumbs, herbs, butter, salt and pepper. We then rolled this mixture between parchment paper, froze it, and cut it to a size/shape a little bit bigger than a duck breast done sous vide. So we'd basically re therm the breast, place it on a sizzle plate, then top with the butter crust, and broil until the butter melted/basted the meat and the crumbs and cracklings were crisp and golden brown but not burnt (obviously). 

So you get the flavor/texture of the crispy skin, without the rubbery sous vide poultry skin possible debacle. 

Here is a video I found that KIND OF shows a similar technique for a beef steak
So that should at least give you an idea of what I mean. 

3. Broiling should just take a minute or two, depending on how much crust you used and how hot your broiler is. 

4. I wouldn't slice it too thin...I dunno, 1/4 to 1/2 an inch? 
As for the leg-thighs, I have to think seriously about a roulade. I'm not sure it would satisfy the audience: the whole drumsticks are very popular, and I am skeptical that I could get just a thigh alone to hold together smoothly. Perhaps if it were just plain, though.

So one thought would be to approach the legs and thighs like the breasts, in a sense. Remove the thighbone and expose the tendons at the knee. Peel off the skin. Cook the leg-thigh sous vide, to a higher target temperature than the breast. Cut the thigh from the drumstick, rewarm both to 140 along with the breast, roll in the panko mix, and broil as above.

Or alternatively, disjoint the leg-thighs, debone the thighs, skin everything, and continue from there.

Or alternatively again, I could do the leg-thighs sous vide, dry them 24+ hours in the fridge, then reheat in a bag with the breasts, slather with herb butter, and broil. I still think that ought to work, but I didn't like what it did to the breasts -- but you've solved the breast problem completely separately!

I should note that I chose 145F for the target temperature based on Modernist Cuisine, which recommends 144F for turkey legs. I think the next time I do them, I'll try taking them up to 150-155 or so: they were very good, just a little pinker than people wanted to deal with.

Thanks, chef!
I wouldn't do the skin/crumb mix for the dark meat. The roulade is really, really, cool, if you're at all into it. Check out ChefSteps turkey roulade. The only thing you might need is some meat glue, but it is relatively easy to get and should be a problem. I made one similar to what they did (I only did the thighs for mine, and used the drums for pressure-cooked stock for gravy, and picked the meat to use for the dressing) and people went nuts for it. 

You could also do a traditional braise (think how good that sauce/gravy would be) and serve it that way. Or a confit. Also, keep in mind, that you may be able to give the legs a bit more heat and time since they have much more wiggle room for overcooking than the breasts. So you could conceivably still sous vide them (at whatever temp you choose) and then blast them for re-heating. 

You might also try skin side down (for the legs) in a cast iron pan, and kind of just render the fat off and crisp that way. [

And, you're very welcome. If you need clarification on anything, don't hesitate to ask. I tend to ramble/stream of conscious kind of thing, so I don't always know how clear I am. 
 
2,485
492
Joined Oct 9, 2008
Wow. I'm going to reply at length in a bit. For the moment, can I just say, this response is EXACTLY why I joined and continue to love ChefTalk!!!!!
 
Top Bottom