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October/November 2008

Old-Fashioned Roast Turkey with Gravy

Even with a lot of time and effort, white meat can be dry, chalky and flavorless. We set out to find an easy, foolproof method that ensures moist, flavorful meat.

Why This Recipe Works

We needed a potent ingredient for our Old-Fashioned Roast Turkey with Gravy recipe that would slowly release its flavor during cooking. We tried a number of options until we discovered a technique used for ages: larding, a process of inserting strips of lard (or other animal fat) into the turkey meat so that it slowly releases flavor and moisture throughout roasting. After piercing the skin of the turkey breast with a fork, we covered the breast with thin slices of salt pork before layering on a soaked cheesecloth and foil. This insulated the breast and allowed the salt pork to slowly melt in the oven, basting the turkey with rich fat.

Ingredients

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Instructions

Serves 10 to 12

Ingredients

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Turkey

1 package cheesecloth (see note)
4 cups cold water
1 turkey, 12 to 14-pounds (see note), neck and giblets reserved
1 pound salt pork, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

Gravy

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Reserved turkey neck and giblets
1 onion, chopped
5 cups water
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper

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Instructions

Serves 10 to 12

You will need one 2-yard package of cheesecloth for this recipe. Because we layer the bird with salt pork, we prefer to use a natural turkey here; self-basting turkeys may become too salty. If using a self-basting turkey, use all water in the gravy rather than a combination of water and broth. Make sure to start the gravy (step 3) as soon as the turkey goes into the oven.

Watch the Cook's Country cast make this recipe

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1. For the turkey: Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove cheesecloth from package and fold into 18-inch square. Place cheesecloth in large bowl and cover with water. Tuck wings behind back and arrange turkey, breast-up, on V-rack set inside roasting pan. Following photos 1 to 4 above, prick skin of breast and legs of turkey all over with fork, cover breast and legs of turkey with salt pork, top with soaked cheesecloth (pouring any remaining water into roasting pan), and cover cheesecloth completely with heavy-duty aluminum foil.

2. Roast turkey until breast meat registers 140 degrees, 2½ to 3 hours. Remove foil, cheesecloth, and salt pork and discard. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees. Continue to roast until breast meat registers 165 degrees and thigh meat registers 175 degrees, 40 to 60 minutes longer. Transfer turkey to carving board and let rest 30 minutes.

3. For the gravy: While turkey is roasting, heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook turkey neck and giblets until browned, about 5 minutes. Add onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in water, broth, thyme, and bay leaf and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until reduced by half, about 3 hours. Strain stock into large measuring cup (you should have about 3½ cups), reserving giblets if desired.

4. Carefully strain contents of roasting pan into fat separator. Let liquid settle so that fat separates, then skim, reserving ¼ cup fat. Pour defatted pan juices into measuring cup with giblet stock to yield 4 cups stock.

5. Heat reserved fat in empty saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Stir in flour and cook until honey colored and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Slowly whisk in giblet stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Chop giblets and add to gravy, if desired, and season with salt and pepper. Carve turkey and serve with gravy.

Step-by-Step

New Spins on Old Methods

For foolproof roast turkey, we turned to two old techniques: soaked cheesecloth and larding. Both techniques needed serious updating—we weren't going to continually baste the cheesecloth or force lard into the turkey meat—but their core functions of adding moisture and flavor were sound. Here's how we updated these classic techniques.

1. Use a fork to pierce the skin of the turkey breast and legs all over. This will help the rendered salt pork to moisten and flavor the meat.

2. Cover the entirety of the breast and the tops of the legs with strips of salt pork.

3. Soak cheesecloth in cold water, then drape it over the salt pork on the breast and legs.

4. To prevent the cheesecloth from drying out and burning (and to further protect the breast), cover the cheesecloth completely with foil.

Step-by-Step

Taking Turkey's Temperature

To ensure perfectly cooked turkey (as for our Old-Fashioned Roast Turkey with Gravy recipe), it's important to know where to insert the thermometer for the most accurate and useful readings. Here's how to do it.

1. To take the temperature of the breast, insert the thermometer into the deepest part of the breast, holding it parallel to the bird at the neck end. Confirm the temperature by inserting the thermometer in both sides of the breast, being careful to not go so deep as to hit the bone (which can compromise the reading).

2. To take the temperature of the thigh, insert the thermometer into the thickest portion of the thigh away from the bone. Confirm the temperature by inserting the thermometer in both thighs.

Technique

Keys to Perfect Turkey

Cheesecloth

Cheesecloth is made from finely woven, undyed cotton fabric similar in texture to gauze. Originally used to strain the curds from the whey in the cheese-making process, cheesecloth has myriad culinary uses, including draining excess moisture from yogurt or ricotta cheese, straining impurities from stock, and making a removable herb bundle, or bouquet garni, to season a simmering liquid. Cheesecloth is typically sold in 2-yard packages in most supermarkets and kitchen stores.

Salt Pork

Covering the breast and tops of the legs of the turkey with salt pork helped to season the meat and insulate it from overcooking. Don’t confuse salt pork with bacon. Although both come from the belly of the pig and are salt-cured, bacon is heavily smoked and is typically leaner and meatier. Salt pork is unsmoked and used primarily as a flavoring agent (traditionally in dishes like baked beans) and is rarely actually consumed. We recommend buying blocks of salt pork (precut slices can dry out) and portioning it as needed. Look for salt pork that has at least a few streaks of meat throughout. Salt pork can be refrigerated for up to one month.

Watch The Full Episode

Bridget Lancaster makes an Old-Fashioned Roast Turkey with Gravy, revisiting a classic technique known as larding. She also reveals the secrets to quick and easy Garlic Mashed Potatoes.