Spatchcocked Turkey

As a child, I watched in fascination and wonderment at the preparation of the Thanksgiving Turkey. It seems that each year, my mother tried some newfangled way to ready the bird for the oven, all in an effort to produce a moist, juicy final result. I remember yards of greasy, herb flecked cheesecloth that seemed to have a life of its own, and I think my mother ended up wearing it as she attempted to drape it across the turkey’s breast.  It looked like a cross between a mummy and a toga party.

I also remember the year she tried to cram the turkey into a paper bag and then had to somehow baste it while in the bag. OY VAY! What a mess with drippings shooting around the oven while she aimed into the bag with the turkey baster like some bizarre carnival game. My mother and my grandmother would both peer into the oven, through the impossibly small, dripping stained window, hoping that this year-the bird would magically be cooked all the way through and not be dry, dry, dry.

I can hardly even speak about the drama of carving the bird. My father got that job and took it upon himself to use every gadget known to mankind, including knives, electric knives, shears, and all with the agony and urgency of a doctor in an ER as he fumbled with a bird that was twice the size of the average household cutting board. Bird and bones flying everywhere, they did get a feast on the table, but who needs all of that? It is no wonder I cook for a living; I just could not go through all of that.

Forget the V-racks, cheesecloth and roasting bags, this year it will be easier and without all of the drama. Jut you, a bird and a very sharp knife.

Spatchcocking is easy and takes only a few minutes and either a very sharp knife or really good kitchen shears. While the process is simple and easy, the time saved in cooking equals big payback. Because the turkey is butterflied, the heat is more evenly distributed, and a 12 pound turkey will take about 1 ½ hours to roast versus a whole turkey, which will take over 3 hours to roast. A spatchocked chicken takes about 30 minutes to roast, while a whole chicken takes an hour.

Spatchcocking poultry is the process of removing the backbone and sternum of a bird. The bird is then flattened out by pressing on it. The result is a bird that cooks evenly, quickly and without drying out the breast. I learned how to spatchcock poultry many years ago in culinary school and fell in love with the technique. I never understood why everyone didn’t do it. Whole roasted chicken and turkey are a reasonable possibility for dinner on weeknights. No more v-racks, beer cans and other contraptions used in an effort to roast the perfect bird. Just you, a bird and sharp knife.

This year for the Thanksgiving, try Spatchcocking and see if you don’t fall in love with a silly word that means serious cooking.

Serves 8-10

For the turkey

1 12-pound turkey

3 tablespoons chopped thyme

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

3 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, rough chopped

2 large carrots, rough chopped

3 celery ribs, rough chopped

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 450˚

  1. Place the turkey breast side down on a sturdy cutting board. I like to put a couple of paper towels under the turkey so it does not slide while I am cutting it.
    Cut along either side of the backbone from the neck to the tail. Remove the back bone and spread open the turkey. Cut a small slit in the cartilage along the breast bone. With both hands, crack open the turkey by opening it like a book.
    This will reveal the keel bone, (cartilage that runs in the middle of the breast.) Pull up on the keel bone to remove it. The turkey is now ready to cook. This whole procedure is very simple, only involves cutting one bone and will only take a couple of minutes.
  2. Place the chopped vegetables in a large roasting pan. Season the turkey on both sides with salt and pepper. Rub the bird with olive oil and the chopped herbs.
  3. Place the turkey on the vegetables, breast side up. (The vegetables will keep the turkey from sitting in its juices and getting soggy. The vegetables also scent the turkey drippings)
  4. Roast the turkey for 20 minutes, lower the heat to 325 and continue roasting, brushing with pan juices occasionally for 1 hour and 15 minutes. The turkey is done when a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 160.
  5. Remove the turkey and tent with foil and allow to rest for 20 minutes before cutting.
  6. Discard the vegetables and reserve the turkey drippings. Skim off the fat, season to taste with salt and pepper.
Laura Frankel is an Executive Chef at Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering and author of numerous kosher cookbooks including Jewish Cooking for All Seasons and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes. To purchase her books, click here.
One Comment
  1. I’ve never had much success with a turkey meal. Well thats not to say it hasnt worked before its just that its inconsistent..
    Most of the time its too dry.. so i’m a bit hit and miss.
    hopefully with your recepie i can get it down to more hits than misses 🙂

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