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New Takes on Turkey

Sous vide your holiday bird once, and you may just slam the door on your oven for good.


Tradition dictates that we do two things for our Thanksgiving meal: 1) stuff, rub, and shove the turkey in the oven, and 2) get ready to watch it all day long. But it doesn’t have to be that way. This year, try cooking your bird sous vide to free up oven space (and time), inspire new creative preparations and sides, and save even the white meat from drying out. If you’re game to break with tradition, then here’s how to tackle it right.

Unlike oven-roasting or grilling, the anaerobic seal involved in sous vide traps steam, keeping meat succulent and ensuring that even the toughest cuts stay tender. To make the most of every part of the bird, tailor your sous vide times and temperature. Butcher your defrosted bird, then sous vide the thighs and breasts separately: four hours at 144.9°F (62.7°C) for thighs, and two and a half hours at the same temperature for breasts. The temperature control of sous vide lets you escape the trap of overcooking the breasts to account for the legs, and it’ll really amplify the simple flavors of butter and robust herbs like rosemary.

The typical Thanksgiving day-of prep extravaganza involves cooking lots of dishes—in just one oven. But sous vide can help. You can sous vide your turkey cuts as far as a month ahead of time, chill and freeze them in the bag, then reheat in your water bath at 144.9°F (62.7°C) for 45 minutes when Thanksgiving Day rolls around. And whipping up your favorite gravy in advance and freezing it is safer with sous vide, because you can pasteurize it first—just pour into a bag, seal, and sous vide at 140°F (60°C) for one hour to eliminate the risk of food borne illness. Keeping sides hot and ready on time for dinner will be stress-free without the turkey monopolizing the oven, too. You might even have time for a pre-dinner cocktail before setting the table.

Sick of the same old Thanksgiving meal? Sous vide can help you infuse your food with unexpected ingredients, or master trickier techniques. One idea to try is a two-way turkey dinner. Butcher your breasts and thighs, then experiment with flavor for the breasts and with technique for the thighs. Before your turkey breasts go in the bag, rub butter, minced garlic, and chilis under the skin, then sous vide with fresh Thai basil. Or rub them with salt and brown sugar, then soak them in your favorite sweet stout before cooking sous vide. For deboned thighs, make a festive turkey roulade rolled with a cranberry-apple or chestnut-filled stuffing. Vacuum sealing will keep the roll from falling apart as it cooks, and the cylindrical shape will cook the meat more evenly. A backup turkey won’t be necessary.

Thankful, Not Fearful

Let’s debunk your concerns about a Thanksgiving starring sous vide.

To start, roast your turkey bones, neck meat, and wing tips in the oven with sage, garlic, rosemary, and lots of whole peppers. Remove the pan from the oven and stir in the turkey jus (reserved from the sous vide bag) and flour to make a roux. After you strain and cool your gravy, pasteurize it via sous vide and freeze it for later. The ability to make meat-based gravy ahead of time and freeze it safely will give you more time to make a batch of shiitake mushroom gravy for the vegetarians.

Don’t fret over it. Your stuffing will still be delicious without oven roasting it inside a whole turkey. Use the turkey jus from your sous vide bag again to make a stuffing that’s more flavorful than any made with store bought turkey stock—and it’s less messy than doing it the traditional way.

Oven roast, cast-iron sear, or use a culinary torch to put a crisp on your sous vide turkey cuts. For even crunchier results, remove the skin from your raw turkey breast and spread it out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Layer another piece of parchment and another baking sheet on top to keep the skin flat. Roast at 400°F for 30 minutes or until golden-brown, and you’ll have a salty and crunchy chip or a crumbled topping for the Brussels sprouts.

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Dedicated to the Art & Science of Sous-Vide
The first publication devoted to the art and science of sous vide cooking, featuring innovative recipes, visual inspiration, expert techniques for cooking sous vide at home, and exclusive interviews with world-class chefs.