From high-heat roasting to clarified-butter basting, Chef Keller’s easy techniques will make your holiday bird legendary.
When it comes to roast chicken, there’s one recipe that Epicurious fans turn to over and over again: acclaimed chef Thomas Keller’s My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken. In fact, this simple but utterly foolproof recipe is the most viewed recipe on the site. So when it came time to find a brand-new and equally beloved recipe for roast turkey, there was really only one person to call.
Thomas Keller, the award-winning chef/proprietor of The French Laundry, Per Se, and Bouchon, doesn’t rely on complicated techniques or esoteric ingredients to create his roast chicken—just a few fundamentals. And his recipe for roast turkey follows the same essential strategy. But somehow, almost like magic, his simple steps create the Gold Standard of Turkey: a crispy, well-seasoned bird that’s juicy all the way through. All it takes is a bit of careful planning. “Make a schedule that allows time to brine, air dry and temper the turkey,” says Chef Keller. Work the turkey prep into the rest of your Thanksgiving game plan, and the only thing left to do is rake in the compliments.
So aside from the bird, what’s on Chef Keller’s menu for Thanksgiving? “I still draw inspiration from my mother’s menus. Her creamed onions are a must, creamy mashed potatoes, sage stuffing and for pies, I prefer butternut squash,” Keller says. And when it comes to the turkey, feel free to take the drumstick—the chef’s preferred bite is hidden elsewhere. “My favorite part is the oyster; it’s the most flavorful and tender piece of meat.”
Like many other classic recipes, My Favorite Roast Turkey calls for brining the turkey before roasting. This sweet, salty mixture includes kosher salt, lemon, honey, garlic, and herbs. After brining, three simple steps separate Keller’s turkey from the average bird:
1. Air-dry the turkey after brining. After soaking the turkey in a lemon- and honey-flavored brine for 24 hours, Keller likes to drain the turkey and allow it to air-dry in the refrigerator for another 24 hours. The additional step (and the extra day it adds to the preparation time) may seem skippable, but it’s not. No matter how much you might pat the turkey dry with paper towels, you won’t eliminate as much surface moisture as air-drying does. And that super-dry skin is one of the main factors that ensures a super-crispy skin when the turkey roasts.
2. Roast at high heat, all the way through. Many turkey recipes call for starting out the oven at 450°F, and then reducing the temperature after 30 minutes or so. But Keller’s method gets remarkable results (in record time) by keeping the temperature at 450°F throughout the cooking process. The high heat helps cook the bird quickly and turn a gorgeous reddish-brown, while the brining ensures that the meat stays juicy.
3. Brush with clarified butter. Every turkey deserves a generous dose of butter before roasting. Keller prefers his in the form of clarified butter. As he points out in the My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken recipe, the water content in regular butter can prevent the bird from turning crisp. What’s more, the milk solids in butter can burn at high temperatures. Clarified butter, on the other hand, is pure butterfat, so it helps the skin turn extra-crispy without getting scorched.
Ready for your new Thanksgiving turkey?Check out the recipe for Thomas Keller’s My Favorite Roast Turkey right here.
Photos by Dave Lauridsen
Shot on location at Bouchon Beverly Hills.
Chef aprons, All-Clad cookware, and more available at the online store for Chef Keller’s magazine, Finesse.