Recipe Review: Mark Bittman's Braised Turkey

So. In the end, how did you cook your turkey? We took no chances on this, our first year of hosting Thanksgiving. We chopped that turkey up and braised it with bacon, sausage, and mushrooms. That's what we call making really sure we end up with something edible; it's hedging your bets with pork products.

And this recipe? Mark Bittman's braised turkey? Not only was it a hit, it may have made us new-minted turkey lovers.

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Prepping the vegetables and turkey.

I'm not the biggest fan of turkey. I find the taste to be not as fresh as a good free-range chicken, and the sheer size of those birds seem built more for show than for real enjoyment. If I had my way we'd be eating roast leg of lamb every Thanksgiving.

But I wasn't willing to depart that far from tradition on the first year of hosting Thanksgiving and making the entire meal myself. Plus I do adore turkey-gravy-drenched mashed potatoes and turkey-broth-moistened bread dressing. So turkey it was.

An entire bird would be a tight fit in my extra-small oven, however, and I wasn't ready to attempt that gleaming, quite likely dry as sawdust whole bird of magazine spreads. Mark Bittman's recipe seemed much safer. When it comes to meat, my motto is: When in doubt, braise it.

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Browning the turkey drumsticks.

The recipe seemed just as intimidating as roasting a whole turkey, at first. It involved butchering the whole turkey I bought and separating it into legs, breasts, and thighs. (The recipe actually just calls for breasts and thighs, but I opted for an entire turkey. This gave us plenty of meat and extra parts for turkey stock.)

After much sweating, popping of joints (turkey's, not mine), referring back to this post, and hacking with inadequate chef's knives, it was in pieces. I felt like apologizing to the poor bird for such an ignominious end in such ill-equipped hands.

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Browning the turkey breasts.

But you know what? After that it was a breeze. It felt like a familiar braise, albeit one with a few fancy touches. I browned the turkey legs, thighs, and breasts with sausage and bacon, then sweated some onions, carrots, celery, and mushrooms. I piled the thighs and legs on top of the vegetables and sausage in two separate pans, since the breasts were large and all the meat wouldn't fit into one pan.

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Porcini and shiitake mushrooms.

At this point there had been turkey stock simmering on the stove for most of the morning, so I ladled enough of that in to come up the sides of the meat. After the dark meat roasted for two hours I put in the breasts for another 40 minutes.

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Two roasting pans of vegetables, stock, good pork products, and dark turkey meat in the oven.

When I took it all out of the oven the vegetables were browned and steaming, with crackly bits of bacon and tender lumps of sausage. The dark meat was practically melting off the bone, and the white meat was delicate and tender.

We sliced the white meat thin and served it with a plain sage and onion dressing, moistened with turkey stock. The dark meat got shredded and mixed in with the vegetables, and I took half of the vegetables and pork and mushroom base to mix in with a second batch of bread dressing. The combination was a total hit - we couldn't get enough of it.

The only drawback I can see to this recipe is the lack of pan drippings. You aren't getting pan drippings straight from the turkey, which leaves gravy out. You can do as Elizabeth and I both did and make a separate batch of turkey stock and gravy, or just pour off the fat and juices from the pan. That might make an odd gravy, though - so many tastes and flavors from the bacon, pork, and vegetables.

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Shredded dark turkey with the braised vegetables.
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Sliced white turkey breast.

I am curious - did anyone else try this recipe on Thanksgiving? If so, what did you think, and how did you make your gravy?

My household highly recommends it; if you make turkey for Thanksgiving or New Year's, give this a try. It's impressive, festive comfort food.

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• Get the recipe: Braised Turkey at The New York Times

Related: How Are You Cooking Your Turkey?

(Images: Faith Durand)

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