let’s talk turkey…

On the doorstep of this year’s Thanksgiving, I offer this silly one-off post, the likes of which you should not expect on a regular basis. *     *     * It’s that time of year again when the media’s shameless and unrelenting assault leaves the turkey tattered and tired long before the dreaded day arrives.  My stomach […]


On the doorstep of this year’s Thanksgiving, I offer this silly one-off post, the likes of which you should not expect on a regular basis.

*     *     *

It’s that time of year again when the media’s shameless and unrelenting assault leaves the turkey tattered and tired long before the dreaded day arrives.  My stomach turns at the thought already.

Why turkey?  Why didn’t the pilgrims give thanks with foie gras, or squab, or squab stuffed with foie gras?  Or a nice, juicy, dry-aged steak?  Or sushi, however culturally inappropriate that might have been for their native-American guests? I don’t think I’d tire of hearing about or eating those foods.

Why turkey?  The infamously dry bird poses a challenge to cooks across America every November.

This year, a friend (and a chef) decided to conquer Thanksgiving with modern technology.  Last night, I watched him bag and bathe two birds, cooking them whole, sous vide.  I tagged along to keep him company in the quiet kitchen and lend a hand when his were covered with turkey slime.  And, of course, I took some pictures along the way.

My friend didn’t know that I was going to blog about this (neither did I until just now).  But the one thing he did stress to me, which I repeat for his benefit more than yours, is that he knows it would make more sense to break the birds down and sous vide the parts.  This time, however, he wanted to have a little fun and cook them whole.

This isn’t a tested recipe, so please don’t follow these steps and expect a great product.

Step 1: Buy a turkey. (The current culinary zeitgeist demands that you buy a “heritage turkey.”) Take out whatever parts that have been stuffed in the cavity – neck, giblets, liver, etc.  Rinse the bird, and pat it dry with towels.

Heritage Turkey

Step 2: Toss together your favorite aromatics.  Here, we have an assortment of roughly chopped onions, fresh thyme, fresh sage, dried bay leaves, smashed garlic cloves, black peppercorns, and salt. Slices from two lemons were squeezed over all of it, and the lemon slices were chucked in.


Step 3: Make like a proctologist and stuff the bird with the aromatics.

Stuffed turkeys

Step 4: Cube one stick of butter into tablespoon portions. Stuff the cubed butter under the skin of the bird, focusing mostly on the breast area.

Stuffed Turkeys

Step 5: Make a glaze with salt, honey, and a splash of soy sauce. Do this in a ginormous bowl.  Roll the stuffed turkey around in the glaze to coat.  Drop the turkey into a large, heavy-duty plastic bag suitable for vacuum sealing. Season the bird in the bag with salt, rubbing it all over.

Sous vide turkey

Step 6: Slice one stick of butter in half and add the pieces to the bag.

Turkey in the bag.

Step 7: Using an industrial vacuum sealer, seal the turkey in the bag.

Turkey in a bag.

Step 8: Set up a large water bath fitted with an immersion circulator. Set the temperature to 163F, or thereabouts. Weight the turkey down with a plate or a small rack and let it cook for 12 hours (this was a guesstimation; it may take longer).  (The plan is to brown the turkey in the oven the day of the dinner.)

Sous vide turkey

After everything had been cleaned and stowed, the hood vent having been turned off, we were left in a quiet kitchen with the gentle hum of the immersion circulator.  “You hear that,” my friend asked?  “That’s the sound of deliciousness.”

Update: After the sous vide cooking the turkeys, the birds were chilled overnight.  The day of the dinner, the turkeys were browned in an oven preheated to 425F for 20 minutes. They were then wrapped, separately, in aluminum foil and put in a roasting pan. The roasting pan was covered with more foil and put in an oven preheated to 325F to warm the birds through, about 40 minutes.

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9 replies on “let’s talk turkey…”

SV turkey is indeed pretty great. We’re going to have turkey three ways this year – sous vide (though cut in parts, alas), standard oven roasted, and (my personal favorite) smoked. Maybe also a fried turkey if our friend with the turkey fryer can come. Taste testing time!

Intriguing however is not the safe internal temperature for turkey 165F? If so then even if the turkey is cooked the bird will not have reached a high enough temperature to safely assume destruction of bacteria, especially salmonella. That is my only concern about this method.

Done lots of stuff Sous Vide but never a whole turkey. This is pretty cool. And Adele the internal temp should be around 165, yes, but You have to be able to brown the skin after sous vide so you always want to ook your product just below the temp and also take carry over into account. I do chicken at 155 F at my restaurant then sear the skin and it comes out perfect.

We believe, from anthropological and archaeological evidence, that the first “Thanksgiving” meal may have been centered around 5 deer offered by the indigenous folks that came to dinner… you’re going to need a bigger bag.

It’s true that Salmonella can be killed at 130F. The general recommended temp of 165 is based on conventional cooking where it is notoriously difficult to hold food at a given temperature. Ovens fluctuate a good amount, and air is a very poor conductor. The lower the temperature (130 being the lowest for salmonella), the longer food needs to be held at that constant in order to safely remove traces of salmonella. This webpage has a chart that indicates this:


However, most people would find the texture of poultry downright disturbing at 130, especially the leg meat. Heston Blumenthal cooks his to 140, and the guys over at Cooking Issues cook theirs to 144-146 (can’t remember the exact number).

This is an interesting way to cook turkey, but many sous vide chefs recommend cooking turkey at two different temperatures, 135F for the white meat and 176F for the dark meat to get the most out of sous vide. I’m planning on the two temperature turkey version this Thanksgiving! Weill keep you posted!