A Modern Thanksgiving: Sous Vide Turkey | CookingDistrict.com

A Modern Thanksgiving: Sous Vide Turkey

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I've had it with roasting a whole turkey for Thanksgiving. There's simply no way to cook an entire bird evenly. But for years tradition always overtook my culinary common sense and since everyone expected a whole bird to be presented at the Thanksgiving table, we kept doing it. Then, like I said, I had it.

I began to break the bird down, cooking the parts separately so that they would be perfectly prepared. I roasted the breast, made stock out of the carcass, braised the legs with that stock, and made the best gravy with the left over braising liquid. And with that, we had perfected Thanksgiving. Or so I thought, until ....
Breasts and legs neatly fabricated
The arrival of Sous Vide Immersion Circulators and Accessories from PolyScience in the Cooking District store is a real game changer for both professional and home cooks. My wife (also in the food business) and I procured an immersion circulator, and it has allowed me to create what may be truly perfect Thanksgiving turkey. Here's how to replicate this in your home:

  1. Fabricate the bird into legs and breasts.

    It is critical to work quickly, keep the bird cold, and follow all of your food safety guidelines- most importantly, avoid cross-contamination. The protein will be cooked under vacuum in an oxygen-free environment, so you must take special care to avoid any opportunities to introduce additional dangerous bacteria.


  2. Brine the meat.

    I'm using an old school bar-sealer, so avoiding moisture on the surface of the food product is critical. If you try to seal overly moist food, the water will be sucked up towards the vacuum, contaminating your machine and messing up the seal on the bag. A chamber vacuum sealer makes this a non-issue by supplying a vacuum both inside and outside the bag. But I haven't bought one yet so we're using the bar type sealer today. Salting the outside of the proteins before they are sealed tends to pull out a little extra moisture; brining them overnight helps to season them without necessarily pulling the moisture to the surface. The quick brine recipe I used is:
    • 1/2 gallon water
    • 1 cup salt
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • (you can add some whole spices if you wish)


  3. Carefully dry the exterior of the meat with a clean paper towel, then vacuum seal with shallots and thyme.

    Again, take extra care to keep your proteins cold and avoid any cross-contamination. Keeping them cold serves another function here- as the interior of the bag goes under vacuum, moisture on the outside of the meat can boil at astonishingly low temperatures- room temperature and lower in fact. By keeping the meat as cold as possible, there is less boiling inside the bag and you end up with a tighter bag, more even cook, and better seal.
Turkey sealed with shallots and thyme
  1. Start the legs first, at 65C.

    The temperature used in this demonstration is considerably higher than what most modernist chefs would recommend- Nathan Myhrvold suggests 62C@8 hours for turkey legs and 56C@to temp (then hold for 35 minutes to pasteurize) for turkey breasts. Personally, I think those temps lead to texture that still feels ....uncooked. Today, we are cooking the legs at 65C for two hours, then dropping the temp to 64C to finish the breasts for two additional hours.

    Keep in mind the traditional target temperature for turkeys is 74C (165F) so we are still achieving a much lower level of doneness than most diners are used to. However, diners will still perceive the turkey to be cooked slightly firm, just much more moist than usual.

    To cook the turkey to this lower doneness safely, it is necessary for the product to remain at that temperature for a longer period of time. Once the turkey has reached an internal temperature of 64C, continue to cook it in the water bath for at least 30 additional minutes. It's best to use a probe with appropriate sealant tape to keep you vacuum bag intact. Alternatively, PolyScience has a great app that helps calculate proper cooking times based on the weight and dimensions of your food.

While your turkey is cooking, there's a small chance you may say to yourself, " you know I kind of miss the crispy skin of a roasted turkey." I say small chance because turkey skin is really tough, and chances are even if it's golden brown on your whole roasted turkey it still doesn't taste good. But now that you're cooking everything separately, you can even make the turkey skin cook beautifully.

  1. Spread the skin out on your cutting board and pull as much of the interior membrane off as you can with your fingers.
  2. Once you get most of the membrane off, begin scraping the fat away from the underside of the skin with the edge of your knife. Don't worry too much about cutting through the skin -remember how tough it is to chew on? - you can get pretty aggressive with it and it still won't break (just be kind to the edge of your blade). Additionally, you can quickly freeze the skin once stretched to make the shaving step much easier.
  3. Once you have it totally cleaned (see the pic below for cleaned/not clean reference), place it on a sheet tray with a Silpat. Make sure it's totally flat, season with salt, then cover with a second Silpat and then a second sheet tray.
  4. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes at 375F or until crispy, golden, and translucent
Scraping the skin with the edge of the blade
Cleaned skin on the right
Finished turkey skin chip
Basting the cooked turkey breast with butter and herbs
  1. Once the legs and breasts have finished cooking in the water bath, they should be finished before serving. Cooking at such a low temperature does not typically yield attractive proteins; in this case we'll finish the turkey by basting it in brown butter with thyme and sage.
  2. Very lightly brown the exterior of the turkey with a large amount of hot butter -be careful to avoid burning- then add a few sprigs of thyme and a couple sage leaves, then continue to quickly baste the turkey using a nice sized spoon.
  3. Once the turkey is lightly browned and glisteningly moist, remove it from the pan and give it a few minutes to rest.
From here, it's slice and serve. Garnish the turkey with your turkey skin chip, and serve it alongside you Thanksgiving favorites.

What about the gravy? Just roast that carcass, then use the drippings & giblets to make perfect gravy. Or make this amazing Bourbon Cranberry Sauce and forget about gravy altogether.

*One footnote: by preparing the turkey entirely in the immersion circulator and then just finishing it on the stovetop, I had my oven available throughout the entire preparation. In my one-oven house, that's a big deal. Roasted brussels sprouts and sausage stuffing were all completed without any competition for oven space or fighting for different temps. Awesome.

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