Food + Drink

From the Chronicle Kitchen: The New Thanksgiving Table
An American Celebration of Family, Friends, and Food

I love Thanksgiving food as much as anyone does, but it can be so very overwhelming with the heaviness of many traditional dishes alongside a BIG ROASTED turkey. When revisiting Thanksgiving go-to expert Diane Morgan’s The New Thanksgiving Table, I took major pause when I arrived at the recipe posted for today. It’s not a BIG ROASTED turkey, but instead a spatchcocked variant (see her excellent recipe headnote below). This may be the way I go this year when I’m in the wilds of the northern Sonoma CA coast, getting away from it all—and eating, and eating, and testing madeleine recipes.

Let me know if going the untrad way for T-Day is at all appealing to you by leaving a comment and entering to win a copy of this cookbook. Due to time constraints with the holiday, I’m picking a random winner of the book this Friday the 19th so that the lucky person gets it in time to use it!

Spatchcocked Turkey Roasted with Lemon, Sage, and Garlic

Spatchcock, an old culinary term of Irish origin, is an abbreviation of “dispatch cock,” a phrase used to describe preparing a bird by splitting it down the back, spreading it open like a book, and pressing it flat for easy, faster roasting. I could have also used the term butterflied.

Keep in mind that this turkey will not look like a Norman Rockwell image of a perfectly roasted turkey presented on a platter. It is meant to be carved in the kitchen. This turkey is spread open and roasted flat to speed up the cooking time. Once carved and presented on an elegant platter, you won’t be able to tell the difference between a spatchcocked turkey and one you have roasted whole. This method is brilliant for the Thanksgiving cook with little time to prepare and cook, because a 10- to 14-pound turkey will roast in about an hour and a half. I promise that butterflying the turkey is not difficult, especially if you have poultry shears or a sharp chef’s knife.

6 cloves garlic
Zest of 1 lemon, removed in 1/2-inch-wide strips
10 large sage leaves, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, plus more for seasoning
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more for seasoning
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into chunks
One 10- to 14-pound fresh or thawed frozen turkey, removed from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting
Giblet Gravy (recipe follows)

Position a rack on the second-lowest level in the oven and preheat to 350°F. Have ready a roasting pan large enough to accommodate the turkey when laid flat after spatchcocking (butterflying).

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the garlic, lemon zest, sage, thyme, salt, and pepper. Process until finely minced. Add the butter and process until well combined.

Place the turkey, still in its original wrappings, in a clean sink. Carefully slit open the plastic wrapper and remove the turkey. Remove the neck and bag of giblets from both the main cavity and neck cavity of the bird. Store them in a covered container in the refrigerator for making the gravy. Remove the plastic or metal clip holding the legs together. Pull and discard any fat pockets from the neck and main cavities of the bird. Trim off the tail, if desired, and store along with the neck and giblets for stock. Rinse the turkey and pat dry thoroughly.

To butterfly the turkey, place it, breast down, on a cutting board. Using poultry shears or a chef’s knife, cut through the turkey from one end to the other on each side of the backbone to remove it. Cut the backbone in half and refrigerate it for making stock for gravy. Turn the turkey breast side up, pull the body open, and use the heel of your hand to press down firmly, cracking the rib bones so the turkey lays flat. This takes a little pressure and strength; you might need to make a partial cut through the breastbone to get the turkey to lay flat.

Using your fingers, and being careful not to tear the skin, loosen the skin from the breast of the turkey to create a pocket. Smear the lemon-herb butter all over the breast meat under the skin with your fingers, pushing some butter over the thigh and leg meat. Rub the skin of the turkey all over with any remaining flavored butter and season on all sides with salt and pepper. Transfer to the roasting pan, laying the turkey out flat, skin side up. Roast for about 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the bird, until an instant-read thermometer registers between 160° to 165°F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. Make the giblet gravy while the turkey is roasting.

Transfer the turkey to a carving board and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Let rest for 20 minutes before carving, to allow the juices to redistribute. (The internal temperature will rise 5 to 10 degrees while the turkey rests.) Finish making the gravy while the turkey is resting.

Strain the juices and browned bits from the roasting pan through a fine-mesh sieve set over a large glass measuring cup. Set aside and allow the fat to rise to the top. Spoon off the fat. The pan juices can be added to the gravy.

Carve the turkey. Serve, accompanied by the Giblet Gravy.

Serves 8 to 12, depending on the size of the turkey

Giblet Gravy for a Spatchcocked Turkey
This gravy gets deep flavor from adding the turkey backbone to the stock along with the neck and giblets. Make the stock and strain it while the turkey roasts.

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Turkey backbone, neck, tail, gizzard, and heart
1 yellow onion, root end trimmed but peel left intact, quartered
1 large carrot, scrubbed but not peeled, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 large rib celery including leafy tops, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
6 black peppercorns
2 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth
5 cups cold water
1/4 cup instant flour such as Wondra or Shake & Blend
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

Begin the gravy by first making a turkey stock. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the turkey parts and sauté until browned on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, celery, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, peppercorns, chicken broth, and water to the pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low. Skim any brown foam that rises to the top. Simmer the stock until it reduces by half, about 1 hour. Pour the stock through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl or 4-cup glass measure. Set aside the neck, back, gizzard, and heart until cool enough to handle. Discard the rest of the solids. Set the stock aside, and when the fat rises to the top, skim it off. Shred the meat from the neck and back and set aside. Finely dice the gizzard and heart and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the flour and 1/2 cup of the strained turkey stock until the flour is dissolved.

Stir the reserved defatted juices from the roasting pan into the turkey stock. Measure 3 cups of the stock and pour it into a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour mixture and simmer until the gravy thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved gizzard and heart along with a portion of the shredded meat, just enough to enrich the gravy. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer to a warmed gravy boat or bowl and serve immediately.

Makes about 3 1/2 cups

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  • jennifer November 17, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    i'm not gonna lie…when growing up, my family went to chinese restaurants on thanksgiving! haha. but nowadays we do more of a traditional feast. i'm down with both!


  • Sally November 17, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    Brilliant idea! 1 1/2 hours sounds so much more reasonable than 4 or 5.


  • Janel November 18, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    For the last few years we have been cooking our turkey outside in a giant cast iron pot on a propane burner. It has a tower in the center and you put the turkey on it like you're making a beer can chicken. The turkey doesn't look pretty, but it is always moist and tasty!


  • Buzz November 18, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Quick(er) and delicious. Sounds like the perfect new Thanksgiving tradition.


  • Cupboard Love November 18, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    We go non-traditional by smoking our turkey! And I simply love the word spatchcocked- I’m going to have to find an excuse to use it in everyday conversation!


  • Catalina November 19, 2010 at 10:20 am

    This turkey looks so amazing and the presentation of the meat with the garlic and herb butter just beneath the skin makes my mouth water. I love this type of cooking – where you can get the flavor to penetrate the meat directly rather than just have the spices on the skin. I am very intrigued about this spatchcock process as well. I have never cooked a whole bird in the butterfly position. I think that idea is perfect though to cut down on the long cooking process often associated with cooking a full turkey. This will be my second year cooking Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd and I usually only cook a turkey breast. I am not sure how the spatchcock process would affect this part of the meat – but I would be excited to try it! I think this may be my latest and greatest turkey recipe! thanks!


  • Drew November 19, 2010 at 10:39 am

    spatchcocked! This looks like a great book. I think my fiance would love it!!


  • Matt November 19, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    im in college so although I am returning home next week for a traditional t-giving i am hosting my own slightly non traditional one for my friends tomorrow night. This book looks awesome for just that.


  • @wirechairs November 19, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Buzz is this week's lucky cookbook winner – CONGRATS! And happy spatchcocking to all this Thanksgiving. 🙂


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