Have you ever noticed how human nature seems to gravitate toward dividing lines? In school there is that invisible line between math/science people and english/history people, and there were the jocks and the theater types who followed their own deeply embedded siren song of social self-expression, leading them either to peak popularity or tortured geekdom. I won’t go into—because this is all about food and I don’t want to lose my appetite—the political divides that 24-hour cable news reminds us of daily, but that is certainly not going away no matter who prattles on about “working together across the isle.” And then there are the dark meat folks and the white meat folks. I’m talking about poultry, people.
And today, in my English-History-Musical-Theater-Bleeding-Heart-kind-of-way, I want to bring us all together over the most delicious technique for preparing a turkey leg in the history of the world: confit. A preparation normally associated with duck legs, I say, “NO!” Confit is not just for elitist ducks and their dainty legs. It is for the thick-legged turkey masses too! Turkey Leg Confit will make a convert of you if you are “all-white-meat”. It will make you want to sing and dance if you normally play football or watch it as though you were playing it. It will, in a flash, make sense of both the quantum theory, and all of Faulkner’s three-page run-on sentences, simultaneously in your brain. It will even make you sort of understand where I am going with all this: that when something is delicious, it just is, and it erases all boundries between people, everywhere. Or something like that.
My path to Turkey Confit all began for me in the way I get much inspiration: with a pad of post-it notes, a great cookbook and a trip to the grocery store. I lingered over this Thomas Keller recipe for duck confit in Bouchon, but knew I’d never go out and buy 4 whole ducks and cut off their legs to make it happen. Then a chorus of angels began to sing in the meat aisle, (or the Musak was turned up real high), when I saw a case full of packaged twin turkey legs on sale for the ridiculous price $1.99 a pound. A light bulb went off, (or the store’s flourescent lights were flickering), and I knew I had to see if TK’s recipe would do it’s magic on turkey. I took home about $20 of turkey legs—enough to keep me in confit for the winter—and sped home.
So here we go. Salt and parsley plays a big role in the “curing” phase. Whir them together to make a beautiful coating for the turkey that will ad flavor and draw out moisture in preparation for the low, slow oil poaching that is confit.
Coat the turkey with this mixture, put it in a large roasting dish, and wrap it tightly with plastic wrap. Let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours.
Are you getting as excited as I am thinking of all that flavorful turkey meat just falling off the bone after you cook it in oil for 10 hours at 190° F. It is going to be amazing, and soft and fall into sections when you barely touch it—not like the slightly undercooked dark meat on a roasted turkey that has been snatched from the oven in time for the breast meat to be perfect, but leaves the rest of the bird chewy.
When you retrieve it from the fridge the next day, there will be lots of liquid on the bottom of the dish. Wash off the parsley and salt. Submerge your legs in a substantial amount of oil. Traditional duck confit calls for a vat of duck fat to do the job, but a mixture of canola oil and olive oil is what I used just to keep things slightly practical. To be honest, it is a lot of oil, but Thomas Keller assures me I can re-use the oil for a second batch if I strain it, freeze it first, then drain off any of the meat liquid…but I did not go to these lengths. I figured the turkey was cheap, the volume of meat I got from the effort was high…I could splurge a little on the oil.
During the 10 hours I waited for this to be done, I went about my business, ran errands, taught a class, and made some Okra Pickles, because I just had a feeling the acid and touch of sweetness from a pickle would be just the thing to pair beautifully with this mildly salty and darkly delicious confit. And I was right.
That’s a little Rosemary Flatbread and Parmesan Biscotti on the side there too. But those are for another day. And make enough Turkey Confit for another day too…because trust me…though it’s cured and cooked in a way that is meant to preserve it for weeks…once you taste it, it won’t last that long!!
adapted from Bouchon, by Thomas Keller
Green Salt: makes approx 1/2 cup
1/2 cup kosher salt
2 bay leaves, broken into pieces
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 cup packed flat parsley leaves
3-4 turkey drumsticks
4-6 cups canola oil
3-4 cups olive oil
For the Green Salt:
Place all the salt ingredients in a small food processor, or in batches in a coffee grinder or spice mill (that is well cleaned…and won’t impart a flavor of the last thing that was in it.) Process until well combined and a vivid green.
For the Turkey:
1. Rinse the turkey legs under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. If you have a kitchen scale, weigh each leg or figure the approximate weight of each leg by the weight on the package(s) you purchased. The correct proportion of green salt to turkey is about 2 tablespoons to 1 pound of meat. You should pay attention to this proportion because in this case, more will not be better and you’ll end up with too salty confit.
2. Rub the green salt over the legs, allowing more for the thicker meatier part of the drumstick. Place the legs in a single layer in large roasting pan (or other dish that holds them comfortably, or use two if necessary). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.
For the Confit:
1. Preheat oven to 190 degrees F. If you have an in-oven thermometer, you may want to check to see if your oven is heating to temperature and staying at the proper temperature for the confit.
2. After the 24 hour “cure” rinse the legs under cold water and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Place the turkey legs, lying flat, in a heavy dutch oven or other ovenproof pot that has a lid. Pour enough canola and olive oil (about 60% canola, 40% olive) to cover the legs completely. Place over medium heat just until the oil is warm, but not boiling. Cover, place the pot in the oven and cook for 10 hours.
3. Check the turkey leg by carefully lifting it from the fat and piercing it with a paring knife. The meat should be meltingly tender. If it is not, it may be necessary to return it to the oven for up to 2 hours longer, checking the legs frequently. You don’t want them to be too melted, otherwise if you attempt to saute the meat to heat it up, it may fall apart. When done, remove from oven and allow the legs to cool in the oil.
4. Once the legs are cooled enough to handle, gently lift the legs from the oil and place in a container (that has a lid). Strain the oil over the legs, submerging them in oil; transfer to a smaller container if not completely covered in the oil. Cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks.
Remove a leg from the oil and allow it to come to room temperature so that meat will be easier to remove and separate from the bone, (or 30 seconds in the microwave, forgive me TK!) Remove desired quantity of meat and it can be eaten at room temperature or can be gently heated in a skillet and served warm.