Dismantled turkey with thyme, butter and sage.

Dismantled turkey with thyme, butter and sage. Credit: Newsday / Ken Spencer


For turkey:

1 (14-pound) turkey, legs separated from the breast; neck, backbone and thigh bones removed and reserved for stock

1 small bunch thyme

1 lemon

1 small shallot

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 stick butter, softened and divided

1 small bunch sage

For garnish:

Bunches of thyme and sage


1. The night before Thanksgiving, season the breast and legs. For the breast's thyme butter: Remove thyme leaves from stems; you will need about 2 tablespoons. Grate zest from lemon; you should have about 2 tablespoons. Finely mince shallot, about 2 tablespoons. Combine thyme, zest and shallot with ¼ teaspoon salt and ? teaspoon freshly ground pepper. In a mini processor (or with a mortar and pestle) process the seasonings with 6 tablespoons of softened butter and work until fully combined. Scrape into a small bowl.

2. Starting opposite the neck end, gently pull skin away from the breast until you can fit your hand in. Spread thyme butter liberally and evenly on the breast meat. Pat the breast skin back down and then rub skin with a little more butter. (You will have some butter left over; save it for enriching the gravy.)

3. For the legs: Combine remaining 2 tablespoons butter with a good amount of salt and pepper. Remove sage leaves from stems. Starting at the thigh, gently pull skin away from each leg. Smear meat with seasoned butter. Place sage leaves flat on meat in as decorative a pattern as possible. Pat skin back down and rub with a bit more butter. With kitchen twine or foodloops, tie around thickest part of thigh.

4. On Thanksgiving, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place breast on a large baking sheet and place in oven. After 30 minutes, place legs on baking sheet. Unless your oven is incredibly even-heating, after 30 minutes, turn baking sheet 180 degrees. If breast starts to get too brown, put foil over it. Bake another 30 minutes and then start testing temperature of both breast and legs. The breast should come out when an instant-read thermometer placed near the breastbone registers 165 degrees. The legs are ready when the thighs are 175 degrees. A 14-pound bird should take 1¾ to 2 hours for the breast; 1¼ to 1½ hours for legs. (For a 20-pound bird: breast, 2½ to 2¾ hours; legs, 1¾ to 2 hours.)

5. Remove breast and legs from pan and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before carving. When pan is cool enough to handle, drain drippings into a heat-proof measuring cup or bowl. As they stand, the drippings will fall to bottom and the fat will rise to the top. Skim off fat and reserve both fat and drippings for gravy.

6. For presentation purposes, a reasonable approximation of a whole bird can be achieved by placing the breast on a platter and flanking it with the legs. Camouflage any gaps with bunches of herbs or grapes.

7. To carve, remove wings from breast and serve whole. Run carving knife along breastbone to remove each breast half in 1 piece. Cut crosswise into ½-inch-thick slices. For legs, cut boneless thighs crosswise into ½-inch-thick slices; serve drumsticks whole.

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