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Bread salad is the stuffing upgrade you need for your roast turkey

Roast turkey on a table
Bread roasted in turkey schmaltz forms a lively foundation for roast turkey than stuffing. Prop styling by Kate Parisian.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Thanksgiving in 2020 is going to look a lot different this year in more ways than one. So instead of doing things the way they’ve always been done, here are recipes that throw tradition out the window — at least just this once — and play around with the expected holiday tropes. You’ll see that the classic dishes can be much easier — and more fun — when you focus on highlighting the qualities in each that really matter.

After almost a year of being at home and the same old, same old, reinvigorate your Thanksgiving table with a fresh outlook on the traditional holiday staples.

I really like turkey. I eat it all throughout the year as the filling for my deli sandwiches, and when Thanksgiving comes around, I relish the prospect of roasting a big bird myself. Sometimes I play around with cutting it into parts, but nothing beats the ease of roasting a bird whole. My nostalgia for it is less Norman Rockwell unrealistic traditionalism and more Clark Griswold rosy-eyed optimism. Some things just can’t be improved upon.

So I like to stick with a simple roast done right — the deep-frying, wet-brining or deboned and bondaged balloons are not for me. The key to a good roast turkey is to treat it like a big roast chicken. And I roast my chickens only one way: with lots of softened butter stuffed between the skin and flesh. As the butter slowly melts, it bastes the meat below it while at the same time frying the skin above it. What you get is supremely moist meat with crispy skin. And in an ode to the most famous roast chicken of all time, from Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, I rub the whole turkey in plenty of salt and let it dry in the fridge overnight; if you have the time to do it, this technique helps the skin dry out and become even more crisp.

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Compound butter
Compound butter to stuff under turkey skin, which self-bastes the meat as it cooks. Prop styling by Kate Parisian.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Most stuffings or dressings are just savory bread puddings and that’s totally fine, but with so many other hefty, moist things on the holiday table, it will be nice to have some crunch. So in keeping with the Zuni inspiration, I’m making a bread salad this year. As soon as the turkey comes out of the oven, I pour out the pan drippings but return the fat back to the pan. In go slabs of moist, sticky sourdough (no need to dry it out or wait for stale bread) that roast in the fat until deep golden brown and shatteringly crunchy. While the bread roasts, I cook the aromatics — slices of tart apple, celery and onion — and season them simply with woody herbs and spices like ginger and oregano, inspired by the classic Bell’s seasoning mix.

Sourdough fried in turkey schmaltz
Deeply-burnished sourdough, fried in turkey schmaltz, for tearing into chunks for a salad. Prop styling by Kate Parisian.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Once the bread is fried to a mahogany crackle, I tear it up and toss it with the aromatics and a splash of red wine vinegar. The bird goes on top of the salad, its juices soaking into the turkey-schmaltz-fried croutons with each slice of the carving knife. It has the flavors of stuffing you want but in a form that stands on its own against the simple, classic turkey. All the tradition but without any of the baggage.

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Butter-Crisped Turkey With Roasted Bread Salad

Time 1 hour 15 minutes, plus 1 day and 6 hours, largely unattended
Yields Serves 8


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