Butter-Crisped Turkey With Roasted Bread Salad

Time 1 hour 15 minutes, plus 1 day and 6 hours, largely unattended
Yields Serves 8
A roast turkey, inspired by Zuni Cafe's classic chicken
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times; prop styling by Kate Parisian)
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Instead of doing things the way they’ve always been done, here are recipes for Thanksgiving 2020 that throw tradition out the window — at least just this once — and show how the classics can be much easier — and more fun — when you focus on highlighting the qualities in each that really matter.

Turkey sizes vary wildly from 8 pounds to upward of 22. This recipe is for a median 16 to 18 pounds, but if you can find only smaller turkeys, follow the same instructions as below, using the 13-minutes-per-pound directive as your primary guide for how long it should cook. And as always, if you buy a frozen turkey, remember to give it at least two to three days to thaw in the refrigerator before beginning to prepare it.

For the bread salad, be sure to use a loaf of true, sticky sourdough, since it has the appropriate amount of moisture and structure to be roasted at this time and temperature. If you use store-bought white or wheat bread instead, watch it carefully, as it may burn in the pan. And if you’d like to make the bread salad without having to wait for or use the turkey fat and drippings, see the regular and vegan Bread Salad Only variations, below.

Bread Salad

The day before, prepare the turkey: Pull out the neck and any gizzards from inside the turkey and reserve in a bowl to make your gravy. Dry the turkey thoroughly, inside and out, with paper towels. Using the tips of your index and middle fingers or the rounded tip of a small silicone spatula, slide under the skin of the breast, entering at the neck and on either side of the breast bone. As you do this, you will feel a thin clear membrane break, which will separate the skin from the meat.


Repeat this action, entering from the bottom of the breast, to break the rest of the thin membrane and connect the gaps over both breasts. Repeat this same action again on each thigh, entering where it meets either side of the tail and trying to get your fingers as far back to the drumsticks as you can without ripping the skin.


In a small bowl, use a spoon to stir together the softened butter, 1 tablespoon salt, the pepper and chile flakes. Lift up each opening you made over the turkey and insert the spoon with some of the butter inside, using the skin itself to rake the butter off the spoon and onto the meat; repeat until all the butter is underneath the skin over every entry point on the breasts and thighs. Using your hands, massage the butter through the skin, creating an even covering over the meat.


You will have a little butter left over on your fingers and in the bowl, so scrape it on the outside of the turkey and rub it evenly over every part, especially the drumsticks and wings, where there is no butter under the skin. Season the outside of the whole turkey with 1 to 2 tablespoons additional salt, depending on the size of your turkey; you want an even, liberal coating. Season with an even coating of more pepper as well. Place the turkey breast side up on a roasting pan’s rack insert and set it on a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate for 24 hours or overnight (this helps the skin air dry and become crisp when you bake it).


The next day: Remove the turkey from the refrigerator 1 1/2 hours before you plan to cook it; this gives it time to come to room temperature, ensuring it cooks evenly. Then, heat the oven to 350 degrees.


Transfer the turkey and its rack to a roasting pan and place in the oven. Bake, rotating the pan halfway through cooking, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of each thigh reads at least 160 degrees, about 13 minutes per pound, or about 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Remove the turkey from the oven and use the rack handles to transfer the turkey and its rack to a rimmed baking sheet; tent it loosely with foil and let rest while you roast the bread salad.


Make the bread salad: Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Pour all the drippings from the roasting pan into a large heatproof liquid measuring cup or bowl, leaving any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan where they are; let the drippings stand for 1 minute to allow the fat to float to the top. Pour 3/4 cup of the fat back into the roasting pan; if you don’t have enough, add enough olive oil to reach 3/4 cup. Reserve the rest of the fat and drippings for another use or discard. Lay the bread slices flat in the roasting pan, cutting or tearing and wedging them to fit in an even layer. Using tongs, press and turn the slices over so they’re saturated on both sides with the fat and drippings in the pan. Place the roasting pan in the oven and roast the bread, flipping halfway through cooking, until deep golden brown and crisp, 35 to 40 minutes.


While the bread roasts, prepare the rest of the salad: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apples, toss to coat in the oil, then continue cooking, tossing occasionally, until lightly caramelized at their edges and just tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Season lightly with salt and transfer the apples to a plate.


Return the skillet to medium-high heat and pour in the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Add the celery and onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are caramelized and softened but not translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the 1 tablespoon salt, the rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, ginger and pepper and continue cooking until the herbs are tender, about 2 minutes more. Return the apples to the skillet and stir to combine, then remove the pan from the heat and keep warm until the bread is ready. While you wait, carve the turkey and keep warm.


Transfer the bread to a cutting board and cut or tear into 1/2- to 1-inch chunks. Transfer the bread to a large bowl, add the aromatics from the skillet and toss to combine. Drizzle the vinegar over the salad and season with more salt and pepper, if you like. Serve while warm with the turkey and gravy.

Bread Salad Only
If you want to make the bread salad without having to roast a turkey first, simply heat 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter in a large roasting pan at 400 degrees. Once melted, add the bread and cook as directed in Step 7. Continue cooking the remaining bread salad ingredients as written.

Vegan Bread Salad
Heat 3/4 cup everyday olive oil or vegetable oil in a large roasting pan at 400 degrees. Add the bread and cook as directed in Step 7. Continue cooking the remaining bread salad ingredients as written.

Apple-Sausage Bread Salad
Brown 8 ounces crumbled sweet Italian or breakfast pork sausage (remove any casings) in a skillet before cooking the apples. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the sausage to a plate and continue adding the butter and cooking the apples as above. Add the cooked sausage to the salad when you add the bread.
Make Ahead:
The buttered and seasoned turkey can be refrigerated for up to two days. The aromatics for the bread salad can be cooked, cooled and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days; rewarm in a skillet before combining with the bread.