Not everyone has the time, or inclination, to spend hours and hours preparing a turkey for its grand presentation at the holiday table, where it is quickly rendered an unsightly demolished hulk.
The recipe that follows requires less than 90 minutes in a hot oven for a 14-pound turkey to roast perfectly. Cutting the turkey into pieces before roasting ensures that each piece cooks perfectly. Even the breast, which is often overcooked when the bird is roasted whole, is moist, tender and beautifully browned.
This technique is particularly useful if there's no need to present a whole stuffed bird for carving at tableside and a large platter of carved meat is enough. QUICK AND EASY ROASTED TURKEY (12 to 14 servings)
14-pound turkey (approximately)
1/2 cup oil
1 tablespoon crushed dried tarragon
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed dried thyme
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
If the turkey is purchased fresh or defrosted, you can ask the butcher to cut it up for you. If frozen, you will have to defrost it and do the butchering yourself. Do the butchering a day ahead, if you wish.
To defrost a turkey, place it on a tray or jelly roll pan, still in its original wrapping, and slide it onto a shelf in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. The slower the defrosting, the more tender and moist the cooked bird will taste.
The turkey for this recipe is cut into pieces in the same way a chicken would be cut into serving pieces. If a butcher is cutting it up for you, tell him to leave the breast in one piece, to cut off the leg and thigh pieces whole (often the legs and thighs are separated), to cut the wings off and to chop the back into two or three pieces.
Remove the giblet package and any pieces that are in the cavity of the turkey.
To cut up the turkey yourself, start by cutting off the legs and thighs: Place the bird, breast up, with the drumsticks pointing toward you. Press the leg away from the turkey on one side so that the skin is taut. Pierce the skin with the point of a sharp knife, then cut through the skin in a semicircle to expose the inside of the thigh, pressing down hard and firmly as you go. Grasp the leg with your hands and bend it under the turkey until you can clearly see the joint where the thigh connects to the carcass. Starting at the end of the thigh furthest from you, cut through the dark meat in roughly a straight line until you reach the joint, then cut through the joint and continue cutting the dark flesh until the leg and thigh come off in one piece. Repeat with the other leg in the same way.
Next, cut off the wings. Hold one of the wings in your hand and wiggle it around until you can locate the shoulder joint where the wing connects to the breast. With a sharp knife, make a small cut through the skin to expose the joint. Cut through the white meat around the joint to release the wing, being careful to cut off only the minimum of breast meat as you do so. Repeat in the same way with the other wing.
Finally, separate the breast from the back and break the back into 2 or 3 pieces. Stand the body on its back so that it is facing you broadside. Just under the breast meat you will see a thin sheathing that connects the bottom of the breast to the back. On that sheathing you will see a thin line of fat that forms a natural curve along the bottom of the breast. Pierce the sheathing with a sharp knife and cut along the line of fat, cutting through the ribs, until the knife reaches the neck opening. With your finger, feel around in the neck opening to locate the joint, then cut through it to release the back from the breast. Repeat on the other side. The breast is now whole and ready for roasting. With a cleaver, chop the back into 2 or 3 pieces and save for making soup.
Roasting the turkey: The turkey should be brought to room temperature before roasting, so take it out of the refrigerator about an hour before you plan to roast it. After roasting, the turkey should be allowed to rest for 20 to 30 minutes so the juices can settle back into the meat.
The breast will take 80 to 90 minutes to cook. The legs and thighs need only about 50 to 55 minutes, and the wings about half an hour, so plan to begin the roasting about 2 hours before serving time (allowing 90 minutes for the breast to cook and about half an hour of resting time).
Set a rack in place in a roasting pan and pour about 1 1/2 cups of water into the pan.
Combine the oil and herbs and rub on the turkey pieces. Season each piece lightly with salt and pepper. Set the legs and wings aside. Place the breast, skin side up, on the rack of a 500-degree oven. After the breast has roasted for 35 minutes, add the leg pieces to the rack and continue roasting for about 25 minutes, then add the wings and roast until all the pieces test done.
Baste the turkey every 20 to 30 minutes with some of the liquid from the pan.
On an instantly registering thermometer, the thickest part of the breast should register 145 degrees, the thickest part of the leg pieces 165 degrees. Don't worry about the wings -- they'll be done.
Remove the pan from the oven and carefully lift the rack out of the pan and set it on a counter lined with a towel to absorb the drippings. Cover loosely but completely with foil and let rest for at least 20 minutes before serving.
Should you wish to use the trimmings, back and carcass for soup, you can place them in a foil-lined baking pan and roast them for the full time it takes to cook the breast by placing the pan on a shelf set in the lower part of the oven. (To make a turkey broth, place all of the browned giblets, trimmings and bones in a large pot and add 2 crumbled bay leaves, a tablespoon of dried thyme, a teaspoon of oregano, 1/2 teaspoon rosemary, 2 carrots, 2 celery ribs, a large onion, split in half, and a tomato. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer very slowly for 4 hours. Strain and refrigerate, then remove the congealed fat on the soup.)