I never cared all that much about getting the crispiest skin on the Thanksgiving turkey or even the drama of bringing a whole bird to the table to be carved. Mostly I was interested in whatever tasted best and was easiest to make.

Last year, that led me to develop a one-pan dish of harissa-glazed turkey drumsticks roasted on a baking sheet. This year, I decided to continue with the single-dish theme by turning to my reliable Dutch oven. Worth repeating was the reliance on dark meat, the parts of which are generally more affordable than a whole bird or breast — the four thighs in this recipe cost me just about $10. Moreover, dark meat is rich in taste and forgiving, maintaining its tenderness and flavor as much as 30 degrees past white meat’s ideal temperature of 165 degrees (hat tip: America’s Test Kitchen). Since I did drumsticks last year, I turned to turkey thighs, which, much like my wine-braised chicken thighs, I presumed would do well in the Dutch oven.

Success! These cider-braised thighs turned out to be the mostly hands-off yet delectable main course that I would take over a whole bird or breast any day. Consulting with the queen of braises, a.k.a. cookbook author Molly Stevens, helped me nail the recipe.

First you brown four turkey thighs in the pot (they’re big enough that each can be easily carved into at least two servings after cooking). The browned bits left behind serve as the foundation for the braising liquid that will ultimately turn into rich, golden juices that all but eliminate the need, or desire, for a separate gravy. In keeping with the season, hard cider makes up the bulk of the braising liquid (chicken broth and/or unsweetened juice or cider would be fine for those avoiding alcohol), with cider vinegar and thyme for brightness. The liquid bathes a bed of potatoes, carrots and apples, on top of which sit the thighs. This lets the turkey juices render and mingle with the braising liquid and vegetables, while maintaining some of the crispness of the skin. Uncovering the pot toward the end of cooking helps with browning the food and concentrating the braising liquid without affecting the meltingly tender meat coaxed while the Dutch oven is sealed.

This recipe cooked best in a large oval Dutch oven (8 quarts), but it also worked in a 5 1/2-quart round Dutch oven. Because the food is more stacked with less opportunity for evaporation, the braise may need to cook longer and you might want to reduce the braising liquid on the stovetop after it comes out of the oven. Swap in your choice of root vegetables or herbs, too. You can adjust the recipe to your desired timeline. If you want an even slower braise, lower the temperature of the oven and cook longer.

No matter which route you take, I suggest leaning into the homey, welcoming nature of the dish by bringing the Dutch oven right to the table for serving. Let everyone gather and serve themselves, ideally with plenty of the juices for drizzling over mashed potatoes or, of course, dipping slices of my No-Knead Focaccia With Sausage, Apple and Shallots.

Recipe notes: The braise can be made up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated in the Dutch oven (if your Dutch oven is not enameled, transfer to another container for storage). Or refrigerate leftovers for a maximum of 3 days. Reheat covered in the oven at 350 degrees or on the stovetop until warmed through. For crispier bits, you can reheat the turkey and vegetables on a sheet pan in the oven at 350 degrees, with warmed cooking liquid served on the side.

If you want to use chicken thighs, cut the vegetables a little smaller so they will cook through faster. Aim for 30 minutes covered in the oven and then take the lid off until the chicken is finished, an additional 15 to 20 minutes.

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Ingredients

  • 4 bone-in, skin-on turkey thighs (4 1/2 to 6 pounds total), patted dry
  • Fine sea or table salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups (one 12-ounce can or bottle) hard cider (may substitute a mix of low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth and unsweetened apple juice or alcohol-free sparkling cider)
  • 15 sprigs thyme, divided
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 pounds baby gold potatoes, halved (quartered, if large)
  • 8 ounces carrots, scrubbed, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 medium apples (13 ounces total), peeled, cored and each cut into 10 to 12 wedges

Step 1

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Season the turkey thighs all over generously with salt and pepper.


Step 2

In a large Dutch oven, preferably enameled cast-iron and oval, over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Place two of the thighs skin side down in the pot and sear until dark golden brown (the pieces should release easily once browned), 3 to 4 minutes, using a splatter screen as needed. Flip over and cook until the other side is dark golden brown as well, another 3 to 4 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary. Some browning on the bottom of the pan (the fond) is good. Transfer the thighs to a large, rimmed baking sheet or platter and repeat with the remaining pieces.


Step 3

Reduce the heat to medium. Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of the rendered turkey fat (you can strain and refrigerate the excess to save for roasting vegetables). Remove any burned pieces of meat or skin. Add the garlic to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and golden but not browned, 30 seconds to 1 minute.


Step 4

Add the cider vinegar to the pan, minding the vigorous bubbling and steam. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Stir constantly, cooking until the vinegar has reduced to about 1 tablespoon. Pour in the hard cider, scrape up any browned bits again, add 10 of the thyme sprigs and the bay leaves, and return the heat to medium-high. Let the cider bubble away until it has reduced by around two-thirds, 8 to 10 minutes (if you’re using a round Dutch oven, you may want to take it a bit farther, because the liquid won’t cook down as readily in the oven). Turn off the heat.


Step 5

Place the potatoes, carrots and apple wedges in the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange the browned turkey thighs on top, overlapping as little as possible. Cover, place the pan in the oven and braise for about 40 minutes, or until the turkey registers 155 to 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (Don’t be surprised if this takes longer if your ingredients are more overlapped due to the shape or size of your Dutch oven.) Remove the lid and continue cooking until the meat reaches at least 165 degrees (a little higher is fine, as dark meat is forgiving) and the vegetables are tender, an additional 5 to 10 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and, if desired, the thyme sprigs.


Step 6

Let the braise rest for at least 10 minutes, as it will be very hot. You can return the lid to the pan if you’re trying to keep it warmer longer — the Dutch oven will insulate it well. Sprinkle with the leaves from the remaining thyme sprigs, then serve directly from the pot, making sure to include plenty of the braising liquid.


Nutrition Information

Per serving (1/2 thigh, scant 1 cup vegetables and 2 tablespoons braising liquid), based on 8

Calories: 435; Total Fat: 14 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 113 mg; Sodium: 166 mg; Carbohydrates: 27 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugar: 9 g; Protein: 39 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.


From Voraciously staff writer Becky Krystal.

Tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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