A Dark Meat Turkey Day

Boned Turkey Leg Platter

David WilhelmRecipes

I would be the first to admit that there’s nothing more visually satisfying to see on a holiday buffet table than a large, golden brown, lacquered turkey fresh out of the oven. For me, it evokes the image of Norman Rockwell’s classic ‘Freedom from Want’ painting every time. However, there’s always the issue of having to carve it, often done with less than stellar results.

Freedom From Want painting by Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell’s classic ‘Freedom from Want’

Over the years, my approach to the numerous Thanksgiving turkey’s I’ve prepared has evolved. I first switched to the “spatchcocked method”, where the backbone is removed, and the turkey is flattened and then roasted. I always had used that technique when roasting chickens and this resulted in a more even cooking of the bird in a little more than half the time in the oven. Then, when the southern deep-fried turkey became popular I started doing one spatchcocked version and one deep-fried. The deep fried always ended up being the version that my family and friends preferred. While I was finalizing all the side dishes, I always recruited two of my male guests to do the carving honor of the two birds. (More often than not, one of them ended up carving a piece of themselves along with their turkey so band aids were kept close at hand!)

Most true poultry lovers, like myself, prefer dark meat over breast because it simply has more moisture and flavor. However, it needs to be treated differently because the leg, or drumstick, and thigh of a turkey are two of the most used muscles of the bird, which means they are the toughest. Like lamb or veal shanks, these cuts need to be braised over low, moist heat in order to break down the meat to fall of the bone tenderness.

So, for this Thanksgiving, I decided I wanted to do something different and really feature the dark meat. I decided I would take the same approach used when braising veal shanks for ‘Osso Bucco’ one of my favorite cool weather, comfort food dishes. The result was amazing. When doing deep fried turkeys, I always made a separate turkey stock ahead of time that I turned into a rich gravy. So, I did the same thing and used this rich stock to braise the turkey legs in. The result was falling-off-the-bone dark meat that had in incredible amount of flavor infused from the rich stock. In addition to the flavor and tenderness of the dark meat, it could be done a couple days ahead of time, removed from the bone, and then simply heated up on a platter in the oven prior to serving. I have to say, this has become my new favorite approach to serving my Thanksgiving turkey.

For those among you who simply have to have some white meat, there are lots of boneless or bone in breast options available that can be roasted separately and will end up being much more most since you’re not having to deal with making sure the dark meat is cooked until tender. These two approaches result in absolutely the best turkey this pilgrim has ever made… Give it a try this year!

Recipe – A Dark Meat Turkey Day


» 2 each Turkey drumsticks
» 2 each Turkey thighs
» 3 TBS Olive oil
» As needed Kosher salt
» As needed Fresh cracked black pepper
» 8 each Whole garlic cloves, peeled
» 4 stalks Fresh Thyme
» 2 sprigs Fresh rosemary
» 1 cup Red or white wine
» 5 cups Turkey stock, prepared (see below)


Sprinkle drumsticks and legs lightly with salt and pepper on all sides. Please in fridge, uncovered, overnight.

Turkey drumsticks chilled overnight and spiced, ready to be braised

Chill overnight

Place oil in large thick bottomed braising pan. Add drumsticks and sear on all sides until well browned. Remove drumsticks and set aside. Next and add thighs and sear on both sides as well. Return drumsticks to pot and add garlic, thyme, rosemary, wine and turkey stock. Liquid needs to cover all turkey. If more is needed, add chicken stock. Cover pot and place in 275-degree oven.

Turkey drumsticks being braised in a pan.


Check after 2 hours. Turkey is done when meat is fork tender and starts to fall from the bone. Remove turkey pieces and place on pan skin-side up. Strain all braising liquid into sauce pan, bring to slow boil and skim fat from top. Thicken to desired degree with slurry made with equal parts water and cornstarch stirred together. If turkey is to be used right away you can either place pan under broiler until skin becomes crisp or you can removed the meat from the bone and then crisp. Alternatively, the turkey may be refrigerated then reheated and crisped, uncovered in a 350-degree oven for 30-30 minutes. Note: I prefer to remove the meat from the bones prior to crisping for easier eating.

Don’t leave the crispy goodness in the pan

Turkey Stock 


» 3 pounds Turkey wings
» 2 Tablespoons Olive oil
» 1 Cup Diced onions
» 1 Cup Coarsely diced carrots
» 1 Cup Diced celery
» 1 TBS Dried Thyme
» 1 TBS Whole black peppercorns
» 2 cups Red or white wine
» As needed Chicken stock


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place oil in roasting pan along with turkey wings and roast, turning frequently to ensure browning on all sides for 30-45 minutes. Remove turkey and set aside. Reduce heat to 350 degrees, add onions, carrots and celery to pan and roast for an additional 20 minutes. Remove roasting pan from oven and add red wine and scrape to loosen all drippings stuck to bottom of pan. Pour wine and vegetable mix into cassoulet pan, add thyme, and turkey. Add enough chicken stock to cover all turkey if needed. Bring to a boil, then simmer for one hour, periodically skimming fat from top. Strain and refrigerate until needed.