Here’s a simple but very tasty way to cook turkey thighs in either a conventional or woodfired oven. White wine vinegar and a little sugar tenderizes the meat while slow cooking with herbs in the fire intensifies the flavors. If you have a woodfired oven, this is an excellent technique to have in your armory. In a home oven, the results are every bit as succulent but without the smokiness.
One note of caution: Don’t try to use this method on skinless turkey (or skinless chicken or skinless pork or lamb for that matter). The cloak of fat is important for locking in juices to get the most tender results!
Serves 6 – 8, depending on appetite
4 turkey thighs with skin on (about 4½ pounds total)
3 Tablespoons olive oil
½ cup white wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons of sugar
4 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons each of sage, oregano and thyme
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
16 rosemary sprigs, 3” long
10 ounces chicken or vegetable stock, heated
A few sprigs of rosemary to garnish
Marinate the turkey: Put the turkey thighs skin-side up into a rectangular oven-proof dish large enough to hold the meat in one layer (some overlap is okay). Douse the meat with the oil and vinegar and then toss on 2 spoonfuls of sugar. Now sprinkle with sage, oregano and thyme. Press garlic or mince finely and distribute it evenly onto the meat, and then grind on some pepper. Cut the top 1/2” of rosemary needles into 1/16th inch pieces with kitchen scissors directly over the turkey thighs and nestle the sprigs among the dips in the meat.
Cover with plastic and let sit for 2 ½ hours in a cool place (4 hours if refrigerated).
Prepare the woodfired oven (or skip to conventional cooking, below): Fire your oven for 2 hours or more, to above 500° at its maximum heat. Since you will be slow-baking the turkey (braising, in fact toward the end), your oven needs to hold a low bake temperature for a long time, so you want all the masonry nice and hot.
Push the fire to the back and brush the oven floor clean of ash. Put an oven thermometer into the oven, on the floor about 8” from the door. When your thermometer registers 325°, you’re ready to rock and roll.
Preheat your conventional oven: If using a conventional oven, preheat it to 375°. For best results (and a rough approximation of a woodfired oven) use quarry tiles or a pizza stone on the center rack. Let heat for ½ hour.
Before putting in the turkey, lower the thermostat to 325°.
Roast the turkey: For either oven, cook the turkey for 1 hour in its marinade, turning the pan around halfway through (do not turn the turkey thighs over). In the woodfired oven, if your oven seems to be cooling near the door, push the turkey closer to the coals when you turn the pan.
Braise the turkey: Add 10 ounces of very hot broth around the turkey, put the pan back into the oven, and continue baking for a further 1½ hours. To replicate the falling heat of the woodfired oven, drop the temperature on your conventional oven to 300°. The turkey will be moist and tender at this point. You can keep it hot if serving in the next hour, or cool in the fridge and take it out to warm up in its jelled juices when you’re ready to use it.
If you’re lucky enough to be cooking with fire, this is a great way to slow cook meats in your oven. Pork in apples or sauerkraut; lamb shanks in olive oil; chicken with plums and capers: all can be treated this way. The results speak for themselves.
Serve this turkey with mashed potatoes and make gravy with the juices if you like. Or for something completely different, use the turkey meat in enchiladas with chocolaty mole sauce and top with sour cream and roasted pumpkin seeds. Yum!