For your big bird, buttered is better

If you want a show-stopping turkey this year, skip the bland, breast-heavy Butterball (though their hotline is awesome) and head for the butter dish instead. If chefs have a secret Thanksgiving ingredient, it has to be butter, softened and spread between the turkey's skin and its breast meat, with more basted onto the turkey legs and breast as it roasts.

For an extra boost of flavor, try making a compound butter. Simply soften a pound of butter, then mix in the flavoring ingredients of your choice. You can add almost anything, from fresh herbs to dried chiles to citrus zest. Just finely chop, then stir or beat at low speed until thoroughly combined. Form the butter back into a log, then tightly wrap it in several layers of plastic wrap and refrigerate (or freeze it, if you're making it more than a couple of days early). Let the butter come back to room temperature before applying it to the turkey.

To ease the application, you'll also want to thoroughly dry your turkey with clean dish towels or paper towels. Or, even better, let it sit uncovered in the fridge for up to 24 hours before you plan to roast it. To spread the butter underneath the skin, you'll need to gently insert your hand into the space between the skin and the flesh at the bird's neck. Slowly push your hand farther into that cavity, pushing the skin away from the flesh as far down the breast as you can reach, repeating on the other side.

Here are a few flavoring suggestions.

Green Herb Butter

  • 1 pound butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons thyme, minced
  • 2 teaspoons parsley, minced
  • 2 teaspoons sage, minced

Rosemary-Garlic Butter

  • 1 pound butter, softened
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary, finely minced

Lemon-Black Pepper Butter

  • 1 pound butter, softened
  • Zest of 2 lemons, minced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon thyme, minced
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground

Five Spice Butter

  • 1 pound butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice blend
  • Ancho Chile Butter
  • 1 pound butter, softened
  • 1 or 2 dried ancho chiles

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add a dried ancho chile, turn off water and cover. Let chile steep until quite soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain chile, remove the seeds and stem and let cool. Finely mince the chile's flesh, then incorporate into butter.

Chris Bonfili's Cranberry Butter

  • 1 pound butter, softened
  • 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Blister cranberries in a hot saute pan. Add sugar and toss or stir to combine. Add water and bring to a simmer. Cook until cranberries just start to pop, then remove from heat and let sit for 2 or 3 minutes. Strain off liquid and stir in orange zest and honey. Let cool completely, then incorporate into butter.

-- Chef Chris Bonfili


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