These Confit Turkey Legs Taste Like the Renaissance Faire

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Hello friends, and welcome back to Will It Sous Vide?, the column where I usually make whatever you want me to with my immersion circulator. This week’s episode finds us talking turkey (because that’s all us food writers can talk about right now), specifically turkey legs.

Last year’s whole-turkey attempt was full of petty foibles but, in the end, we emerged with a truly succulent and tasty bird. Because I can’t leave well enough alone—and because I’m obsessed with gnawing on huge bird legs, paleo style—I decided to narrow my focus and see if I could take the sous-vide turkey leg to even fancier, gastronomic heights. My aim was to make something sophisticated and indulgent, but I basically ended up making an elevated version of the legendary Renaissance Faire turkey leg. (To be clear: I am a huge fan of these.)

My plan was simple, and the recipe was modeled after a favorite dish of mine: duck confit. I started with a basic cure consisting of one cup of brown sugar and one cup of salt, with a teaspoon each of garlic powder and paprika each. I also threw a couple of sprigs and leaves of fresh herbs in there, because Thanksgiving turkey isn’t right without at little bit of rosemary, sage, and thyme.

I then rubbed two giant, emu-esque legs with the salty stuff, covered them with plastic wrap, and let them hang out in the fridge for 24 hours. I then rinsed the curing mixture off the legs, a process that was uncannily similar to many exfoliating treatments I have performed on my own meaty stems. I patted each leg dry with paper towels, then shoved each one into a bag with half a pound of duck fat.

The glorious gams then went into a 167-degree bath for 12 and 24 hours, because I wanted to see if an extra half-day would make a big difference, either positively or negatively.

After their allotted times had elapsed. The legs were removed from the hot tub and chilled in the fridge overnight. This step wasn’t completely necessary, but it was late in the evening, and heating a giant stock pot of oil to 400℉ isn’t my idea of a relaxing pre-bed activity.

The next morning, I removed the legs from the fridge, scraped off the excess fat and collagen, and submerged the legs, one at a time, in a veritable vat of screeching hot canola oil, which is when disaster struck.

You see, in a classic case of “you know better asshole,” with a touch of “this is why you need to drink more coffee,” I had overfilled my frying vessel which resulted in hot oil spilling forth the moment the leg was submerged. Luckily, no corporeal harm came to either myself nor my spaniel, though the spaniel did enjoy licking up some turkey-flavored oil after everything had calmed down. (Get a proper deep-frying set up, is what I’m saying, with a pot large enough so the oil only fills it halfway.) In spite of my own personal oil spill, the legs came out beautifully, and the skin crisped up quite nicely after about five minutes of frying.

It was then time to taste test. Rather than knife-and-fork it, I grabbed the leg by its natural handle, then ripped the flesh from the bone with my teeth. I then repeated this with the second leg.

Neither leg was dry by any means, but (surprisingly) the 24-hour leg was noticeably more tender and succulent. The texture of both, however, was quite different from last years un-cured specimen, which had been juicier, but not as intensely flavored. Though less moist, this meat was still just as tender, but it was denser and silkier, with a more concentrated meaty flavor. They were—for lack of a better term—cured tasting, almost like a ham, and as someone who vastly prefers ham to turkey, I was pleased.

Basically, these legs tasted like the ones I grew up eating at Disneyland and various assorted fairs, both “ren” and otherwise. But, unlike most turkey legs you get at these events, the skin was incredibly crispy, and the meat wasn’t dry. They were not, however, your traditional Thanksgiving turkey. My man friend—let’s call him “Ofclaire”—found them to be a bit too salty, but it’s worth noting that he is wrong, and has never experienced the joy of wandering around a Disney park with the leg of a dead bird in his hand.

If you’re looking for a turkey with a traditional flavor and texture, this is not the way to go. But, if you’re looking for a flavor-infused, concentrated, meaty, somewhat visceral turkey-eating experience, try a 24-hour cure, followed by a 24-hour sous-vide duck fat submersion, followed by a friendly deep fry. Thou thinkest m’lady will be quite pleased.



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