Karl’s Deconstructed Stuffed Turkey a la Julia Child & Jacques Pepin

Miriam and Chris went to Boston to be with his family this Thanksgiving. However, my sister, Karen and her husband, were passing through town the day after, so I decided that I would make my feast on Friday. With only five dinners, I felt that “all the fixings” would not be necessary, so Jan made the cranberry sauce and I made green beans and a crust-less pumpkin pie for dessert.

Karl’s Deconstructed Stuffed Turkey a la Julia Child & Jacques Pepin

Karl’s Deconstructed Stuffed Turkey
a la Julia Child & Jacques Pepin

About once a week, America’s Test Kitchen sends me a video of one of their shows, this week it was an update of Julia Child’s roast turkey. When I find an updated recipe, I like to try and find the original recipe to discover the nature of the “updates.” In this case, this proved to be a challenge—most of the recipes I found were for Julia’s earlier traditional recipes. This recipe proved to be one she had done with Jacques Pepin in the cooking show they did together in 2000.

The first up-date ATK made was to use an unenhanced turkey, which they separated and then brined only the breast—Julia had used a commercial self-basting turkey . They also cooked the breast separately for half an hour to get things started—Julia put everything in the oven at the same time.  Finally, they increased the amount of stuffing, to feed a crowd—Julia made about half as much stuffing, proving that portion control is a thing of the past.

I found the cooking techniques of both recipes useful enough to try them for myself, but of course I could not follow either Julia’s or ATK’s as far as ingredients. I used a Kosher turkey—which comes pre-brined. Scattering a few herbs around the meat just does not impart enough flavor in my mind—an herb paste under the skin works much more flavor into the meat. Finally, Jan likes an apple onion sausage stuffing that is full of herby flavor to go with her turkey.

One last variation between the recipes is that Julia used a lot of carrots in her recipe. She used the open pan space to roast carrots and celery and to collect some of the turkey juices to add to her gravy. In the ATK recipe all of the juices from the roasting turkey were absorbed by the stuffing.

To make her gravy, Julia browned the turkey bits in a frying pan to increase the flavor with the Millard reaction. Watching her struggle with this technique reminds me why I do not do this that way anymore—the odd shapes do not lie flat in the pan, it is messy, and you are splattered with the popping grease. I put all of the bits in a roasting pan and broil them for about a half hour, turning frequently, until the pieces are evenly browned all over—no muss, no fuss.

Note: This is actually three recipes in one—the stuffing, the turkey, and the gravy—but they are so intertwined that it would be difficult to make them separately. You could make the stuffing separately, but without the juices that drip from the roasted turkey it would not be as savory. You could also make the gravy, starting with 2-3 turkey necks. And what would be a roasted turkey without the stuffing and gravy?

After Dinner Note: The turkey, both the light and dark meat, came out moist and tasty. The stuffing was flavorful and not the least bit soggy. Finally, the gravy came out was rich and savory. A perfect holiday center piece.

Karl’s Deconstructed Stuffed Turkey a la Julia Child & Jacques Pepin



1 sweet French baguette
1 whole wheat French baguette
2 Tbs. Bell’s poultry seasoning

½ lb. sweet Italian sausage
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium sweet onion, coarsely chopped
3 celery ribs, , coarsely chopped
½ tsp. Kosher salt
1 Granny Smith apple, cored, peeled, and coarsely chopped
½ cup dried cranberries

3 large eggs, beaten
32 oz low-sodium chicken broth, separate uses

Herb paste

½ cup butter, softened
2 Tbs. fresh sage, minced
2 Tbs. fresh thyme, minced
½ Tbs. black pepper, cracked

1 Kosher turkey (12- to 15-pound)

2 Tbs. flour AP
¼ cup milk or cream


1. Cut the baguettes into 1/2-inch cubes and toast them on a baking sheet in a 300º F oven for 20-30 minutes, until dry and just starting to brown.

Tip: Stir the bread cubes so that they brown evenly.

2. Transfer the bread to a large mixing bowl.

3. Sprinkle the Bell’s seasoning over the bread and toss to distribute.

4. Crumble and brown the sausage in a large pan. Remove to the bowl with the bread.

5. Without cleaning the pan, sauté the onions and celery with the salt until just translucent.

Tip: If necessary, add a bit of butter, oil or turkey fat to the pan.

6. Add the contents of the pan, the apple and the cranberries to the bowl with the bread.

Tip: Use a splash of the chicken broth to deglaze the pan and add it to the bowl.

7. Whisk the eggs and half a cup of chicken broth in a small bowl.

8. Pour the egg mixture over the bread and toss to distribute the ingredients.

Note: The stuffing will seem a bit dry. However, as the turkey releases its juices the stuffing will become quite moist during the roasting time.

9. Refrigerate the stuffing until needed.

10. Soften some butter and mix in the minced sage, thyme and pepper.

Tip: You do not want the butter to melt, but do not put it in the refrigerator or it will harden.  You want an easily spreadable paste.

11. Remove the neck and any giblets.

Tip: Cut the neck into pieces and put it in a medium sized roasting pan. Discard the liver—or save it for another dish—but if you have the gizzard or heart add them to the pan.

12. Remove any large pockets of fat from the neck and tail cavities of the bird.

Tip: You may render these lumps of fat for turkey smaltz for another recipe, but here it would simply make your gravy greasy.

13. With the turkey breast side up, use a boning knife, paring knife or kitchen shears, cut through skin around leg quarter where it attaches to breast.

14. Use a knife to separate the “pearl” and cut the thigh meat from the back up to the hip joint.

15. Bend the leg back to pop leg bone out of socket.

Tip: The Julia Child video shows the proper way of doing this. If you hold the thigh up-right and pull it away from the carcass nothing will happen, because the joint is locked in place.  Jacques Pepin pulls the “knee” of the thigh up towards the wing and pulls out and towards the tail—this unlocks the joint and makes it easy to disjoint the thigh.

16. Cut the tendon and pull the leg portion away from the carcass.

Tip: Repeat for the second leg.

17. For each leg, starting with the skin side down, use a knife to separate the hip joint from the thigh meat.

18. Cut along the thigh bone and scrape the meat from the bone until you reach the knee.

19. Being careful not to cut the skin, disjoint the knee and cut the tendon to remove the bone.

Tip: Add these bones to the roasting pan.

20. Using a knife and your hands, free the skin from the thigh and pull it all the way down to the bottom of the leg.

Note: Do not pull the skin free of the leg! After you season the meat, you will be pulling the skin back over the leg and thigh

Tip: One side of each leg will have some thick tendons just under the surface. Use a paring knife to punch a few holes through the tendons to let the seasoning into the meat.

21. Using about a third of the herb paste, rub the legs and thighs all over with the seasonings.

22. Pull the skin back over the meat and tie the thighs closed with a piece of string.

Tip: Jacques Pepin filled the thigh cavities with stuffing and wrapped them in aluminum foil for the first hour of roasting. ATK used skewers and string to hold the thighs closed. I simply made two string ties to close the thighs. CATS-SKINS, it is all good.

23. Rub a bit of the herb paste over the outside of the leg quarters skin.

Note: Once the skin has been pulled over the thigh you may chop off the bone end of the leg, if you wish—if your roasting pan is tight this will save a few inches. It will also allow you to remove the tough tendons in the leg after it is fully roasted (see the Julia Child video).

24. Place leg quarters on large plate, cover, and refrigerate.

25. Using kitchen shears, cut through ribs following vertical line of fat where breast meets back.

26. Using your hands, bend the back away from breast to pop shoulder joint out of socket.

27. Cut through joint between bones to separate back from breast.

28. Chop the back into pieces and add them to the roasting pan with the neck

29. Use a knife to cut along the wish bone in the neck cavity. Pull the wish bone free and add it to the roasting pan.

30. Cut the wings to your preferred method.

Tip: I cut off the first joint and add them to the broiling pan.

Note: Julia cuts off the “nubins”—the very tips of the wings and the bit that sticks out at the first joint. She leaves the first joint attached so she can fold it under the breast to lock the wings against the sides of the breast—“wings akimbo” as she says in the video.

ATK cuts off the first joint and leaves the wings dangling or for some chicken recipes they have pegged them into the sides of the bird with a skewer.

31. Broil the chicken bits until well browned.

32. Separate the skin from the breast and spread half of the remaining herb paste under the skin.

Tip: Leave the skin attaches along the from edge of the breast so the herb mutter does not leak out as you are roasting the bird.

33. Spread the remaining herb paste over the skin of the breast and on the underside of the breast.

Tip: Use a few toothpick to peg the breast skin in place to cover as much of the meat as possible.

34. Using an oven proof skillet—large enough for the breast to fit—lay the breast skin side down in the pan and refrigerate until you are ready to start roasting.

35. Transfer to roasted bones and bits to a large pot and add the rest of the chicken broth.

Note: This is your gravy base. If you like a lot of gravy, you may add more broth, wine, or water.

36. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 1-3 hours.

Tip: The longer the better. You may also add some fresh herbs and/or vegetables to the pot, if you wish.

37. About two hours before dinner, roast the breast for 30 minutes in a preheated 425º F oven.

38. Transfer the stuffing to large roasting pan and pat it flat.

39. Remove breast from oven, flip breast up-right, and place over  one end of the stuffing.

Tip: I found that two wads of paper towels did not work very well—the grease bled straight through and was scalding. Use two old, clean dish towels to flip the breast.

Note: Remove the toothpicks at this point and add any pan juices to the gravy pot.

40. Arrange the leg quarters over remaining stuffing and push any stuffing, along the edges, under the meat so most of stuffing is covered by turkey.

Tip: Exposed stuffing tends to get over done and dry out during the long roasting time.

42. Lightly season breast and leg quarters with salt.

42. Put the roasting pan into the oven and cook for 30 minutes at 425º F.

43. Reduce oven temperature to 350º F and insert a constant read thermometer into the breast near the wing joint.

Tip: Set the thermometer alarm to 160º F.

45. Remove the turkey bits from the gravy pot and put them in a bowl to cool.

46. Strain and de-fat the turkey stock. Return the stock to the pot and keep warm.

47. When the turkey bits are cool enough to handle, remove any meaty bits and chop them finely.

Tip: Discard the bones and any skin.

48. Return the meat to the gravy pot.

49. When the alarm rings—in 45 to 75 minutes—remove the pan from the oven and tent the pan with aluminum foil.

Tip: Do not forget to turn the oven off.

50. Let the turkey rest for 20 minutes.

51. While the turkey is resting finish making the gravy, mix the flour and milk.

Tip: Put them in a small jar and shake well.

52. Remove the gravy pot from the direct heat and pour the flour mixture through a strainer into the gravy pot, stirring constantly.

Tip: The strainer removes any unmixed clumps of flour and prevents “lumpy” gravy.

53. Return the pot to the heat and cook, stirring occasionally until the gravy has thickened, about 3-5 minutes.

54. Transfer the breast and legs to a cutting board.

55. Check the seasoning of the stuffing and add salt and pepper to taste.

Tip: If you feel the stuffing might get cool, toss—so that the stuffing on the bottom does not burn—and return the pan to the cooling oven.

Serving suggestions:

56a. Mound the stuffing on the platter and set the breast on top of the stuffing. Place the legs in position as if they were still attached. Carve and serve at the table.

Tip: You may garnish with parsley if you wish.

56b. Carve the breast and thighs on the cutting board. Spread the stuffing in a layer over the serving platter and arrange the sliced turkey over the stuffing.


Filed under Holidays, Main Dishes, Poultry, Side Dishes, Turkey

5 responses to “Karl’s Deconstructed Stuffed Turkey a la Julia Child & Jacques Pepin

  1. Pingback: Karl’s Garlic and Chive Harcourt Vert | Jabberwocky Stew

  2. Pingback: Jan’s Grand Marnier Cranberry Sauce | Jabberwocky Stew

  3. Pingback: Karl’s Pumpkin Pie with Grand Marnier Whipped Cream | Jabberwocky Stew

  4. Karen

    …and it was really, really, good! Thanks, Karl

  5. Pingback: Karl’s Deconstructed Stuffed Turkey Updated | Jabberwocky Stew

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