Sunday, June 8, 2014

Grilled Turkey Thighs with Lemon-Garlic Asparagus and Roasted Potatoes

Turkeys are tough birds.  This is a truism both while the birds are alive and after their death.  Both wild and domesticated turkeys have an aggressive disposition.  The bird's behavior has been documented numerous times, like the case of a wild turkey named Godzilla who harasses a homeowner in Detroit or the turkeys who chase after runners in the neighborhoods of Boston.  While turkeys may be beautiful in appearance, they are very nasty in character.  

Turkeys can be difficult in death as they can be when they are alive.  They can present a lot of challenges to cooks, who sometimes struggle to present a dish of juicy, tender meat for their guests.  This is especially true when it comes to cooking turkey breasts.  The breast meat can dry out very fast, requiring brines to ensure that the meat remains moist and flavorful.  

By contrast, turkey thighs are much easier to work with as a cook.  The main reason is that the fat content in the thighs is higher than in the breast, making the meat a little more forgiving when being cooked.  That fat also provides a lot more flavor than what can be found in the breast.  For these reasons, I have used thighs for a number of recipes, including Turkey Paella, Beer Braised Turkey Tacos with Chipotle Guacamole, and Turkey Biryani.

While I love all of those recipes, my favorite way of cooking turkey is using the grill.   I have grilled turkey thighs on a number of occasions, including when I made Batali-Style Turkey Thighs with Snap Peas and Agliata.   I prefer grilling to other methods of cooking, such as braising or roasting, because it is easier to get the skin to become crispy without drying out the meat.  For this reason, I am always trying to think of new and different ways to grill turkey thighs, which led to this recipe.

I started with the idea of creating a rub that has an Italian inspiration.  The combination of flavors -- onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme and crushed red pepper -- is perhaps a classic in Italian grilling.   It is one that can easily be used to grill steak or chicken.  It also works very well with turkey thighs. 

One cannot serve turkey alone, so I needed some sides.  Given I was using the grill, I decided to make some asparagus because grilling asparagus is my preferred way of preparing the vegetable.  I also made a potato dish, but, given that grill space would be taken up with turkey thighs and eventually asparagus, I chose to roast the potatoes in the oven while I worked on the rest of the course.  

Overall, this dish was a success.  The turkey was moist and the rub did its part to infuse flavor into the meat.  I would have liked to have gotten the skin a little crispier; but, the thighs reached the desired temperature before that could happen. When given the choice between crispy skin and moist meat, I choose the latter every time. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-4

Ingredients (for the turkey):
2 turkey thighs, trimmed
1 tablespoon of dried rosemary
1 tablespoon of dried thyme
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon of sea salt
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper

Ingredients (for the asparagus):
1 pound of asparagus
1 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt, to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients (for the potatoes):
1 pound of small potatoes, washed and halved
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 tablespoon of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Freshly ground pepper

 1.   Roast the potatoes.  Bring a pot of hot water to a boil.  Add the potatoes and boil until the potatoes start to become tender.  Drain the potatoes and allow them to cool.  Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, place them in a bowl with the olive oil and garlic.  Mix thoroughly so that the oil covers the potatoes.  Season liberally with salt and pepper.  Heat an oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and spread the potatoes out on a non-stick pan.  Roast the potatoes in the oven for about 7 to 8 minutes.  Flip the potatoes and continue to roast until they are fork-tender, yet crisp.

2.  Prepare the turkey and asparagus.  Grind the rosemary, thyme, black pepper and sea salt.  Place ground mixture in a small bowl and add garlic powder, onion powder and crushed red pepper.  Mix thoroughly.  Rinse the turkey thighs and dry them well.  Apply the rub to all parts of the turkey thighs.  Wrap and refrigerate for two to three hours.  Trim the asparagus and place in a ziplock bag with the olive oil, garlic powder and lemon juice.  Season with freshly ground black pepper and salt.  

3.  Grill the turkey and asparagus.  Heat the grill on medium high heat.  Grill the turkey thighs, skin side facing up for about ten minutes.  Flip the thighs and continue to cook for about eight to ten minutes, until the turkey approaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.  During the last five minutes of the grilling, grill the asparagus, turning occasionally to prevent burning and remove the asparagus as soon as they have softened and crisped along the edges.

4.  Finish the dish.  Once the temperature of the thighs is between 160 to 165, remove the turkey thighs from the grill and tent with some foil.  Allow the turkey thighs to rest for about five to ten minutes.  Slice the thighs and portion out the slices on the plates.  Serve immediately with the some of the roasted potatoes (garnished with the parsley) and grilled asparagus. 


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