Dec 28, 2021

Maria Eugénia Cerqueira da Mota's Roast Stuffed Turkey

Having roasted and written about turkeys for years, I thought I knew all there was to know about this big, beautiful American bird. Well, I was wrong. I recently learned an extraordinary way to roast turkey from a talented cook who lives in the northeastern reaches of Portugal - Maria Eugénia Cerqueira da Mota. Her method breaks almost every rule of turkey cookery that I had been taught, and it produces a bird of incomparable moistness, with skin as crackly as a potato chip.

"You should never rub a turkey's skin with anything but salt," Maria Eugénia told me. "The salt seats the pores and keeps the juices in the flesh. People make a mistake in rubbing turkey with fat, in basting it with drippings, and in roasting it at a low temperature, all of which make the juices run out."

What also distinguishes her roast turkey is that she smoothes the stuffing - a buttery bread paste - directly underneath the skin and leaves the body cavity empty. Even though I'd just eaten Maria Eugénia's supremely succulent turkey (roasted, by the way, at 400°F (205°C) from start to finish), I remained skeptical until I tried her unorthodox method in my own kitchen. It worked, though I had to roast my turkey longer, our birds being heftier than their Portuguese cousins. Nevertheless, roasting the turkey for 2-1/2 hours at 400°F produced the finest, juiciest, most flavorful bird of recent memory, and it won raves from dinner guests, who are now also converts to Maria Eugénia's technique. What follows is my own adaptation of Maria Eugénia's recipe, adjusted to take account of American ingredients and equipment.


For the Turkey:

For the Stuffing:


Turkey Preparation

Remove the giblets from the turkey and reserve for another use or save to use another time. Fill the neck and body cavities of the turkey with salt, then rub the skin well all over with salt. Place the turkey and remaining salt in a very large deep kettle, add enough cold water just to cover the bird, and set in a very cool spot for 3 to 4 hours. (Maria Eugénia soaks her turkey a full 24 hours, but in America's superheated houses, that would be unwise.)

Stuffing Preparation

Toward the end of the soaking period, prepare the stuffing: In a large heavy kettle set over moderate heat, sauté the garlic in the butter and olive oil about 5 minutes until limp. Add the bread, salt, and pepper, and toss well; now add the chicken broth and beat hard with a wooden spoon until the mixture is pastelike; turn the heat to its lowest point, cover the kettle, and steam 15 to 20 minutes, until the bread has absorbed all the liquid. Add the egg yolks and beat hard until smooth. Remove from the heat and reserve.

Preheat the oven to hot (400°F; 205°C). Drain the turkey and rinse very well, removing every bit of salt from the neck and body cavities. It's important to rinse the bird several times in cool water, so that all traces of salt are gone. Place the bird on the counter with the neck cavity facing you. With your hands, begin working the skin free from the breast. Proceed gently, taking care not to tear the skin. It's slow going at first, but once you begin to free the skin, the job goes quickly. Loosen it all the way down the bird to within about 1 inch of the tail end, down both sides. Now, with your hands, push the stuffing bit by bit far down under the skin and continue, packing it in lightly, until the breast is covered with about a 1-inch layer. Now fill the neck cavity, skewer the neck skin flat against the back to enclose, and truss the bird.

Place the turkey breast-side up in a large shallow roasting pan (no rack needed) and roast uncovered for about 2-1/2 hours or until the bird is richly browned and a leg moves easily in the hip joint; do not baste. Remove from the oven and let stand 20 minutes. Drain the drippings into a sauceboat and keep warm. Remove the trussing string and skewers and serve at once.

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