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May 6, 2002 10:25 PM

Has anyone ever made or eaten an Infamous Thompson Turkey?

  • r

I have included the recipe for this semi-myth below. The paste on the bird turns black, and allegedly seals in all the flavors of the turkey. The skin is peeled away to unveal an absurdly juicy interior. Any succusses?

The Turkey
18 to 22 pound turkey, giblets and fat removed and reserved, rinsed and patted dry.
Oil to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
The Gravy
Giblets (neck, liver and heart)
4 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 clove garlic
Salt to taste

The Dressing, bowl 1
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 orange, peeled and diced
20-ounce can crushed pineapple
Grated rind of 1/2 lemon
10-ounce can water chestnuts, drained
3 tablespoons chopped preserved ginger

The Dressing, bowl 2
2 teaspoons Colman's mustard
2 teaspoons caraway seed
1 tablespoon celery seed
2 teaspoons poppy seed
2 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano leaves
1 large bay leaf, crushed
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/4 cup minced parsley
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cloves, minus the heads, well chopped
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
4 large onions, medium chopped
6 celery stalks, medium chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh savory, preferably summer
1 tablespoon each minced fresh thyme and sage leaves
1 teaspoon salt
The Dressing, bowl 3
1 1/2 pounds fresh bread crumbs
3/4 pound ground veal
1/4 pound ground fresh pork
1/4 pound butter
For the paste:
12 egg yolks
2 tablespoons of Colman's mustard
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 tablespoons onion juice
1 tablespoon salt
3/4 teaspoon Cayenne, or to taste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour, or enough to make a paste
3 cups cider
1 cup water
Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. or as high as it will go -- for at least 1 hour.

Chop fine the reserved turkey fat. In a small saucepan set over moderate heat combine the reserved fat with 1/2 cup of the water, bring to a boil and simmer until all the water has evaporated and only clear fat and small pieces of solid remain. Reserve fat for stuffing.

Season the inside of the turkey with salt and pepper. Rub the skin all over with the oil and season with salt and pepper.

Make the gravy: In a saucepan set over moderate heat combine ingredients for the gravy, bring to a boil and simmer while preparing the dressing.

Make the dressing: prepare and combine ingredients in bowl no. 1; prepare and combine ingredients from bowl no. 2; and prepare and combine ingredients from bowl no. 3. In a large bowl combine ingredients from all three bowls. Mix it well. "Mix it with your hands. Mix it until your forearms and wrists ache. Then mix it some more. Now toss it enough so that it isn't any longer a doughy mass."

Loosely stuff the turkey. Stuff the neck cavity and sew closed the openings. Tie legs together.

Make the paste: combine all ingredients for paste in a bowl, adding enough flour to form a thick paste.

Arrange turkey breast side down on a rack wrapped in foil sitting in a shallow roasting pan. Brush foil with oil.

Put the turkey in the oven and roast it for 15 minutes, or until browned. Turn it breast side up and roast for 15 minutes more. With a pastry or paint brush coat the turkey completely with the paste -- in every nook and cranny. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

To simmering gravy add cider and water. Remove from heat but keep warm on top of stove. (This is your basting liquid.) Roast the bird, basting it frequently, (the original recipe says every 15 minutes) for 4 1/2 to 5 hours, or until an instant meat thermometer reads 180 to 185 in the thigh; 170 in the breast and 160 in the stuffing.

Let rest 15 to 20 minutes, before peeling away crust.

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  1. Yes. We've done the TT for two years running. It's a lot of work, but it's really good. The turkey is very moist and flavorful. If you do it right, the bird is sealed inside a charcoal shell. It looks like something out of a cartoon. You are then faced with a choice. If you are like Martha Stewart, you discreetly remove the crust in the kitchen. If you are like me, you bring the blackened carcass to the table, and say "it's a little overdone, but it should be okay", then whip out your screwdriver and do the honors.


    1. Do not use a brined turkey. I tried that the second year with bad results. The crust won't form properly.

    2. Do not expect any pan drippings for gravy. Everything burns to a crisp. You can't help getting unappetizing eggy drippings in the pan, either--so the old water in the roaster trick won't work, and it won't help to switch roasting pans part way through. Water in the roasting pan might also interfere with crust formation.

    3. The stuffing needs more garlic.

    4. Jeff Steingarten has some excellent practical tips on the TT in The Man Who Ate Everything.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Lindsay B.

      Thank you so much! I assume that you consider it to be better then merely brining the turkey. Any other modificaitons that you recomend?

        1. re: ryan

          My pleasure, ryan. I love the whole schtick of the Thompson's Turkey. It's not just a recipe, it's a roll. You could easily make a simpler dressing, but then you loose the "period rush" that comes channelling a hard-drinking, old school journalist of the fifties running amok in the kitchen.

          Anyone who wants to make the TT should read Robert Benchley's recipe/homage. Actually, all rational beings as such should read this essay, whether they like turkey or not. It's really funny.

          My own recommendation is to grease the skin really, really well. I used butter in previous years, but this time around I might try lard or suet. I'm reasoning as follows: a fat with a higher melting point will stay solid longer and help maintain a barrier between the crust and the skin.


        2. re: Lindsay B.

          We've done this for years--this is the traditional family recipe chez nous--though we have not had the experience you describe. Maybe we've used less flour and thus had less crust? We typically get a dark brown bird, but just eat the skin as it comes out w/o removing anything. It all tastes just great.

          Part of the fun is the sheer nuttiness of the recipe: so many ingredients and steps. Sort of becomes a family ritual, doing the bowls together, taking turns basting, and so on.

        3. I have this rule: I don't seriously consider any recipe that won't fit on a 4 x 6 card.

          BTW, I don't see why a regular dressing wouldn't do with this, instead of the 3-bowl extravaganza.

          1. Why would anyone want to make a turkey and then throw the skin away?

            I'd roast a turkey just to *get* that crispy golden brown skin...

            2 Replies
            1. re: sskwire

              Although I've yet to make it (came pretty close recently, but still...)

              David Rosengarten made this on an episode of Taste a few years ago. I went to and printed the recipe, figuring it wouldnt' be archived.

              As I remember it, and as I still read it here, you don't peel the skin off the turkey. What happens is that all the goo you slather on it burns to a crisp. This browns the skin nicely. You peel the crust off, not the skin. It was my understanding that the purpose of all this effort was that you are basically steaming the meat, while simultaneously roasting a gorgeous crust onto the bird.

              1. re: cypressstylepie

                The black crust is supposed to peel right off, exposing beautiful crisp skin. If skin is your number one priority, this is probably not the method for you. You're going to loose a certain percentage of the skin, or at least tear it in a few places. However, the skin you do get is crisp, and stained a beautiful mahogany color from all the cayenne pepper in the paste.

            2. This seems similar in technique to the salt-baked chicken in the USC Second Helpings cookbook, which uses two boxes (3lb) of kosher salt mixed with egg to coat the chicken before you baste it. I haven't made it.