From the blog November 22, 2010 Johnny Zhu

A Modernist Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving holds a special place in most U.S. kitchens because, of all the holidays, it is certainly the most food-focused. Indeed, while we have much for which to give thanks from the passing year, on a more visceral level, we celebrate the abundance of deliciousness that graces our tables on this particular day.

Now, much has been written about that centerpiece of Thanksgiving deliciousness: the turkey. Whether one is bemoaning the painful experience of eating a dry chewy bird, or analyzing the best way to remedy that failing, cookbooks both old and new are bursting with opinions on how to master a succulent and tender roast turkey. Rather than mastering the classic interpretation, the recipe in Modernist Cuisine flips it on its head by focusing on refining the flavors of a roasted bird and applying Modernist techniques.

In this case, we have chosen the turkey wing to be the primary vessel of Thanksgiving flavor. Specifically, we take the radius and ulna of the turkey wing (the middle portion with two bones running through it), cure it, and then cook it sous vide for the most tender result.

First, after chopping off the joints to expose the two bones inside the wing, we cure the turkey wing segments in a dry rub of salt and sugar for 24 hours.

The turkey wing as it cures in the sous vide bag.

After a day of curing, we rinse the cure off of the wing and vacuum seal it with a bit of clarified butter. Then we cook it sous vide at 58 °C / 136 °F for 12 hours. Immediately after pulling the wing out of the bath, we pull the bones out of the wing while its flesh is still warm. If the wing has been properly cooked, the bones should just slide right out. Once the segments have cooled, they are ready to be dusted in potato starch and panfried.

The cured and dusted wing prior to being panfried.

The finished pan fried wing.

Once we have a deliciously crispy and tender piece of turkey, it’s time for the gravy. There is only one primary Modernist twist to our turkey gravy, but it is crucial to the overall flavor concentration of the sauce.

A traditional gravy requires quite a bit of roux to thicken a flavorful poultry broth to the right consistency. Instead of roux, our gravy has a small percentage of Ultra-Sperse, a pre-hydrated starch from National Starch. The Ultra-Sperse is whisked in to thicken our broth. The advantage here is in flavor concentration: Because Ultra-Sperse is more efficient than fat and flour in thickening liquid, we use significantly less of it, so the concentration of turkey flavor in our gravy is not diluted, as is what happens when roux is used.

Finished with a bit of diced cranberry and picked sage, our small bite of Thanksgiving turkey bursts with flavor.

The sauced and garnished wing.

How would you refine Thanksgiving turkey? Let us know by leaving a comment below.


  1. Teddy Devico November 22, 2010 Reply

    Debone the whole chicken and seperate the skin, white meat, and dark meat. Use transglutaminase to glue skin to white meat and white meat to dark meat. Cook sous vide in duck fat, orange zest, sage, salt, pepper at 145 degrees. Remove and crisp up in duck fat.
    Make an ecapuslation of cranberry and orange.
    Perfect Mashed Potatoes and Reduced stock (from carcass and wings)

  2. Brian Cronin November 23, 2010 Reply

    Some might argue that the flavor of roux actually improves the gravy. But I’m open to new things.

  3. JasonW December 7, 2010 Reply

    Which version of Ultra-Sperse did you use?

    the website has multiple options:

    ULTRA-SPERSE® 2000


    • Johnny Zhu December 7, 2010 Reply


      The difference between those kinds of Ultrasperse is minor, but to be specific, we used Ultrasperse 3.


      • Susannah October 18, 2011 Reply

        Hi Johnny,

        I can’t seem to find where to purchase Ultrasperse 3.

        Do you have any recommendations for I can purchase it?

        Thank You,


        • Mark October 27, 2011 Reply

          Hi Susannah
          Did you ever find a good source for ultra sperse 3?
          It’s seems oddly hard to find. If so, please post the website.

          • Andrea Duncan December 21, 2017

            You can get it on Amazon

  4. Lorenzo Lambert December 24, 2010 Reply

    Would it be possible to translate your website into spanish because i have difficulties of speaking to english, and as there are not many pictures on your website i would like to read more of what you are writting .

  5. john phipps August 30, 2011 Reply

    I have used this technique to make a single bite deconstructed chicken hot wing appetizer. Prepare the wing in this manner, Isi whip blue cheese dressing into asian soup spoon, add crispy wing meat, garnish with slivers of pickled celery and spherified hot sauce.

  6. Rodney_Miller October 31, 2011 Reply

    How much sugar and salt for the cure? This looks great. Can’t wait to try it!

  7. ssd November 14, 2012 Reply

    Ultra Sperse is available through Terra Spice.

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