A whole juicy turkey leg roasted in the oven and served in a divine sauce with vegetables.
A turkey leg, either whole or only the thigh or the drumstick is the best part of the turkey, I would say. It makes for the most wonderful roast, flavorful and juicy… and then that crispy skin on top. Wonderful! And I am hungry again… I just had breakfast…
And one turkey leg or a few drumsticks might actually be a more suitable festive dinner, either Thanksgiving or now Christmas, than a whole turkey. A whole turkey is great, but if your family is small, you will end up eating turkey until NewYear.
Mind you, you will probably still have some leftovers when cooking only a turkey leg, but they will not be so overwhelming. One more meal (two tops) and you will be done with them. You could try this wonderful leftover turkey fricassee for instance or make a nice soup. Or a hearty lasagna with leftover turkey.
How to cook a whole turkey leg or a large turkey thigh
This recipe can be made using a whole turkey leg (thigh and drumstick) or only the thigh. Whatever you choose to cook, make sure that the piece of turkey comfortably fits into the dish you are using, the underside of the meat should lie in the sauce.
I used a huge and long cast iron casserole dish, the only dish I have that can easily fit such a large turkey leg. It is similar to this dish Paderno World Cuisine 0.42-Quart Oval Cast-Iron Casserole, Black, but larger: 30 cm/ 12 inches long.
If using only the thigh of the bird, things get easier and in this case a round cast iron oven dish or Dutch oven will be fine. As long as it fits the turkey piece comfortably.
I recommend using a dish with a lid, the roasted turkey leg will be cooked with the lid on. In case you are using a regular roasting dish that doesn’t have a lid, you can cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil, making sure that the foil is not touching the skin of the turkey leg. If it does, the skin might stick to it.
Ingredients for the roasted turkey leg
My turkey leg weighed about 1.7 kg/ 3.7lbs. A little more or less would be fine, the turkey leg will be smothered for a rather long time and this time measuring the inner temperature of the meat is not important.
As mentioned above, use a whole turkey leg if you happen to find one, otherwise a large thigh of about 1.3 –1.5 kg/ 2.9 – 3-3 lbs will be just as good.
I can work with whole turkey legs because I buy my turkey from a farmer in our village. They don’t separate the turkey drumstick and the turkey thigh and I find it almost impossible to do it myself with regular kitchen utensils, the things are just too big. So, I cook the whole leg and think about delicious ways of using the leftovers.
I used clarified butter to sear the turkey leg at the beginning of the cooking process. Clarified butter (or ghee or Butterschmalz in German) is milk fat rendered from butter to separate the milk solids and water from the butter fat. Clarified butter has a higher smoke point than regular butter, making it better for searing at high temperature.
If you don’t have clarified butter or ghee, butter and a splash of regular oil can be used instead. Or rendered fat – lard, either pork, chicken or goose.
To make the sauce (which is so good I could eat it on its own with maybe some mashed potatoes), you will need shallots and a carrot. If you don’t have shallots, use smaller regular onions instead. The small onions should be quartered or sliced into wedges.
You can make the sauce using either dry white wine or dry red wine. This time I used red wine because I had an open bottle in the kitchen, but both versions are delicious.
So, let’s get to business: how to cook a turkey leg in the oven?
Step 1: Spice the turkey leg well. Dry the turkey leg using some kitchen paper and sprinkle it generously on both sides with salt, pepper and paprika powder, either sweet or hot or a mixture of the both. Rub the meat well with the spices. Set aside.
Step 2: Prepare the vegetables: peel and halve the shallots, cut the carrots into thin slices. Set aside.
Step 3: Heat some clarified butter in the cast iron pan or Dutch oven you are planning to use. Sear the turkey leg well, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove it from the pot and set aside.
Step 4: Give the prepared vegetables to the pot and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
Step 5: Add the wine, chicken or turkey stock, honey, thyme and salt. Stir well. Place the turkey leg or thigh, skin side DOWN into the sauce. Place the lid on the casserole dish and roast the turkey leg for 1 hour at 180 degrees Celsius/ 360degrees Fahrenheit.
Step 6: Turn the turkey leg or thigh, skin side UP. Place the lid back on and continue cooking for 30-40 minutes.
Step 7: Lift the turkey leg from the dish and place it on a regular roasting tin. Place the roasting tin in the oven and continue roasting the turkey leg until the skin is nicely browned and crispy. Keep an eye on it, I left mine a few minutes more than necessary and it turned a bit too brown in some places. Check after 4-5 minutes already.
How to serve the oven baked turkey leg or thigh
Serve the roasted turkey leg with the sauce and vegetables from the casserole dish. The sauce and the vegetables should not need any seasoning anymore, but check, just in case.
We had the oven baked turkey leg withthese amazing roasted Brussels sprouts and potatoes, but other cookedor roasted vegetables would be great as well. You could try some roasted carrots and mashed potatoes, for instance. German bread orpotato dumplings would be perfect as well.
More recipes for roasted turkey legs:
- 1 whole turkey leg of about 1.7 kg/ 3.7 lbs OR 1 turkey thigh of about 1.3 – 1.5 kg/ 2.9 - 3-3 lbs
- salt and pepper
- sweet or hot paprika or a mixture of the both
- 450 g/ 1 lbs shallots or smaller regular onions
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 tablespoon clarified butter (ghee) (See note)
- 175 ml/ 6 fl.oz/ ¾ cup dry white or red wine
- 250 ml/ 8.4 fl.oz/ 1 cup good quality chicken or turkey stock
- 1 heaped tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/ 360 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dry the turkey leg or thigh with kitchen paper. Sprinkle it generously on both sides with salt, pepper and paprika powder. Rub the spices into the meat with your hands. Set aside.
Peel the shallots and halve them. If using smaller regular onions, peel and cut them into thicker wedges or quarters. Peel and slice the carrot. Set aside.
Heat the clarified butter in a cast iron or Dutch pan large enough to fit the turkey leg or thigh comfortably. Sear the turkey leg on both sides until nicely golden, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the dish and set aside.
Give the prepared vegetables to the cast iron dish and saute them for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
Add the wine, chicken or turkey stock, honey, thyme and a pinch of salt. Stir well. Place the turkey leg or thigh on top of the vegetables, skin side DOWN first. Place the lid on the casserole dish and roast the meat in the preheated oven for 1 hour.
Turn the turkey leg in the pot, skin side UP, place the lid back on and continue roasting the meat for another 30-40 minutes. The meat should be really soft at this point.
Remove the dish from the oven, lift the turkey from the sauce and place it on a regular roasting tin. Give it back to the oven and let it there until the skin is nicely browned and crispy. Check after 4-5 minutes already and make sure that the skin doesn't turn too dark.
Remove the turkey from the oven, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for about 8-10 minutes. Carve the turkey leg and serve as suggested above.
Note: If you don't have clarified butter or ghee, replace it with ¾ tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon canola or olive oil. Rendered fat (lard) can also be used instead.