Why It Works
- Curing turkey legs with funky shio koji imparts savory depth to the meat with a hint of sweetness, and also tenderizes it.
- There's no need to season the meat with additional salt because shio koji is plenty salty.
- Slow and gentle cooking in a low oven results in a tender, succulent texture.
- Fully submerging legs in duck fat allows them to be stored for a long time after cooking, while also imparting the fat with extra flavor for subsequent cooking projects.
Turkey cookery is hallowed ground at Serious Eats. My predecessors have pushed this topic to the limits of innovation, every year offering a seemingly new and exciting way to prepare this oversized bird. You want that whole-roasted, Rockwellian centerpiece? Sure thing. Quick, easy, and spatchcocked? Yeah, buddy. Sous vide? You bet. Whether you’re looking to braise, smoke or even give your turkey the porchetta treatment, you've got options.
Who needs another turkey recipe?
Rolling out a turkey recipe for the sake of fulfilling some annual holiday quota seems disingenuous. And I’ll be the first to admit that turkey isn’t my go-to choice of meat; its parts are large and unwieldy, the cooking often must be painstakingly precise, and, given its size, it’s difficult to season properly.
Fortunately, I can offer something new—all thanks to the transformative power of koji. Sasha’s Koji Prime Rib and Koji Duck Confit recipes are testaments to the umami-boosting properties of shio koji, the simple marinade made with salt, water, granular rice koji, and time. Does shio koji work for turkey, too? Absolutely. In fact, applying Sasha’s method for Koji Duck Confit to turkey legs is as straightforward as can be.
Shio koji is rich in enzymes such as amylases and proteases. The proteases do the heavy lifting, converting proteins into constituent amino acids, which include those coveted, umami-rich glutamates that make foods like miso and soy sauce so dang good. Proteases also tenderize the meat, producing a succulent, fall-off-the bone texture.
The koji curing process consequently yields an intensely meaty, savory, and slightly sweet turkey leg. Combined with low-temperature confit cooking in an oven, the legs undergo gradual caramelization, and the resulting meat carries toasty, roasted, almost deep-fried flavors that can't necessarily be replicated by either roasting or sous vide on their own. Roasting a koji-cured bird is challenging—but not impossible!—since the sugar-rich marinade tends to burn easily. On the flip side, sous vide cooking can't reach the same temperature range as a traditional oven confit method, in which the meat is poached at a temperature that's higher than the boiling point of water. The result is decidedly different—still delicious, but lacking the same roasted notes of a traditional confit.
- 4 to 4 1/2 pounds (1.8 to 2 kg) turkey legs, number will vary by size
- 1 cup (300g; 240ml) homemade shio koji (see note)
- 2 teaspoons (6g) whole black peppercorns
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- Approximately 4 cups (950ml) rendered duck fat (see note)
The Day Before Cooking Confit: Combine turkey legs, shio koji, peppercorns, and thyme in a 2-gallon zipper-lock bag. Seal bag, pressing out as much air as possible. Massage bag until turkey legs are evenly coated on all sides with shio koji. Lay bag flat on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 12 and up to 24 hours. Do not cure legs longer than 24 hours, as they will over-cure, resulting in salty and dry confit.
When Ready to Cook: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 225°F (105°C). Melt duck fat, either in a Dutch oven over low heat, or in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave. Remove turkey legs from cure, wiping away as much of the cure mixture as possible before rinsing legs gently under cold water to remove all seasonings; discard cure. Pat duck legs dry with paper towels, then arrange in single layer in Dutch oven with duck fat, making sure the legs are completely submerged. Alternatively, arrange turkey legs snugly in a medium baking dish and cover with melted duck fat, making sure legs are fully submerged.
Cover Dutch oven or baking dish with lid or aluminum foil and transfer to oven. Cook until turkey is completely tender and meat shows almost no resistance when pierced with a paring knife, and skin has begun to pull away from bottom of the drumstick, 4 to 4 1/2 hours.
Remove from oven and remove lid. Cool turkey to room temperature in its cooking vessel while still submerged in fat. Once cool, cover container tightly and transfer to refrigerator, where confit can be stored for up to 1 month.
Dutch oven or baking dish with lid.
We do not recommend using pre-brined turkey; the resulting meat will be over-cured and excessively salty.
Prepared shio koji from the store is treated with alcohol to extend its shelf life, and varies wildly in quality and flavor; it will not work well in this recipe. Making your own shio koji is worth the effort.
The amount of duck fat needed for this recipe is dependent on the size of your cooking vessel. You need enough rendered duck fat to fully cover the legs and keep them submerged throughout cooking. You can render duck fat yourself from breaking down whole ducks or you can purchase containers of rendered duck fat at well-stocked supermarkets or online.
This recipe can easily be scaled up or down for any number of turkey legs you want to make; just note that the ratio of rendered fat to meat may change dramatically with the size and shape of the cooking vessel.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Cooked confit turkey legs can be stored submerged in fat in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.