Cranberry Orange Turkey Thighs are succulent and flavorful when seared and roasted with aromatics.
I love this recipe for a couple reasons:
1) It cooks up in just one pan…my trusty large Lodge cast iron skillet to be exact. That means less clean-up.
Because cast iron is so versatile, I can sear off the turkey thighs on the stovetop, then add the rest of the ingredients and toss the whole thing in the oven for a hands-off finish. Win.
If you’re intimidated to use cast iron because of cleaning, read How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet.
Basically, properly seasoned cast iron is like a non-stick surface, and it gets better with age. There are a couple of specific rules to follow when cleaning – see the link directly above – or you’ll accidentally wear the seasoning down.
2) It’s really flexible. You can use chicken thighs or chicken legs instead of turkey thighs.
No orange? That’s okay…just use lemon instead.
No cranberries? No problem. You could add dried cranberries at the end or just leave them out.
Don’t have fresh thyme and rosemary? Sprinkle on dried herbs instead.
Consider this Cranberry Orange Turkey Thighs recipe as a template or method, and substitute with what you have on hand.
You see, cooking is more about combining flavors than it is about exact proportions or ingredients or times. Even Jacques Pepin agrees.
The technique to this recipe goes a little something like this:
Sear the turkey thighs skin side down in a hot cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. You’ve gotta let them get crispy, and the secret to that is not to flip too soon.
Did you know that meat is smart? When it’s ready to flip after it’s developed the perfect golden brown crust, it’ll easily detach from the pan. If it’s still holding on for dear life, it’s too soon.
One of the biggest mistakes new cooks make is moving the meat around too much – followed closely behind by not letting the pan heat up enough. Cast iron takes while to heat up, so be patient.
A high smoke point oil or fat like ghee or duck fat is a must. Read about ghee, and why I love it in Ghee: What is This Healthy Fat?.
With the right oil or fat and patience, you’ll be rewarded with utterly perfect crispy skin.
Not only is it like chicken bacon and highly coveted in our house, it helps insulate the turkey meat as it roasts. Nobody likes dry turkey. Ever.
Once the turkey thighs are perfectly seared, you’ll tuck the rest of the ingredients into the very same skillet and finish it off in the oven. The even, all-around heat from the oven is perfect for getting the turkey thighs cooked all the way through to the bone.
It’s worth noting that boneless turkey thighs – or chicken thighs – take less time to bake, but I think the bone-in kind have better flavor.
And, you can save the leftover bones to make bone broth. Read my Instant Pot Bone Broth or Stovetop Bone Broth recipes for more details. Tip: Save leftover bones in the freezer in a ziptop bag until I accumulate enough for a batch of broth.
Pat the turkey thighs dry with paper towel, and lightly sprinkle them with salt and pepper on both sides. Preheat the oven to 400F.
In a large cast iron skillet, melt the ghee over medium-high heat. When the fat is shimmering, add the turkey thighs skin side down. Sear for 5+ minutes or until the turkey skin releases easily from the pan and is golden in color. Sear for another 5 minutes with the flesh side down. Turn off the heat.
Carefully arrange the orange slices and herbs by tucking them under the seared meat. Use tongs because the meat is hot.
Put the whole cast iron skillet into the oven, and roast the turkey thighs for 45+ minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 165F when inserted into the thickest part of the meat (not on the bone) or until the juices run clear. You may need more or slightly less time depending on the size of the turkey thighs, so watch accordingly.
After 20 minutes goes by, sprinkle the fresh cranberries over the top of the meat and continue roasting.
Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
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