Roast Young Hen Turkey with Pomegranate Sauce

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Quando a novembre el vin no xe più mosto, la paèta xe pronta per el rosto! (When in November the wine is no longer must, the young turkey is ready for the roasting!) This old adage from Vicenza signaled the beginning of the season for cooking turkey with pomegranate juice, one of the most sumptuous dishes of the Vicenza kitchen. The “sacrifice” of the young bird traditionally takes place on November 11, the day that marks the end of the harvest and the maturation of the pomegranate. The female turkey is more tender and tastier than the tom. An independent butcher can usually special-order hen turkeys weighing between 5 and 7 pounds. If a larger bird is used, adjust the ingredients proportionately and lengthen the cooking time.

NotesPomegranates are in season in late autumn through early winter. For the best flavor, select fruits that are large and vibrantly colored. The outer skin is naturally somewhat tight and leathery, but it should be taut, thin, and resilient to the touch, not tough, wrinkled, and dried out. Look for pomegranate juice in health-food stores and Middle Eastern markets. To intensify the flavor of the juice, simmer it to evaporate the liquid by about one third.

"In order to give good flavor to young fowl, take a pomegranate and make wine with it by hand, and put in that wine good sweet spices, and if it seems too strong, put more, otherwise [add] rose water…"

--From a 14th century recipe

For8 people

Cooking Methodroasting


Total Timeunder 4 hours

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Formal Dinner Party

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free



Taste and Texturefruity, herby, juicy, meaty, salty, savory, sweet, tart


  • 1 young hen turkey (5 to 7 pounds)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, and
  • mixed with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Large handful of fresh sage leaves with stems intact
  • 1 large onion, cut into 8 wedges
  • 3 cups bottled pomegranate juice
  • 1 pomegranate (see Notes)
  • 2 tablespoons vin santo or port (optional)


  1. Bring the turkey to room temperature before preparing it for cooking. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

  2. Rinse the turkey thoroughly and dry it well inside and out with paper towels. Massage both cavities of the bird with some of the butter-olive oil mixture, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stuff sage leaves and onion wedges into both cavities. Sew the cavities closed with kitchen string, then use string to truss the wings and legs close to the body. Rub the bird well all over with the butter-oil mixture and place it on a rack in a roasting pan. The size of the pan should correspond to the size of the bird and should not be more than 2 inches deep. The rack prevents the bird from frying in its own fat.

  3. Slide the pan into the oven. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted deep into the thigh alongside the thigh bone registers 160 to 170 degrees F. The internal temperature depends on your preference for well-done (170 degrees F) or very juicy with a hint of pale pink (160 degrees F). As a rule of thumb, a 6- to 7- pound turkey will roast in 2 to 2¼ hours.

  4. During the first half of the cooking, baste the turkey with the remaining butter-oil mixture and, in time, with its own juices, always remembering to remove the bird from the oven to do so and to shut the oven door immediately after placing the bird on the stove top to baste. Frequent basting--every 10 to 15 minutes--is critical to the flavor and moisture of the bird. Retain moisture by turning the turkey onto alternate sides each time it is basted.

  5. Also during the first half of the roasting, pour the pomegranate juice into a saucepan and simmer over low heat to reduce its volume by one third. When the turkey has cooked halfway, baste it with its own juices and some of the concentrated pomegranate juice.

  6. While the bird roasts, peel the pomegranate fruit. This is a tedious task, but the burst of tart, cool juice from the glistening seeds sprinkled over the tender turkey meat makes it well worth the trouble. Using a sharp paring knife, make a cut in the blossom end of the fruit and peel away the tough outer skin. Once inside, peel away as much of the white membrane, along with the outer skin, as possible, taking care not to pierce the seeds. When much of this has been peeled away, the pomegranate can be gently pried open with the fingers dividing it roughly in half along its natural sections. Now pry apart each of the halves to produce 4 sections in all. Pull away the remaining white membranes and push the seeds into a bowl with your fingers, taking care not to pierce the seeds and to remove any surrounding white membrane left on them. Cover the bowl and set aside.

  7. When the bird is done, remove it from the oven immediately and transfer it to a carving board. Sprinkle the bird all over with salt, cover it loosely with aluminum foil, and allow it to rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, skim off the fat from the pan drippings and combine them with the remaining concentrated pomegranate juice (the proportion of drippings to pomegranate juice can vary from equal amounts to 2 parts drippings mixed with 1 part pomegranate juice). Simmer to heat the sauce through and adjust the flavor to taste with a little salt. If a slightly sweeter, richer flavor is desired, add the vin santo to taste and simmer for a few minutes longer.

  8. Carve the turkey. Serve the sauce laced over the carved portions of the bird on each plate, and scatter the pomegranate seeds on top.

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