Thai Roasted Turkey: A Twist on Thanksgiving

We named this turkey "Yupa" after the creator of the recipe. She's ready to be seasoned and stuffed.

Here is another wonderful recipe from Yupa Holzner, whose Thai cooking class my father took back in the 90s in the Long Beach area.  According to an LA Times article from 1989, this seems to be one of Yupa’s “cross-cultural ideas.”  My sister recently brought this recipe back to life for my Tita Arlene’s (tita means aunt in Tagalog) 50th birthday.  My father made this only once shortly after Yupa’s cooking class.  When I realized that I wouldn’t be able to go back to California for Thanksgiving, I asked my very good friend, Mark, if I could prepare this at his home in Washington, DC for the holiday.  More proof that this recipe was a Yupa creation rather than traditional Thai cuisine: Mark is Thai and had never heard of it.

Last year, Mark and his friends made a 20-pound-plus turkey for only six guests.  This time around, he was determined to avoid having too many turkey leftovers even though his guest list had doubled.  To make matters worse, he had had two turkey dinners the week leading up to Thanksgiving day.  We ended up getting an 11-pound turkey.  However, once he bit into the juicy pieces of “Yupa” and dipped her in the spicy sauce, Mark said, “If I had known it was going to be this good, I would have gotten the 20 pounder.”

1 whole fresh turkey, about 10 to 12 pounds

Outer Seasoning:

1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 tablespoon ground laos root (aka galanga)
1 teaspoon white pepper


4 stems lemon grass, crisscut and crushed
12 slices of dried laos root (aka galanga)
1 large onion, chopped
8 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper

Serving Sauce:

12 serrano chilis, chopped (or even more if you want it spicier)
8 cloves garlic
2 tablespoon fresh ginger
2/3 cup soy sauce
4 tablespoons soy bean condiment/bean sauce
2 tablespoon vinegar


1 1/3 oz of tamarind paste
1/2 cup of water
4 ounces butter, unsalted
1 cup honey
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 teaspoons salt

Now if an immense feeling of panic has come over you from this length of ingredients, calm down!  Think of it as 4 little recipes where most of what you’re doing is mixing stuff in a bowl or throwing it into a blender while your beautiful turkey bakes in the oven.

As we discussed in the recipe for Thai fried rice, you should be able to find all of the ingredients relatively easily these days in many Asian markets.  As always, you can substitute certain ingredients with fellow Asian varieties, but as a rule of thumb I try to keep things Thai when I make Thai dishes.

Outer seasoning ingredients

First, remove the innards.  You won’t need them for this recipe, but you can hold onto them to make a wonderful turkey gravy for something else.  Next, bath your turkey in cold water. Make sure to rinse her good.  It feels like bathing a little baby!  Pat her dry with a paper towel.  Combine the outer seasoning ingredients in a bowl.

Yupa marinating

Rub the mixed ingredients all over the turkey, making sure to get the cavities too.  Let it marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Stuffing ingredients with Yupa

While the turkey marinates, start chopping your stuffing.

Stuffing chopped

I was lazy and only sliced the onions, but you should really chop them.  I found that out after stuffing the turkey.  It wasn’t a pretty sight, fisting a turkey!  Now, close the main cavity.  A lot of turkeys these days have a metal clamp that will truss the turkey for you.  If your turkey does not have one, close it with a wooden skewer.  Put the turkey breast-side DOWN in your roasting pan.  This will keep your breast nice and moist without having to baste all the time.  I did not have a roasting pan available, so I used one of those catering tins with a cookie sheet underneath for more support.  If you do it this way, cover the turkey with aluminum foil and make sure that the foil DOES NOT TOUCH the turkey.  Stick the turkey in a preheated oven at 350 degrees on the middle shelf.  Bake for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, about 18 minutes per pound, or until done.  I apologize for the lack of photos at this point.  Apparently, I can’t socialize, cook, and blog at the same time!

Serving sauce

While the turkey is baking, prepare the serving sauce.  Chop the fresh ingredients.  Combine everything in a blender and blend thoroughly.  Set aside.


Now it’s time to make the glaze.  First coarsely chop the tamarind and add to a blender with the water.  Blend thoroughly.  Next, add the butter to a sauce pan over medium-low heat until melted.  Add the rest of the glaze ingredients, stirring regularly until well blended.  Reserve for later.

Glazing Yupa. Photo courtesy of DONIS.

About 30 minutes before the turkey is done, remove the cover/aluminum foil and turn her breast side up.  Brush the turkey frequently with the glaze during the last half hour of cooking time.  When she is done, discard the stuffing and brush on the remaining glaze.  You can also increase the glaze recipe and use it as a dipping sauce if you would rather have a sweet dipping sauce than the salty and spicy serving sauce.

Yupa ready to be carved at Thanksgiving. Photo courtesy of DONIS.

Now all you have to do is carve’r up!  Isn’t she juicy?  How do you like the serving sauce? Do you prefer the sweet glaze to the savory spice?

From New Years Day 2012 dinner


7 thoughts on “Thai Roasted Turkey: A Twist on Thanksgiving

  1. Did you have a hard time flipping the turkey over? It always feels like a 2 person job. Yupa looks amazingly golden brown. Can’t wait for your next posts!

  2. I can’t wait to try this for our Christmas dinner. I’m going with a 10 lb most likely.
    I’ll ask the “straight” guy to help me flip over the turkey. Quotations used intentionally 😉

  3. Looks awesome! My grandmother is actually Yupa Holzner. She’s always been an amazing cook. It’s so nice to see people still making some of her creations! :]

    • Hi Susan, I think I usually serve it with rice and have even accompanied it with other Thai noodle dishes, but you can certainly pair it with potatoes. I haven’t served it with cranberry sauce since it’s typically pretty sweet with the honey tamarind sauce already, but it sounds like it could also be good. Let me know how it turns out. 🙂

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