Thanksgiving is easily my favorite holiday. For me it is a celebration of gratitude and a time of reflection shared with family and friends surrounding a dinner table full of endless delight. Thanksgiving usually allows for a suspension of calorie counts which I assume historically, on the frontier was necessary to add a bit of padding to get through the coming winter months. Even though our modern comforts allow us heated dwellings, it won’t hurt to hit the dessert cart more than a couple of times.
There isn’t a more iconic meal in American culture than the roasted turkey dinner, with all of it’s traditional sides sitting alongside in the fancy casseroles we only use once or twice a year. The bird usually serves as a beautiful centerpiece before being carved and devoured, leaving only bones (which can be turned into stock). I am no enemy of tradition, and I love a beautifully roasted bird, but I’d like to play devil’s advocate and propose a few different ways to think about cooking the bird for the holidays.
Butchering the Bird
One of the very first things I suggest is to butcher the bird. I know this ruins the dramatic effect of the whole-bird centerpiece, but it will lend to more delicious results.
1.Take a sharp boning knife and make a diagonal cut between the breast and the thigh, working the knife towards the ‘hip’ joint.
2.Bend the leg back until the joint snaps and work the knife through to remove the leg. Repeat for the other leg.
3. Remove the wing tips by cutting through the second joint of the wing. Now remove the first and second sections of the wing by placing the breast down on the cutting board and cutting up and around where the first wing section connects with the back.
4. Remove the breast from the back bone with kitchen shears by cutting up towards the shoulder area through each rib bone. It gets a little tricky once you cut past the ribs. This is where the humerus, clavicle, and coracoid intersect. Carefully navigate this joint with a sharp knife to separate the breast from the backbone.
Now that we have a sectioned turkey, it needs to be brined for about eight hours. This will allow for a more tender and flavorful turkey. A good brine starts with a strong ratio. In this case 20:1 water to salt. Add in some aromatics such as fresh herbs and garlic cloves, peppercorns, onions or fruit.
Take the backbone and wingtips and make a roasted stock.
After the bird has been brined and the stock is simmering, let’s take a look at some of the many ways we can prepare the individual turkey cuts.
For the breasts, there are a few methods that work really well. The first is the obvious traditional roast. Breast meat does well with roasting, yielding a moist and flavorful meal in the end. Adding a bold maple 5 spice glaze to the turkey breast adds more depth of flavor and elevates the ordinary turkey breast to new levels.
Five Spiced Maple Turkey Breast
7 pound bone in turkey breast
6 T soy
6T Maple syrup
6T rice vinegar
2 star anise
1/4 cinnamon stick
1/2 t fennel seed
1 t Szechuan peppercorn
1/2 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and place the turkey breast skin side up on a roasting pan. In a pot on the stovetop, mix all other ingredients together and bring to a simmer. Place the turkey in the oven and after the first thirty minutes, start brushing the glaze onto the turkey breast. Every ten minutes, continue to brush the glaze on the turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Let it rest for about 15-20 minutes before carving. This pairs well with roasted parsnips and celery root.
Fried Turkey Cutlet
One of my favorite turkey recipes is the Fried Turkey Cutlet with turkey gravy. It is a pretty simple and straightforward preparation and so very delicious
Remove the skin the turkey breast and reserve for later(message me in the comments for a turkey cracklin’ recipe). remove the breast from the breast bone and slice the meat thin. Place each cutlet, one by one, in a resealable bag and pound with the flat side of a meat tenderizer until they are very thin. Soak in buttermilk for a couple of hours and then bread the thin cutlets in seasoned flour. Fry them in 350 degree oil for about 4-5 minutes each. Serve with hot turkey gravy, hot sauce and mashed potatoes.
Stuffed Turkey Leg
This preparation might be the most difficult but it is well worth it. Boning out a turkey leg is fairly easy because of the size of the bones, but the difficulty comes in cleaning out the heavy cartilage and connective tissue in the drumstick. The easiest method is to use the tip of the boning knife and slide it down alongside the cartilage. It will pull free from the meat fairly easily. There are about eight or nine strips of cartilage in the turkey leg. Once they are all removed, lay the the meat out on a cutting table and stuff with about four ounces of your favorite sausage. Roll and truss the stuffed leg, and then let it sit in the fridge for about four hours or overnight.
Now that the hard part is over, preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Cook the turkey until the internal temperature is reading 165. Let the meat rest for about 15-20 minutes. While it is resting, heat about 2 cups of heavy cream to steeping, then slowly stir in 3-4 cups of shredded white cheddar or fontina cheese, stirring constantly until the sauce is nice and smooth.
Slice your stuffed leg and drizzle it in the cheese sauce. Top with crumbled bacon and pickled cherry tomatoes and enjoy.