How To Butcher a Turkey
Fabricating a turkey into all of its delicious parts is perhaps the easiest of home butchering projects. It’s a big, forgiving bird. Using a sharp knife, make an incision at the neck end of the breast, and run your knife along the breastbone to the tail end. Go back to the neck end and, with one hand on the knife and one on the breast, make short strokes with the knife where the meat meets the bone while pulling gently on the breast to peel it away. Do this until the breast is completely separated. For the legs, make an incision above the leg where the thickest part of the leg is. Pull outward on the bottom of the leg and then stick your fingers in to feel for the joint where the leg is connected. Remove the leg from the turkey by cutting through that joint, scraping back any meat that might still be connected with the tip of your knife. Reserve the rest of the carcass to make stock.
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
2 leeks, chopped
2 sprigs parsley
Combine all of the ingredients in a large stock pot and fill three quarters full with water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for at least three hours and up to six. Every half hour or so, skim the impurities and fat that rise to the surface of the stock and discard. When done cooking, discard the vegetables and parsley and strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer and reserve. This will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks and in the freezer for six months.
Let’s face it, roasting a whole turkey is for your parents’ Thanksgiving. It’s well documented that the traditional roasted turkey shortchanges the whole animal, drying out the breast and undercooking the legs, leaving you with a dinner that can only be rescued by copious amounts of gravy. What good is it having a holiday whose nickname is “turkey day” where we summarily proceed to absolutely screw up cooking it year after year? Break down your turkeys people! Cook the legs with long, slow, wet heat to break down the collagen in them and actually enjoy edible dark meat for once. And just think: juicy breast meat, it’s actually possible when cooked sans legs.
6 slices thick cut bacon, cut into lardons
1 tblsp canola oil
2 cups, diced yellow onion
2 cups, diced fennel
2 large turkey legs
1 cup red wine
1 1/2 cups apple cider
6 cups turkey stock
Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees. Put a dutch oven or ovenproof stockpot over medium heat and add the canola oil. Add the bacon and cook until crispy. Remove to a paper towel and reserve. Add the onion and fennel to the rendered fat and cook until translucent, about five minutes. Remove to a bowl and reserve. Brown the turkey legs on all sides in the leftover rendered fat. This will take about 20 minutes for both legs. De-glaze the pot with red wine, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon while the wine reduces. After the wine is reduced by half, add the apple cider, and reserved bacon and vegetables. Stir to combine and then add the turkey legs. Add the turkey stock until the legs are three quarters submerged. Bring to a boil and then put in the oven for one and a half to two hours.
While the legs are braising, make a roux for the gravy. Melt four tablespoons of butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat and whisk in one-quarter cup of flower. Continually whisk for four minutes while the mixtures bubbles. If it begins to brown, reduce the heat. Pour into a bowl and reserve. We will use the roux to thicken the gravy.
After two hours, remove the legs to a platter and cover with tin foil. Remove the vegetables and bacon from the braising liquid and strain it through a fine mesh strainer into a medium saucepan. Let it rest for 10 minutes and then skim the fat from the top of the liquid. Put the saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce it and let it simmer and reduce by a third. Stir in the roux (it will now be at room temperature and solidified, this is ok). Let it simmer for a few more minutes and then it will be ready to serve,
Reheat the turkey legs if necessary and serve with the gravy. Please note that turkey legs contain thin white sinews that are perfectly fine but inedible. You can remove them yourself prior to serving by gently picking them out of the meat. Either that or warn your guests.
1 large turkey breast
2 tblsp canola oil
3 tblsp flour
1 12×14 inch sheet of puff pastry
2 tblsp whole grain mustard
1 egg, beaten
For the stuffing:
2 slices country white bread, diced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup Serrano ham, chopped
1 tblsp sage, finely chopped
1/4 cup turkey stock
salt and pepper to taste
Combine all of the ingredients for the stuffing and chill in the refrigerator. Place a large skillet over medium high heat and add the canola oil. Season the turkey breast with salt and pepper. Brown the turkey breast on all sides. This will take about 15 minutes. Once browned, remove from the pan, cover and chill for an hour. Make sure to thaw the puff pastry dough during this time.
Pre heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Lightly flour a cutting board and roll out the puff pastry so it is roughly 14×16 inches. I say roughly because it’s more important that you don’t roll it too thin. Spread the mustard down the middle of the sheet. On a separate cutting board, slice the turkey breast in half, lengthwise. Place the slices in the middle of the sheet, at opposite ends so that the final length is equally thick at both ends, leaving a quarter inch in between the slices. Fill that gap with the stuffing (you’ll most likely have a little leftover, bake it and eat it as traditional stuffing). Pull the dough over the filling so that it covers three quarters of the filling going lengthwise. Brush some of the egg wash on the edge of that fold. Pull the dough from the opposite side over the filling and brush egg was over that seam. Fold the ends over the top, using egg wash to seal the seams. If at any time there looks to be a hole in the seams, wet your fingers and gently pinch the dough until it closes. Transfer to a parchment paper lined baking sheet, seam side down, and brush all over with the remaining egg wash. Put in the oven and bake for an hour and 15 to an hour and 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes. Slice crosswise into quarter inch thick slices and serve with gravy.
(A note on the cooking time. I typically use 12-14 pound turkeys when making this, which is on the small end. If you are using the breast from a larger bird, either trim it to get a desirable size for the recipe, or use two sheets of puff pastry dough to wrap it properly and adjust the cooking time accordingly).
This is my new favorite fall dish to serve as an hors d’oeuvre or side.
Pre heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with sprigs of rosemary and place as many grapes (still on the vine) and quartered figs as you can while keeping a reasonable spacing. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until the grapes begin to shrivel. Remove the rosemary sprigs, place the grapes and figs on a platter and serve warm with crusty bread and good cheese.
by Tom Volk
My wife and I have a thing about Thanksgiving. About six years ago, we sort of just gave up on the holidays as being this familial obligation thing. With my grandparents’ death, the whole hanging-out-with-family thing lost its luster. We stopped seeing our parents and doing that whole awkward dance of which parents to visit which year. We stopped shopping for crap for Christmas (we’re not Christian), and we just started hanging out with friends. Since we started doing this, life has been much easier, simpler, and dare I say happier! I get on with my parents very well, but the rat-race of Thanksgiving Day turns an 80 minute drive into a four-hour death march of stupidity and jams. Christmas is just a drunken holiday with our little sister; we walk around and look at Christmas lights while getting sloshed on rum and apple cider or egg nog. This is far superior than hanging out with people who remember you in diapers and do nothing else than tell you about how cute you were [then] and how you should take all that metal out of your face.
We’ve since created our own traditions. And since the holidays aren’t a passive-aggressive obligation fest, we’ve just sort of blazed our own trail. Over the years, I’ve invited friends and yes, even our parents, to our house for Thanksgiving. I’ve served fish, curried venison, tea-smoked quail and duck, and a ton of other weird meats because, simply put, I don’t really like turkey. But there are always two staples that my wife makes that are a must-have.
My wife really doesn’t follow any recipes, so mileage may vary here, but I’m going to disclose to the best of my ability what I’ve been able to get out of her. Take a lot of liberty with this because getting it exact is not possible: we’re not running a quality-controlled shop here. We just sort of eyeball this stuff, stick our finger in it, and make sure it tastes great.
8-10 Yukon gold potatoes, skin on
1-2 Sticks unsalted butter (It just tastes better)
1/2-2 heads garlic, finely chopped (to taste; garlic varies in potency—the aim here is to piss off vampires, though)
2 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
[Optional:] 2 leeks, finely chopped
½ tsp salt for boiling
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
8 oz. Half & half (for consistency and flavor)
Large pot for boiling water, potato masher, colander, [optional: hand blender]
Put potatoes into the pot. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add water until potatoes are covered. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, 15-40 minutes, or until done—such as when you can get a fork all the way through.
Drain the pot and hot potatoes into a colander; return the potatoes to the pot. Add a stick of butter, which serves as a nice lubricant while you mash the potatoes. Mash the potatoes until they start to look like mashed potatoes (c’mon, this isn’t that hard). Now add the garlic, herbs, and some salt and pepper to taste. Mash some more. Stick your finger in it. Taste it. Now, add the half-and-half (full-fat milk, cream, whatever you have) and either switch to the hand blender or mash more by hand. Continue to mash or blend until it becomes the consistency that you want it to be.
Once you’re done with that, put it in a serving bowl and don’t be afraid to serve it with more butter. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary and cracked pepper.
I simply can’t live without this, and mashed potatoes just don’t seem right without garlic in them any more to me. It is sort of like when I drink orange juice. I’m always like: “This tastes funny, where’s the vodka?”
Here’s a bonus. These make for some stellar potato pancakes the next morning. I always make sure to make these as they’re such a treat and an excellent excuse to fry potatoes.
Leftover mashed potatoes
Olive oil or bacon fat for frying
[optional: Sour cream and finely-chopped chives or applesauce]
Cast-iron skillet, two mixing bowls
Turn the skillet on to medium-high heat. Add enough oil for frying (1/3” or so). Beat the egg in a bowl. Put some flour into a separate bowl. Make palm-sized balls out of the mashed potatoes and flatten into patties. Now pick which hand is the wet hand and which is the dry hand. Dip the patties into the egg with the wet hand, stick it in the flour bowl and with the dry hand, ensure that the patty is covered with flour. Remove from the flour bowl and toss in to the skillet until golden brown.
Once they’re done, we usually top it with a tablespoon of sour cream and chives or applesauce.
A few years ago, my wife started making this amazing cranberry sauce. We got on this kick—that we’re still not over—where we prefer to eat [fresh] ingredients rather than processed or canned ingredients. Everyone we know sort of has a thing for crappy food, such as the classic, can-shaped loaf of cranberry sauce, but again, we’re not big on tradition. So we broke away from Swanson or Kroger or whatever-the-hell corporate nonsense you liked as a kid and decided to go local and organic and all that hippie stuff. And this is dope:
Can-free Cranberry Chutney
2 bags/1 lb fresh or frozen cranberries (fresh is best)
[Optional: 4oz Orange juice] (vodka is optional… just kidding)
Orange zest of 1/2 orange
Peel of 1/2 of an orange into twists.
4oz chopped walnuts (for consistency)
4 cl clove (for awesome)
Food processor, mortar and pestle
First thing’s first, grind your cloves. I use a mortar and pestle, but you can also use a coffee grinder if you’re in dire straits (make sure you’ve cleaned it very well). Next, put (thawed if frozen) cranberries in the food processor with the orange peel; pulse with a splash of orange juice to make a chunky relish.
Remove from the food processor into a bowl and hand mix (with a fork) the walnuts and cloves into the relish so that it is fully mixed in. Mix in half of the zest; use the rest as a garnish for serving. That’s it.
This chutney is meant to be a tart, bright counterpoint to an otherwise sweet, rich Thanksgiving meal. It is a good palate cleanser, adds color to the table, adds a different texture to your plate, and helps to balance out much of the sticky-sweet of most Thanksgiving dishes. It’s good on turkey and really works well as a relish to a turkey sandwich, if you care for that sort of thing.
by Cedric Justice
This year will be my seventh cooking and hosting a full Thanksgiving feast. My first dinner was cooked in an apartment kitchen the size of my current closet, after a bank-emptying shopping trip where I had to pick up all the minutiae of fine cooking and baking like cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and demi glace. In subsequent years there have been some stand-outs (things will get ugly if I don’t make caramelized onion and bacon dip again this year), and some missteps that I prefer not to talk about (all I will say is—Vinegar Turkey). As the holiday has become more familiar and almost-routine, I would say the most important lesson has been that it’s all about the stuffing. Don’t let the bird fool you. It’s honestly just an overgrown chicken. If it ends up dry, that’s what the gravy is for. But stuffing—or dressing if you prefer—is a side dish few of us eat on a regular basis throughout the year. Unlike mashed potatoes or green beans, you’re not likely to be serving up a giant bowl of herbaceous bread-crummy goodness on a weeknight. A great stuffing can send people back for thirds, while a dud can sink a plate.
My first batch of stuffing was a Williams-Sonoma recipe that called for baking your own biscuits, then letting them get stale, then crumbling them into a casserole dish with bacon grease and veggies. The biscuits never got hard enough (damn you, Kerrygold Butter and your moistness!), the stuffing was soggy, and I filled half a garbage sack with the remnants. The next year I tried again, because you know. Why not gamble on the most important culinary day of the year? Same deal. By year three I went hunting for a new recipe, and after the Great Carrot Misstep (carrots taste gross in stuffing), I came across this standby. Simple to make, but staked with rich layered flavor. I cook the sausage during my day-before prep process, and if you’re feeling extremely organized you can even prep and chop the vegetables the night before. Since the stuffing doesn’t get too soggy and is made up of drier ingredients, it keeps better in the fridge for rounds 2-5.
As for that whole in-the-bird debate: bitch please. You really want to add several hours to your turkey cooking time and eat a side dish out of a carcass-ass? Use a casserole dish like a civilized person.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and light green portions (be sure to thoroughly clean the leeks to keep them from being gritty)
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 pounds bulk Italian sausage
1 bag plain stuffing bread cubes
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
4 garlic cloves, roasted, peeled and smashed into a pulp
3 to 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, warmed over low on the stovetop
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart baking dish.
In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, cook the sausage, breaking it into large chunks, until browned and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes (can be done the night before). Transfer to the bowl with the onion mixture, add the stuffing and parsley, and stir until well combined.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk the garlic into the broth until combined. Stir the broth mixture into the stuffing 1/2 cup at a time, making sure it is completely absorbed into the croutons and does not pool in the bottom of the bowl. Taste a crouton; it should be moist throughout but not crunchy or mushy. You may not need all of the broth. Don’t use more than you have to or you’ll end up with soggy stuffing.
Transfer the stuffing to the prepared baking dish. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the top is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes more. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
I love impressing people with a perfect, luscious, fatty-fat cheesecake. Guests go nuts when they find out you’ve got homemade cheesecake waiting on a cloche. Unfortunately on Thanksgiving, by the time people have made it through the onslaught of appetizers, cocktails, wine tastings and dinner courses you (at least, I) force-feed into guests like Martha Stewart on a particularly sadistic Good Things streak, there isn’t much more crammable human body space left for dessert. Which is why I propose a new tradition: cupcakes. Reasons?
They’re small, self-contained portions. Guests can have one or three, without having to try and slice into a pie that’s waiting to fall apart. Serve and store at room temperature. You can bake and frost them the day before, and let them hang out on the kid’s table while you fuss around with all the finicky dishes. Everyone loves cupcakes. Kids, grandparents, the guy from the I.T. department you felt sorry for and extended an invitation to. People can get funny around pumpkin pie, but only communists say no to cupcakes. The warmth in these cupcakes comes from the spices and comforting fall flavors. If you’re too full to indulge after dinner, no worries. These are easy to send home (or hoard away in your pantry) in to-go boxes.
For the cupcakes:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
6 tbsp molasses
3/4 cup water
For the warm spice frosting:
5 tbsp butter
5 tbsp shortening
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp maple syrup
2 tbsp applesauce
¼ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp (dash) of nutmeg
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp milk
For the cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 12-muffin tin cups with paper cupcake liners.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves into a medium bowl. Set aside.
Whisk together the melted butter, brown sugar, eggs, and molasses in a large separate bowl until blended. Add half of the water to batter, then half of the dry ingredients to the batter. Repeat and stir just until smooth (don’t overmix).
Fill each paper liner about 2/3 full with batter, then bake until an inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 15-18 minutes. Allow cupcakes to cool prior to frosting.
For the frosting:
With an electric mixer, beat butter and shortening together until fluffy. Beat in vanilla, maple syrup, applesauce and spices. Add sugar in one-cup additions, beating continuously on medium. Add milk in two additions. If frosting is too thick add slightly more milk; if too runny, add additional powdered sugar.
by Tabitha Blankenbiller