If you’re anything like me you have a turkey carcass wrapped in foil that you have no idea what to do with. It probably has a leg, a couple of wings, and a breast that have not been touched. I’m not going to just hack at the turkey until I think it isn’t going to be any good to eat though. Hopefully, you won’t either!
The first thing you want to do is get the meat off of the bones. The legs and wings are pretty easy to deal with. You can remove them just like you would on a chicken, and then pick the meat off the bones. The breast that is still intact on your bird may be a bit more daunting. It is not as hard as you think.
To deal with the breast use your chef’s knife and cut straight down, parallel to the keel bone, and then follow the contour of the rib cage. This will cut off the majority of the the breast. It is not hard, but it can take a bit of practice. Once you have it cut off you can lay it down on a cutting board and slice it for serving.
If you decide to make stock, (and you should) it is really very easy. Take the carcass, skin, bones, and whatever leftover bits of meat are clinging to it, and place them all in a pot. Throw in some garlic, onions, celery, and carrots, some bay leaves and thyme, and cover with cold water. You should not salt your stock. If you decide to reduce it you will end up with a sauce that is too salty. You can always add salt when you want to use it. Put the pot on the stove and bring it up to a simmer. That is all, but you don’t want the stock to boil or it will be cloudy. The simmering water will break down the collagen in the bones and you end up with gelatin. This is a good thing, and your stock will be nice and viscous. (I was always freaked out by the brown jelly on cooked cold turkey as a kid, what did I know? I get it now!)Simmer your stock. After a few hours, strain out the solids and cool it down. When your stock is cool it should have the consistency of jelly. From there you can do lots with it. You can make sauces, soups, you could freeze it to use later. Freezing it can be very helpful since there is a good chance you may not use all of the stick you have before it goes bad. If you freeze it in small portions you can add it to things when you need it.
Hopefully this will inspire you to tackle that turkey in your fridge! Stock is very easy, and we both know you have the raw materials already. Just go ahead and do it! You won’t regret it.
For a lot of people this is a stressful time of year. Not for me. My mom will have dinner for 5 people, and it will taste great. Before I go to mom’s house for dinner I will have nearly 300 people for Thanksgiving Dinner (lunch, actually) at work. The quantities of food we get out will be nothing short of staggering for most people! As an example, our cranberry sauce starts with 24 pounds of cranberries!
I guess you might be wondering what my point is. My point is this, plan ahead. You know what you plan on having for your menu by now, I would hope! Take a little time to think about what you can do ahead. For instance, at work, I made the cranberry sauce yesterday. Potatoes for mashed potatoes can be cut in advance. You had better have your turkey thawing in the fridge already.
Obviously I don’t know what you are planning on having for dinner on Thanksgiving so I can’t give you a plan, but the general principal holds true whether you have 300 or 3 for dinner. Figure out what you can safely do ahead of time without compromising the quality of the product, and do it. Have a plan written down if needed so that you can essentially walk into the kitchen and without even giving it a second thought, KNOW exactly what you need to accomplish how long it should take, when you need to get the turkey in so that it has time to rest before you start trying to carve it. Obviously, a little planning will go a long way. I mean chances are you only have one oven, four burners, a microwave, and several dishes to get done all at the same time. Planning this out shouldn’t be that hard to do, because you already know fairly well how long it will take to do each item. You’ve done them all before. Now you have to put them together, and make it all work so you can get dinner on the table.
At work, we have an extensive prep list. Each item on the menu is assigned to a person. Each of us has several items that we need to get done, and as long as all of those things get done, there will be no problem, and none of us will have to kill ourselves to make sure it gets done. Thursday morning, everything will be as ready as it can be. Essentially, we will go through a process of plating cold items, and heating everything that needs to be hot. We get huge turkeys (30-ish pounds each!), and they get started early so that they can be out, and rested, before we break them down to give to the carver.
You should always rest meat. How long depends on how large of a piece of meat you are dealing with. After you take a piece of meat out of the oven or off of whatever heat the temperature will continue to increase. Perhaps by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. You don’t have to worry about it getting cold. However, if you pull it out of the oven, and just start carving into your turkey, you will end up with dry turkey. I can’t say that I know why exactly, but all of the juices in your meat will run out if you don’t let it rest. Almost as if the meat will hold more moisture when it is cooler!
Turkey is rested? Now you want to know what I mean by break down the turkey to give to the carver? Well, most people like breast meat, but don’t really care for the dark meat of the legs and thighs. Remove the wings, almost like you would if it was raw, but because it is cooked it will be easier. Cut around the wing, and pull against the joint, and sever the tendons. Next, do the thighs. Cut the skin between the breast and legs. Then break the joint, and cut through the tendons. Now for the gruesome part! With the breast up, lift up by the sternum, and cut down through the side of the rib cage on both sides. This will cut the back away from the breast, and leave you with a perfect turkey breast. The advantage of this is that the breast will be more stable, and make it easier to carve without all of the meat that nobody wants. We do send a few legs out to the carvers, just for the rare bird(sorry) that does like dark meat. This method of breaking down a turkey does take some practice, but it works very well. After the next three Thanksgivings you should have it down. The sad fact is that for most of us, a whole roasted turkey is a once a year treat, or is it an ordeal? A big part of that is the amount of work that goes into Thanksgiving dinner. Work all day, spend 30 minutes eating, and then the rest of the night cleaning.
So, to wrap up. Work ahead as much as you can, so that Thursday is as simple as possible, and have a plan that is as detailed as you need. The more detail the better, to a point. Don’t try to have everything planned to the minute, otherwise, you’ll fall behind, and panic. Write down all of the dishes you are making, and when you want to start them. Good luck, and have a great Thanksgiving everyone!