Deconstructing and Reinventing the Thanksgiving Turkey

I am obsessed with the images of Norman Rockwell. This time of year is no exception. The iconic image “Freedom From Want” is one a lot of us know. This depicts Mom setting down a perfectly roasted turkey, fully intact, on a giant platter, in front of Dad looking proud, and the family looking happy and excited. But is this just a beautiful fiction illustrated by one of our greatest American artists?

When I roasted my first turkey it was to honor my grandmothers memory. She had passed away and the family was all coming to our house for the memorial. My mom had enough to deal with and I had offered to help…mind you I had only ever baked cookies and cakes up to that point. When I offered to make the turkey it wasn’t a conscience connection to the one thing that typified my grandmother but every time we went to visit my grandparents she always made a turkey dinner.

The turkey is hugely problematic. If you do enough googling you can find hacks from top chefs on how to work around all the difficulties of the turkey but in the end the answer is to deconstruct the turkey before you roast it. By doing this you can even out it’s cooking time and cook the white meat and dark meat for different lengths of time.

One of the issues I have with bone-in cooking or roasting is that it makes eating the finished product difficult and inevitably you’re always left with meat on the bone. To deal with this issue I de-boen the bird. This actually is not hard to do. Start with cutting off the legs and the wings. The trick is using a really sharp knife and doing tiny cuts. Just choose a leg or a wing. Pull gently on it and you’ll see a flap of skin that is attaching it to the body. You want to basically make small slits through the skin and let the legs and wings naturally pull away from the bird. As you it points when the muscle is connected you want to run the tip of your life against the bone and disconnect it.

Once the legs and the wings are removed you want to remove the breasts. This is the easiest part. You make a slice all the way down the center ridge of the bird. This is the breast bone. Then working on one side you fine the bone with the tip of your knife and make small slices as close to the bone as possible to free the meat from the bone. As you make your sliced you gently pull the muscle back and keep working your way down.

With the breasts, legs and wings removed you are left with a odd looking carcass. This takes a little muscle to break down but at this point you’re just trying to make it manageable. I use sultry shears to cut through the sides and then just twist, push and pull until it breaks. I then take the carcass, neck, and wings and put them in my pressure cooker, cover them with water and cook for 1 hour.

I then add my vegetable mix and cook for another 30 minutes. Then finally I put in my herbs and let steep for another 30 minutes. In the end I have amazing turkey stock that I can use in my butternut squash soup and in my gravy. In the end every bit of meat is used, every bit of flavor is extracted and the entire bird is enjoyed throughout the meal.

I take the legs and the breast and brine them. I will then take those and make roulades to serve as the main corse.

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My point is this; we sometimes get so locked into these images of what something “should” look like we never stop and think about if it even is an accurate depiction or if it makes any sense at all. We get hung up on traditions and memories that are tinted with how we perceived them. It’s not to say toss all the traditions. I love traditions but there’s nothing wrong with refining them either.

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