Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Project: How to Carve a Turkey

Among the many things I would happily allow someone else to do, hosting Thanksgiving Dinner ranks right up there with calculating my income tax. However, now that I live far away from my own family in a land where nobody celebrates Thanksgiving, I knew that if I wanted to have Thanksgiving (with actual human guests), I would have to buckle down and figure out how to do it myself. So when the time came I did what I usually do: turn to the wisdom of others. I read all I could about how to roast a turkey, what to stuff it with and what to serve on the side, but the most useful thing I had to learn was how to take the bird apart so that my guests could eat it in small, polite mouthfuls instead of ripping it apart with their teeth like wild dogs. And so, I hereby impart what I've learned to you.

First things first: cook your turkey. Get a really good meat thermometer, and make sure the temperature at the thickest part of the thigh reaches at least 165 F (I actually do mine to 170, which is what the Butterball Hotline recommends). I never stuff my turkey, because I am not confident that I can cook all the food poisoning out of it, so I always do my stuffing on the side.

Once you're positive it's cooked, take it out of the oven and let it rest for around 30 minutes (now is the time to have a cocktail and make the gravy). Plan to do all your carving in the kitchen rather than at the table: for one thing, the bird will emit a LOT of juice (why, I don't know) and you'll mess up your beautifully set table. Secondly, if the bird accidentally falls on the floor you can just pick it up and dust it off, and nobody will be the wiser.

Sharpen your knives. If you're not using a really sharp knife, you'll just end up with a mangled mess. Use the meat fork to hold the turkey in place (try to gently support the bird with the fork, not to jab the tines into the muscle), and make clean cuts through the joints. You should be able to do this fairly easily if your bird has been properly cooked.

Begin by removing the legs. Guide your knife through the skin where the leg meets the breast and expose the big hip joint. Pop that out of place a little bit, then cut through the joint. Not the bone, but the joint. Take off the other leg the same way, and set aside.

Remove the wings. Essentially the same operation: maneuver the wings out the way with your hands and pop the joints, and slice through.

Remove the breast. Slice down the center of the breast, along the sternum bone, and then guide your knife along the ribcage so that all the meat comes off in a piece. Then, placing the meat on your cutting board, make lateral cuts across the grain of the meat, making sure you keep a bit of skin on each slice. Place on your serving platter, and make it look nice, for goodness sake!

Carve the legs. Go back to the legs, separate the drumsticks from the thighs, then carve the meat away from the thigh bones. Place the dark meat on the platter along side the white, with the drumsticks left intact (because someone will want to pick them up and eat them whole like Henry the Eighth).

Remember to throw the carcass and everything else into the stock pot. It would be a shame to waste it when you could have gallons of turkey soup for the next week!

And there you go! Your turkey will be fully dismantled and ready to eat. If you want to watch this happen live, check out this useful video, and then hie thee to the kitchen!

Good luck!

(image: Esquire)

*** EDITED TO ADD: BE VERY VERY VERY CAREFUL!!!!!! Oh man, on Thanksgiving Day, my very sharp new carving knife slipped off the breastbone of the turkey, and I cut very, very deeply into the index finger of my left hand. I probably should have had stitches, but I didn't realize until the next day how really, truly badly I'd injured myself. BE CAREFUL! Knives aren't toys.

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