The whole bird a daunting endeavor? Smaller parts are the answer
Lemon turkey cutlets: The whole bird a daunting endeavor? For those who just don't want to wrestle with a big turkey, parts are the answer. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
As the Butterball people note, 80 percent of us will carve that whole turkey in the kitchen. What arrives at the table is not the golden fantasy of magazine covers but a platter of sliced breast meat and disjointed legs. That prompts a question: Has the whole turkey become "a 20-pound Yankee candle, good only for perfume," Julia Moskin asks in "CookFight" (Ecco, $29.99), co-authored with her New York Times colleague Kim Severson.
If your honest answer is "yes," cut the whole bird from your Thanksgiving invite list. Go with turkey parts. Not only can they make for faster cooking, but you can enjoy the kind of meat you like best at its best. No need, say, to overcook the breast meat to ensure the legs are done.
"Who has not had a dry turkey?" asks celebrity chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli, who will compete in this season's "The Next Iron Chef: Redemption" on Food Network. "The advantage of breaking up the bird is you can roast the thigh and breast separately. Or braise the turkey thighs and roast the breast."
What matters in cooking turkey parts, says Guarnaschelli, executive chef at Butter and The Darby restaurants in New York City, is maintaining the "iconic flavors" of Thanksgiving.
"I try to bring something to the parts that is iconic or sentimental. I don't want people to feel they're missing out," she says.
Guarnaschelli hits all those flavor memory bases with a turkey breast roasted with pearl onions, sage and Granny Smith apples. It's fairly traditional. But the chef gets more adventurous in talking about the dark meat.
"Braise turkey thighs like a stew until the meat falls off the bone, or roast at a high temperature for crispy skin and juicy meat, or steam them with vegetables in wine," she said.
Virginia Willis, an Atlanta-based Southern food authority, also recommends braising for the breast; the technique ensures moistness, she says. A bonus? The Madeira-laced braising liquid can be spooned as a sauce over the meat, the mashed potatoes and the dressing or stuffing, she notes.
Doing something different with the Thanksgiving turkey also appeals to Joanne Weir, a San Francisco-based television cooking show host. Her new book, "Joanne Weir's Cooking Confidence" (Taunton Press, $24.95), offers a recipe for breaded turkey cutlets that puts a spin on the expected turkey slices.
Whatever you do with the turkey, know you are not alone.
"So many people are thinking in different directions for Thanksgiving and not just doing a plain turkey," Weir said.
Lemon turkey cutlets
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes per batch
Note: A recipe from Joanne Weir's new "Cooking with Confidence."
1 3/4 pounds turkey breast, skin and bone removed