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
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon each: fresh oregano, grated lemon zest
1 cup grated Grana Padano cheese or other grating cheese
2 tablespoons each: olive oil, butter
Orange and lemon wedges
1. Cut each turkey breast on the bias and on the diagonal into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Place each piece between two pieces of waxed paper or plastic wrap. Pound the turkey with a large flat meat pounder until slices are 1/4- to 3/8-inch thick.
2. Place the flour in a bowl; season with salt and pepper. Crack the eggs into a small bowl; season with salt and pepper; whisk well. Combine the panko, oregano, lemon zest and Grana Padano; season with salt and pepper in a third bowl. Dip both sides of the turkey slices in the flour, shaking off the excess. Next, dip the slices in the beaten eggs, letting the excess drain off. Finally, dip into the breadcrumb mixture; use your fingers to coat each side. Tap off the excess. Set aside in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet.
3. Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add turkey in a single layer, in batches if necessary. Do not overcrowd the pan. Cook, turning, until the pieces are golden brown on each side, 8-10 minutes. Serve garnished with orange and lemon wedges.
Per serving: 426 calories, 15 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 183 mg cholesterol, 32 g carbohydrates, 37 g protein, 475 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.
Slow cooker turkey breast
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 3 hours
Servings: 8 to 10
Note: From "Basic to Brilliant, Y'All," by Virginia Willis. Experiment, if you like, with turkey drumsticks or thighs instead of the breast.
Season a 4- to 6-pound boneless turkey breast with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. Place the turkey, skin side up, in a slow cooker. Pour over 1/4 cup Madeira wine; add 1 onion, preferably Vidalia, sliced; 1 sprig thyme; 1 garlic clove; 1 tablespoon honey. Seal with the lid. Cook on high heat, turning once, until tender, 3-4 hours.
Transfer to a cutting board; cover with foil. Let the turkey rest 15 minutes before slicing. Pour the broth into a fat separator or remove the grease with a spoon. Strain broth into a small saucepan; heat to a boil. Taste; adjust seasonings. Keep warm over low heat until ready to serve. Spoon broth over turkey slices.
Roasted turkey breast with pearl onions, sage
Prep: 15 minutes
Roast: 1 to 1 1/2 hours
Servings: 8 to 10
Note: A recipe from New York City-based Alexandra Guarnaschelli, who will be taking part in "Thanksgiving Live," an interactive show airing Sunday on Food Network. Check listings for times.
1 whole turkey breast, about 4 to 6 pounds
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
12 to 15 medium fresh sage leaves
2 Granny Smith apples, cored, cut into 6 wedges each
15 to 18 pearl onions, peeled
1 head garlic, separated into individual cloves but not peeled
1 small sprig fresh rosemary
Juice from 1/2 to 1 lemon
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush turkey breast with some of the melted butter. Season with salt and red pepper flakes. Tuck a few sage leaves under the skin.
2. Arrange the apples, pearl onions, garlic cloves, rosemary and remaining sage in the bottom of a roasting pan with a fitted rack. Drizzle with remaining melted butter. Arrange the turkey breast on the rack above the vegetables.
3. Roast until the pan juices are clear (meaning free of any traces of blood) or until the meat registers 155 to 160 in the thickest part of the breast on a thermometer, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven; allow to rest 15 minutes. (The temperature will go up to a safe temperature, 165 degrees, while it rests.) Serve, sliced, on a platter with the vegetables and drippings. Squeeze the lemon juice over the meat just before serving.
Per serving (for 10 servings): 222 calories, 5 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 106 mg cholesterol, 7 g carbohydrates, 35 g protein, 296 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.
Winter greens, butternut squash gratin
Prep: 40 minutes
Cook: 60 minutes
Servings: 8 to 10
Note: Virginia Willis, an Atlanta-based author and cook, developed a slow cooker turkey recipe after learning this gratin was becoming a very popular Thanksgiving side dish with friends. Both recipes can be found in her book, "Basic to Brilliant, Y'All."
1 large or 2 small butternut squash, about 3 pounds total, cut in half lengthwise, seeded
2 bags (10 ounces each) chopped kale
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch ground allspice
Leaves from 4 sprigs thyme, chopped
1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs, plain or whole-wheat
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Peel the squash with a vegetable peeler; cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices.
2. Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the kale; cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well in a colander; squeeze out any excess water.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and greens. Cook until the greens are slightly wilted, 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Place half the sliced squash in a large buttered gratin dish; season with salt and pepper. Combine the nutmeg, allspice and thyme in a small bowl. Spoon the kale over the squash; sprinkle with half the seasoning mixture. Top with remaining squash; sprinkle with remaining seasoning.
5. Pour 1 cup cream over the gratin; cover with foil. Bake 25 minutes. Remove the foil; press down on the squash with a spatula to compress. If it seems dry, add remaining 1/2 cup cream. Cover; bake until the squash is soft when pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, combine the breadcrumbs and cheese in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Decrease the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Remove the foil from the gratin dish; sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the squash. Dot with the butter; bake, uncovered, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool before serving, 10 minutes.
Per serving: 211 calories, 14 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 18 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 356 mg sodium, 5 g fiber.