Thursday, November 22, 2007

how to carve a turkey

Your turkey is out of the oven and the aroma wafting from your kitchen has your friends and family salivating. But how does one get the meat to the plate?


Raul Minjarez, chef at The Depot restaurant in Visalia, said by the time the turkey is out of the oven, everyone is hungry and in a hurry to eat. "So people just whack at it instead of making it look elegant and do a nice job," he said.

Carving a turkey doesn't have to deteriorate into a stab fest, Minjarez said. With the right tools, anyone can carve a turkey easily and achieve a great presentation for Thanksgiving.
The key lies in the knife.

Minjarez says to use a roast slicer with a non-serrated edge and indentations in the blade that keep meat from sticking to it.

"Make an even, smooth cut instead of sawing back and forth," Minjarez said. "What you want to do is just come in with one clean sweep."

Using a carving fork to hold the slice of meat in place, Minjarez brings his blade in from the side and completes the cut in a few strokes.

"Not straight down but to the side," he said. "You don't want to saw it, or else it's just going to rip the meat apart."

Minjarez said he has never used an electric carver because the manual method has always worked well for him.

What stops a lot of home cooks is haste and anticipation, Minjarez said. A poorly carved bird is usually the result of a hurried cook who is not paying attention, he said.

"Get it in one swipe," Minjarez said, and place the slices on a plate, with the skin side on top.

"Stack it up like that," he said. "That will make a nice presentation."

not sure how I get talked into these things, but last week one of our photographers set up a video camera in my kitchen and let me work my way through carving (and yes, mutilating) a turkey for the first time, while the taping was rolling.

Like a lot of families preparing dinner for Thanksgiving, mine always included the ceremonial guy who entered the kitchen where all the women had been sweating and cooking all day, rolled up his shirt sleeves and carved the bird. Then, he went back to the game, one ear tuned to the call for dinner.

That's why I can roast a turkey yet not carve one.

So, on Wednesday morning, a young 10-pounder sat on my kitchen island, cooling. The cats were relegated to the basement (but they knew something was going on) as I took up the knives.

Carving a turkey really involves just two parts: Removing the appendages, then slicing up the breast meat.

Removing the white meat always gets more attention. I tried two different methods: On one breast I sliced while the meat was still on the turkey. On the other, I removed the breast meat in one big chunk and sliced it on the platter.

I came to a quick conclusion: Cutting the meat while it's still on the turkey was far easier to do.

As far as knives, my sharp carving knife worked OK on diagonal cuts but not so great on vertical ones.

Far better was the electric knife, which made nice, even cuts, so the work went faster and the presentation (if that matters) was prettier.

My advice: Spend the $20 on an electric knife you'll only use once a year. (Well, it'll last forever that way.)

The step-by-step video of both methods has been online at since Monday. In case you'd rather hear about it here, here's the low-down on what you need to know if carving a turkey:

1. Equipmentwise, you only need two sharp knives and a non-slick carving surface. A turkey will skate like it's a Blues defenseman if you don't put it on a wood carving board or something similar to keep it in place.

Make sure your knives are sharp. I used three because I was experimenting, but choose a medium-size, slightly flexible sharp knife and a larger carving knife or an electric knife.

2. Forget the meat fork. Use your hands to hold onto the turkey. A fork just pierces the skin and lets all the good juices run out.

3.Let Tom Turkey rest at least 20-25 minutes at room temperature before carving.

4. Keep plenty of paper towels handy because all turkeys are slippery and you need a good grip.

5. Remove any stuffing to a bowl; cover and keep warm.

6. Remove drumsticks first by slicing the leg at the joint where it meets the body. Apply pressure by gently bending leg back and cutting through the joint. If this doesn't work, just twist and pull until it comes off! It doesn't look pretty, but it works -- and you're in the kitchen, so looking like a caveperson is OK.

Remove the other drumstick. Transfer them to a serving platter.

7. Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut along the top of the breastbone on both sides. Don't cut down vertically too far. Now, at the bottom of or beneath the breast, make one cut on each side horizontally in toward the rib cage.

8. Using your electric or carving knife, make vertical slices, starting from the outside of the breast, removing each slice and placing it on the platter before going on to the next. Try to get a piece of skin for each slice.

9. Deal with what's left for dinner by cutting or yanking off the wings, then slicing meat from from the exposed thighs on both sides. Leave the drumsticks whole because someone inevitably wants to eat one with their hands.

10. Arrange the platter so it looks presentable. Snitch a piece or two to see if all your hard work has paid off. Cover with foil to keep warm -- sand know that even if the bird is a little dry, there's always gravy.

The day is finally here. Your Thanksgiving dinner is in the oven, or about to be, and you're ready - except for that one nagging question.

Well, here's a little help if you're worried about what to do with the bird once it comes out of the oven.

Here are some carving tips: First, let it rest 20 minutes before picking up the knife. Then take off the legs and thighs and divide them. Carve the dark meat off the thighs. Remove the two breast halves, then carve the breast meat. Remove the wings. Place the meat on a platter in the same order it would appear on the full bird.

If it's mealtime and the turkey is not done then go ahead and carve the turkey off the bone and put it back in the oven in a roasting pan. The meat should take only 30 minutes to finish cooking. Serve the salad while the turkey cooks.

When the meal is over, don't let the turkey sit out on the counter. Go ahead and pick the carcass and get the leftover meat in the refrigerator.

After the feast, clear the table, do the dishes and wait about an hour for your food to digest. Then serve coffee and put the pie out on the clean table.

Now, for those last-minute questions or crisis, here are some helpful holiday hot lines.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline: 888-674-6854. Food safety specialists answer questions about meat and poultry preparation and cooking, year-round Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thanksgiving Day 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Recorded information available 24 hours a day at the same number. Also available in Spanish. According to Turkey Carving for Dummies, every year hundreds of thousands of people wind up in hospital emergency rooms as a result of kitchen accidents involving knives. Don't become a statistic! In yesterday's article about the best way to carve the turkey, the Times helpfully points out the wrong approach, to be read aloud in a southern accent:

"One year the turkey took a long time to cook and I went to carve it after about 13 beers," said Maurice Landry, who lives near Lake Charles, La. "The way I remember it, I bore down to take off the leg and the whole thing went shooting off the platter and knocked over the centerpiece."
Come T-time, should you find yourself tasked with that heavy responsibility despite a lack of experience, don't panic � there's help online. Just surreptitiously grab a sharp knife, steal a nearby child's stuffed animal and withdraw to a locked room with a secure internet connection. Using the online version of the Times article, you can practice proper carving technique while watching an instructional video led by third-generation butcher Ray Venezia. He strongly advises throwing out that antiquated, Norman Rockwell-esque image of carving the turkey at the dining table; his approach involves boning and slicing that bird in the kitchen and elegantly delivering the results to the table on a platter. Ever the maverick, Venezia also eschews carving forks. ("Why pierce the meat more than you have to and let the juices run out?") Some other Cliffs notes:

Start by cutting off the dark meat: legs and thighs.
Cut through the joints, not the bone, to get the meat off. Then slice the meat.
After thighs, wings.
After wings, breast. Follow the curved breastbone with the knife tip, then pull apart.
Slice the breast meat AGAINST the grain.

Ex-con Martha Stewart has her own ideas on how to shiv a turkey, as do these hand surgeons, who'd really rather not be bothered today. They're reminding you to cut away from yourself and keep your knife handle dry; a wet handle can cause your hand to slip down onto the blade resulting in a nasty cut. For the carving completist, there are more insights here and here, but to be quite honest we're considering saving ourselves the headache entirely by cooking up a Hotchken and ripping it open with our bare

Butterball Turkey Talk-Line: 800-288-8372. Home economists and nutritionists answer questions. Weekdays 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Automated assistance available outside the above hours and all year long.

Foster Farms Turkey Helpline: 800-255-7227. Turkey-cooking questions are answered and information given 24 hours a day.

Perdue consumer help line: 800-473-7383. Consumer-relations representatives answer cooking, storage and other questions about poultry products weekdays year-round 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free booklet offer with tips on safe handling of poultry. Thanksgiving Day, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Empire Kosher poultry customer hotline: 800-367-4734. Year-round Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.: Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Program offers recipes, newsletter, tips on defrosting and cooking poultry. Closed Jewish and secular holidays. :

Ocean Spray consumer help line: 800-662-3263. Weekdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Consumer department staff field questions on cranberries, offer recipes, cooking tips, nutritional information, menu-planning worksheets, product information.

Reynolds Turkey Tips Hotline: 800-745-4000. A year-round


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