Adventures in bird land
Instead of a whole turkey, try these different methods
What's more American than trying something new? Turkey can be grilled, deep-fried, butterflied or sectioned into parts. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
"People, I think, tend toward the traditional. They think it's part of being American," says Diane Morgan, the Portland, Ore.-based author of "The New Thanksgiving Table" and other cookbooks. "To do something different, you have to think outside the box."
Now, before you shake your head no, think about it. What's more American than trying something new? Turkey can be grilled, deep-fried, butterflied or sectioned into parts.
Here's howto butterfly a bird, plus two alternatives to roasting the turkey whole.
1. Hold the turkey upright with backbone facing you. Cut through the turkey to one side of the backbone with a chef's knife or kitchen shears. Repeat on the other side. The backbone will fall away.
2. Cut out the rib plate with kitchen shears; remove any small pieces of bone.
3. Place turkey breast side up on a cutting board. Cover with plastic wrap. Whack the breast bone using a large rolling pin until the bone cracks and the turkey flattens.
4. Position the turkey breast side up on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Tuck the wings under the turkey; lift legs up to rest below breast; tie legs together.
Roast at 450 degrees until done, about 1 hour, 20 minutes to 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Butterflied turkey (cooking it)
If you want to cook a butterflied (or spatchcocked) turkey, Diane Morgan recommends ordering the bird in advance from a store whose butcher can remove the backbone and rib bones for you. She likes to mound the stuffing in a roasting pan and place the bird in a rack over it. As the turkey cooks, the juices drip down onto the stuffing and flavor it, she said.
Curious to butterfly the bird yourself? Try these directions from "The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2011" (America's Test Kitchen, $39.95).
Turkey breast is a readily available alternative for those who want less turkey. Molly Stevens, a Williston, Vt.-based cookbook author, offers a recipe in her new book, "All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art" (Norton, $35). To keep the breast moist and flavorful, she seasons it with fresh herbs and then sears the breast in a skillet before roasting.
1. Mash 2 cloves garlic with 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt into a paste. Combine with 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and finely chopped fresh herbs. Stevens uses 2 teaspoons each sage, thyme and rosemary. Mix in freshly ground pepper and 1/4 teaspoon celery seeds.
2. Rub paste all over a boneless turkey breast half (about 2 1/2 pounds), working some of it carefully under the skin. Tie two or three loops of string around the breast to create a cylindrical shape. Tie one longer string from end to end. Refrigerate breast uncovered six to 24 hours; let sit at room temperature an hour before cooking.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Brown turkey breast skin side down, about 6 minutes. Turn the turkey skin side up; brown lightly on the bottom, another 2-3 minutes. Transfer to shallow roasting pan or baking dish.
4. Roast at 300 degrees until an instant read thermometer stuck in the thickest part of the breast reads 165 degrees, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours. Let turkey rest 30 minutes. Remove strings; carve across the grain into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices.
"Grilling frees up the oven. It's a brilliant way to go," exclaims Morgan.
In her recipe for hickory-smoked grilled turkey, Morgan calls for brining the bird for 12 to 24 hours first, then grilling over indirect heat.
Smoking: Soak 6 to 8 cups hickory chips in cold water for 1 hour. If you don't have a smoke box, make three aluminum foil pouches; fill each with 1/3 of the wood chips (drained). Seal the edges, poke a few holes in the top of the pouches. When ready to grill, place one pouch directly over coals or gas burner; add more pouches as needed.
1. Rub a 12- to 16-pound turkey with 1/2 cup olive oil. Place the bird, breast side down, on a V-shaped roasting rack. Set the rack inside a heavy-gauge disposable foil roasting pan. Prepare grill for indirect heat; place smoke box or a packet of wood chips directly over heat source.
2. Position the pan on the grill away from direct heat. Cover; grill-roast the turkey, 1 hour. Open the grill lid; add more wood chips if needed. Turn the turkey breast side up; arrange it so the leg and wing facing the fire are now facing away from it. Cook, with the lid closed, 45 minutes.
3. Check the wood chips; add more, if needed. Turn the turkey once again so the leg and wing facing the fire are now facing away from it. Cook, with the lid closed, 45 minutes. Insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of a thigh without touching bone. (Check both thighs.) When the thermometer registers 160- to 165-degrees in both thighs, the turkey is done.
4. Transfer to a board; cover loosely with foil. Rest 30 minutes before carving.