Monday, December 1, 2014

Gobbling Tremendous Turkey!

Talk to your mother and grandmother, and you'll learn a hundred ways to cook a turkey.  As a kid, my mom actually baked one in a brown paper grocery sack!  The internet offers an additional zillion methods.  I am about to offer you a method that will change the way you think about traditional "Thanksgiving Turkey."  If you want a whole, crispy skinned, brown, "Martha Stewart" bird, you'll need to look elsewhere.  If you want a "pull-apart" tender turkey that your friends will ask you for year after year... read on!

Today, you will learn how to "Spatchcock" a bird!  Say it with me, "spach'-kahk!"  Spatchcocking a 20-25lb bird will make it cook faster and with as much moisture retention as a 10-14lb bird!  It's all very exciting...

You will Need:

  • 1 huge brined turkey (I used a 22lb bird)
  • Kitchen shears
  • Temperature probe
  • 1 handful butter
  • Seasoning of your choice
  • Salt and pepper
A quick word about brining... read the label of your turkey before you buy it.  Most birds are pre-brined these days.  Look for a label that says "enhanced" or "treated with salt solution."  Butterball has been doing this for years, but since brining has only become more popular recently, they haven't gone out of their way to advertise it.  So, get yourself a brined bird (or brine one yourself) and prepare to spatchcock it!  Spatchcocking a turkey increases the surface area that is exposed to the heat.  Your turkey will cook in 1/2 the time and will retain much more moisture!

One word of caution before we begin... if you have any phobias or misgivings about touching raw poultry, you'd better get over it.  You're about to go full "butcher" on your turkey.  You're going to get gooey, bloody, and dirty.  It will all be ok, trust me!  You have soap and water and a sink, and it will all be over soon enough!  Now, muster up some courage.  Grab your shears, lay the bird, breast side down, onto a cutting board, and snip out the spine.  Take your time, and cut along both edges of the backbone.  You need strong fingers, so you may need some help with this part.

Now, while the turkey is still sitting with the breast side down, use your hands to flatten or "open" the turkey.  I like to remove the breast bone (or "keel" bone).  This is a thick bone that runs right down the middle of the turkey, between the breasts.  To remove it, you will need to use a filet knife to cut the breast meat away from it, and you'll need some strong fingers to pull it up and out.  Removal of the breast bone it not necessary, but it will make carving much easier, later.

Once the spine is out, the hard work is done.  Cut the "leg-thigh" quarters away from the breasts (this is easy since there are no bones to cut), and cut the wings off as well.  You should have:  one large "twin breast" section, two wings, a left leg-thigh quarter, and a right leg-thigh quarter.  Arrange them in a pan, starting with the breasts first (as shown).

Then add the wings, tucking them up and under the breasts.  Lift the skin up and away from the breasts and jam in some lumps of butter.  Now, season all of the white meat with salt, pepper, and the seasoning of your choice (I used a pre-mixed cajun seasoning).

Finally, pack in the leg quarters, one at a time, seasoning each as you go. 

Now, set the pan aside and wash your hands, wrists, elbows, and your counter-top.  Take a deep breath, pour yourself a glass of wine and have a look at what you've done!  You've prepped a bird, restaurant style, in such a fashion that you'll be able to cook it in half the time, cover it with foil, transport it to your venue, and serve it to the amazement of your guest, all without getting a single other thing dirty!  Relax, the hard part is over!!

The rest is easy.  It's time to slow-cook this bird to perfection.  Jam the temperature probe into the deepest part of the thigh, and set the alarm for 170 degrees.  I put mine in a smoker (next to a ham, to keep it company), and I brought the heat up to 250 degrees.  Yes, TWO hundred fifty.  Why so low?  Well, you've spatchcocked it so much more of the surface is exposed to the heat.  We don't want to blast the outside with so much heat that it begins to lose moisture.  Think more along the lines of "Crock Pot braising" and less "heat blasting."  This 22lb turkey was done in under 5 hours with the roasting temperature set to 250 degrees.

When it's done, pull it out and cover it tightly with foil to let it rest.  Allow 30-45 minutes for a good rest.  Carving is super-duper simple!  Just pull the legs up and they will fall away from the thigh all by themselves.  SUPER tasty!  Separate the breasts and cut them laterally.  Each slice will begin to fall apart! 

My guests (14 of them) simply annihilated this turkey!  It was completely gone and eaten in under 20 minutes!  We didn't need gravy, we didn't need stuffing, and we didn't even need a knife!  The pieces just fell apart and couldn't have been any tastier!

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