"Reclaiming Homemade in a Small Space"

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Jenny and the Giant Turkey - Chapter One - Disassembly Required

I'm sure a lot of you remember the scene in "A Christmas Story" where the Bumpus hounds get the turkey....The narrator laments, "No turkey!  No turkey sandwiches!  No turkey salad!  No turkey gravy!  Turkey hash!  Turkey a la king! Or gallons of turkey soup.... GONE!"   A slight jab at the gigantic birds we serve at Christmas time....and the leftovers for days on end.   But it's true, right?  After Thanksgiving and Christmas, we feast on the turkey leftovers for a while.  Other homages to the turkey that I like are Alton Brown's "Romancing the Bird" episodes.  He shows how to use up every last once of the holiday turkey.

Turkey isn't just for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is a great meal throughout the year.  Matt likes to get the turkey in the smoker for a wonderful smoked turkey.  I wanted to do my own take on the turkey leftovers and see just how many meals my family of five could eek out of our bird.  

When I found that our local grocery store had them for $0.69 a pound right before Christmas, I had to buy one...okay, I ended up buying two 20 pounders.  That was under $14 a turkey; the deal was hard to resist. I wasn't hosting either holiday so they were put in the bottom of the freezer until a better day to cook.  Now during this time, Matt and I were watching every cooking show we could on turkeys.  That is where we heard that turkeys over 15 pounds tend to dry out.  We decided that the best way to over come this problem with our bird was to quarter the turkey and brine it. Quartering made the pieces smaller and easier to deal with and brining helped keep the moisture in.

In early January, it was time to thaw our poultry.  We were looking for economical and low-cal ways to cook after the indulgence of the Christmas holidays.  It took nearly 7 days in the fridge to thaw our behemoth bird.  WARNING:  Quartering a turkey is NOT for the faint of heart.  There is a lot of hacking and chopping and unpleasant-ness with the job. It also requires a sharp pair of kitchen shears, a sharp 8 inch knife, a meat cleaver and a hammer!  If you've never butchered poultry before, don't try this for your first time.  OK....here we go.....

I cleared a huge spot in The Teeny Kitchen That Could so I wouldn't contaminate the whole thing with turkey cooties.
Most vacuum-packed turkey's have a metal clasp on the feet to keep them together.  Make sure to remove it.
Pull out the gizzards and neck from the cavity, reserve the neck and then snip off the tail.

 Now it is time to remove the back from the turkey.  I will admit...this was tough.  I have a good set of shears and it was a job.  Just cut up on either side of the backbone.  At the top, there is a thick bone that required one hard hack with the cleaver.

Yes, it took two hands to wield those shears.

The back bone....kinda looks like something from "Alien" doesn't it?
Okay, now that our turkey is spineless, it is time to work on the leg quarters.  Flip the turkey over, cut the skin between the main body cavity and the leg quarter.  Slice through where the hip bone should be and remove the quarter from the bird.  Repeat on the other side.

Next step is to remove the wings.  The key to getting them off is to use gravity.  Lift up the turkey by the wing with the breast toward you.  Make a cut at the base of the wing.
That will expose the joint, now take your knife and find the bottom of the joint and make several cuts, allowing gravity to help remove the wing from the body.

A turkey drummette is large as large as a chicken leg!  Repeat with the other wing.

Now, you are left with the breast.  This is by far the hardest thing to disassemble!
Push down HARD on it like you were giving it CPR....you want to hear the bones pop and crunch.
Flip the breast over and slice down the bone in the center. 
This is where I place the cleaver on the scored bone and whack it hard with a hammer!
After several hard hits (I tried protecting my cleaver with a paper towel), the center bone was split. Then I used the cleaver to hack through the wish bone on either side. (It was only later that I realized there was a much easier way of doing this....I will show you that when I dismember a chicken for you!)  
Here is what my kitchen looked like 30 minutes after I started the whole process!
But this these are the building blocks for what came next!

Look for the next chapter of Jenny and the Giant Turkey- Brining!


  1. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. I don't know who you are but definitely you're going to a famous blogger if you are not already ;) Cheers!
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  2. Thanks for the encouragement and I'm certainly glad you enjoyed reading my post.