How to get several meals from one turkey

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Over the years turkey has gradually lost its holiday status and become a year-round menu mainstay. Turkey parts are available everywhere, and you can even buy turkey sausages and luncheon meats.

The most economical turkey purchase, however, remains the whole bird. It's the best meat bargain in the butcher's case.

It does not take much mathematical skill to figure out that you're saving a bundle by buying the entire bird instead of the parts - not when turkey thighs and breasts are currently selling for more than $1 a pound.

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Turkeys are big. That's the main reason that some are loath to tackle them, but if you've ever cut up a chicken, there is nothing to it.

If you haven'tm cut up a chicken, it will probably take you an hour to deal with your first turkey; otherwise, half an hour. The construction of the two fowls is the same, and the steps are similar.

Your bird will probably be frozen. Thaw it in the refrigerator until you can easily move the drumstick, but don't allow it to thaw completely.

Cut off the legs first. There's a joint that's easily discernible, and I find it helpful to cut from both sides. Needless to say, a sharp knife is essential to the entire operation. Next come the thighs and wings. These, too, have joints. It's a matter of minutes to dispose of them.

Now is the time to remove the skin from the breast. I pop it into a heavy, iron skillet and start it cooking over a very low heat. It takes about an hour to bring it to the proper crisp state my family relishes.

I turn it occasionally and drain off the accumulated fat to hasten the browning process. When it's done, I drain it on paper towels, and then it is ready to eat.

If there were ever any left, I would use it to season vegetables or garnish a salad, but, of course, there never is.

While the skin is cooking, I slice the breast thinly. I have an electric knife. It was given to me and I use it for only two jobs, cutting foam rubber and slicing the breast of a turkey.

You can do it with any sharp knife, but I find it easier to achieve uniform slices using the electric knife. Don't worry if you botch a few slices.

They're hardly going to go to waste. Turkey is the most versatile of meats and can be used in hundreds of ways.

When the breast is sliced, I trim the rest of the meat that is easy to remove. The carcass is destined for soup, so I want a nice, meaty skeleton. It will make enough rich soup for two hearty dinners.

I package the meat for the freezer and label it. It is lovely knowing that all that good eating is awaiting us. I usually fricassee the legs (each leg serves two people) and serve them with mashed potatoes and gravy. Teriyaki turkey wings are delicious, so that's usually their assigned fate.

Thighs are destined for a variety of roles. You can fricassee or teriyaki them too, naturally, but you can also bone them and make tasty kabobs or concoct a marvelous turkey salad or grind them into terrific turkey burgers.

The turkey breast is the poor man's veal. I doubt that the rich man could distinguish between the two when they are properly prepared.

Get out a cookbook and look up the various recipes for veal. What would you like? Take your choice. There's Veal Parmigiana, Veal Scallopine, or Wiener Schnitzel. It's hard to choose - and you needn't. There is plenty of meat for all three recipes and then some.

We still have those odd bits and pieces that came from all over the bird. I usually stir-fry mine, but they, too, are ideal for salad, sandwich spread, or club sandwiches.

I enjoy cutting up a turkey. It's fun to create so many meals from only one bird. I always feel very virtuous and frugal after stashing away all those packages in the freezer.

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