A few days ago I overheard a couple of coworkers talking about Thanksgiving and was surprised that they were both planning on having ham for dinner. When I asked why they were opting for ham instead of turkey, both said that ham is less work and with turkey so much goes to waste.
I had to smile at that. Perhaps turkey is a bit more work than ham, but I totally disagree with the notion that a lot of the turkey goes to waste. With a small amount of preparation and a few simple ingredients, you can make the entire turkey go a long way, providing many tasty post-Thanksgiving meals and making your Thanksgiving turkey a great value!
This post will tell you exactly how to do that, plus provide some pointers on how to roast your turkey and how to get the highest yield from it.
First: Cooking the bird!
Over the years I’ve tried many different approaches to cooking turkey – black turkey, deep fried turkey, brined turkey, and so forth – but for the last several years have utilized a very simple approach and have instead focused my attention more on removing the turkey from the oven at the optimum time and temperature.
We have used fresh and frozen turkeys, both with excellent results, by the way. All I do after removing the outside wrapper is remove the neck from the body cavity and the giblets from the neck cavity. Then I drain the juices from the cavities of the turkey, and quickly rinse them and the surface of the bird with cold water. (Please observe all appropriate precautions in terms of handling and preparing uncooked food; if in doubt, check online.) After thoroughly patting the turkey dry – inside and out – I have my wife hold it upright while I add salt and freshly ground pepper to the cavity. Next I brush olive oil over the entire skin and sprinkle salt and freshly ground black pepper all over the bird. Then I roast it in a 325°F oven, loosely placing an aluminum foil “tent” over the top of the turkey once the skin is a golden brown color; the foil will prevent the turkey skin from getting overly browned.
Disclaimer: I recommend removing the turkey from the oven a bit earlier than what Butterball and other turkey experts suggest. If you have any doubts, follow the conventional instructions; the guidelines which immediately follow are from Butterball:
Check for doneness 30 minutes before turkey is expected to be done. Turkey is fully cooked when the thigh’s internal temperature is 180 degrees. The thickest part of the breast should read 170 degrees and the center of the stuffing should be 165 degrees.
Here’s what I do: I insert a meat thermometer into the deepest part of one breast, being sure to not have the end of the thermometer hit bone (which would throw the reading off.) I remove the turkey from the oven when the thermometer hits 162°. I then wrap the bird tightly with aluminum foil and let it sit for 15-20 minutes before carving. Note that Butterball suggests the breast be at 170°. Here’s the issue: the turkey continues to cook as it sits on my counter. If I cook it until the breast is at 170°, the meat will be dry.
I’ve actually gone as far as calling the Butterball “Talk Line” to discuss this issue. In their testing they’ve achieved the best texture and degree of doneness when the breast meat is between 165° and 170°; when I mentioned 162°, wrapping the bird tightly in foil for 15-20 minutes, the rep I spoke with was OK with my approach. Bottom line: I want tender, juicy, moist meat; for me, that’s best achieved following this approach. If you have any concerns whatsoever, follow the instructions which accompany your turkey.
Next: Carving the turkey for maximum yield!
If you haven’t seen butcher Ray Venezia’s video on how to properly carve a turkey, click on the image below. Follow his approach and you’ll get MUCH more usable meat than you’ve ever had! (A brief ad will precede the actual video.)
Delicious homemade turkey soup!
Please don’t throw out the carcass and thigh bones! You probably won’t feel like doing much more cooking on Thanksgiving, so just wrap the carcass (as soon as you can after carving the turkey) in plastic wrap or put the entire thing in a Ziploc 2 gallon bag and put it in your refrigerator.
Within 1-2 days*, you can make a fantastic homemade turkey soup with the carcass and a few simple ingredients.
- Turkey carcass . (*don’t wait longer than 1-2 days)
- ~3 quarts water
- 2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped
- 2 cups of small pieces of turkey (the little pieces that are too small for your serving platter are terrific for this; leftover dark meat is also great)
- 2-3 stalks celery, sliced diagonally
- 1-2 large carrots, sliced or cut into 3-4″ pieces
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
- 1 Tbsp. dried thyme
- 1 Tbsp. oregano
- Salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
- Option (use one of these)
- 1 8oz. box red beans and rice
- 1 cup orzo pasta
- 1 cup uncooked rice
- 1 package kernel corn (if you’ve put up some fresh corn, this would be a great place to use some!)
- use your creativity – after all, it’s soup!!
Cut carcass into two pieces and place in very large pot. Add water, one chopped onion and salt and pepper. Bring water to a boil then cover pot, reduce heat and simmer for about 1½ hours. Remove carcass and allow it to cool; remove the “soup” from the heat as well.
Remove meat from the carcass. Strain the soup and discard pieces of bone and anything else that looks undesirable. Pour the soup back into pot and add turkey meat – both the small pieces you’ve saved from carving and anything you’ve trimmed off the carcass, parsley, thyme, oregano, the second onion as well as the celery and carrots. Return to boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for about one hour. If you are opting for rice, orzo or egg noodles, add it now and simmer for about 20 minutes or until rice/pasta/noodles are cooked. Season to taste. Serves 6.
Fantastic grilled turkey “Rachel” sandwich!
My friend Brent has raved for some time about a great sandwich he makes with leftover turkey. I gave it a try and now understand his enthusiasm – this is a terrific sandwich and a great way to use Thanksgiving leftovers!
A Rachel is a variation on the Reuben theme – turkey or pastrami is used instead of corned beef, and coleslaw is used in place of sauerkraut. The coleslaw used in this recipe is a bit spicy; cranberry sauce helps capture the Thanksgiving vibe and add a bit of sweetness as counterpoint to the spiciness of the slaw.
Ingredients – to make 4 sandwiches
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- Pinch salt (don’t use too much – just a pinch!)
- Cayenne pepper to taste (don’t be shy!)
- 2½ cups coleslaw mix
- 8 Tbsp. cranberry sauce
- 8 slices rye, wheat or Italian bread, each lightly buttered on one side (in the photo above I actually used French bread – use whatever you like!!)
- 8 slices Swiss cheese
- 8 oz. roast turkey, sliced thinly
Whisk the mayo, sugar, vinegar, salt in a bowl; add cayenne to taste. Stir in coleslaw mix; set aside.
Preheat a griddle, large nonstick skillet or “Foreman”-type grill to medium. Assemble sandwiches by spreading 1 T. cranberry sauce on the unbuttered side of each slice of bread. Top each with a piece of Swiss cheese, then arrange turkey on 4 slices of bread; top each with ¼ cup slaw. Place remaining bread on slaw, buttered side up. Grill sandwiches. If you are using a griddle or skillet, press them lightly with the back of a cookie or baking sheet. Cook until golden on one side, appx. 2 minutes, flip and grill until bread is toasted and cheese has melted. With a Foreman-type grill, simply grill until grill marks appear on bread and cheese is melted. Eat while warm — absolutely incredible!
Incidentally, the coleslaw featured in this recipe is among the best I’ve ever had. Make an extra large batch and add some raisins and/or diced apple – the contrast between the spiciness of the cayenne and the sweetness of the fruit is wonderful.
This recipe originally appeared in Cuisine at Home magazine, Issue 66. I cannot find an online version; I have modified the original ever so slightly.
With a little planning ahead you can make several excellent meals from your Thanksgiving dinner, and very, very little of your turkey will go to waste. If you have creative ways you’ve utilized your turkey day leftovers, please join the discussion by sharing them by commenting!
Thanks for reading this, and here’s hoping you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!