Like most birds, turkeys are naturally lean, which is why many of us have experienced that most dreaded of Thanksgiving pitfalls—the dry bird. An overnight soak in a salt-and-water solution is an easy way to keep your turkey juicy. But needless to say, the New Orleans-raised John Currence punches up his tried-and-true brine with more than just salt.
*Among the many gifts of culinary ingenuity that south Louisiana Cajuns have gifted the rest of the world is the turkey marinade injector. This came along with the early 1980s movement of frying turkeys. The injection gives the turkey an extra blast of flavor and moisture. Kits with a typically fat-heavy, spicy liquid for this are widely available at most grocery stores and include a pint jar of marinade and a large hypodermic syringe. Fill the syringe with liquid and inject it throughout the muscles of the turkey before cooking, and you simply get a better bird. These days, I usually make my own injection. Olive oil, Tabasco, Pickapeppa sauce, molasses, and butter are all regular ingredients in my improvised marinades.
Chef John Currence’s Tips for Carving a Turkey
Carving the turkey gets way more of a bad rap than it deserves. Cutting up a bird is neither hard to understand nor hard to execute. I think it suffers a dark reputation due to the fact that most folks only face the chore once or twice a year. Given the understanding of a couple of basic things, carving up a bird could not, actually, be a much simpler task.
The nice thing about this lesson is that, once you understand these basic tenets, you will be able to carve everything from squab and grouse to turkey and emu, as their basic skeletal structure is the same. So here are the two basic things you need to know: 1) you always want to cut major muscle groups away from the bird, off the bone, working on a level board to cut; and 2) all birds have a vertical breastbone that separates the two breast halves and provides a guide for their easy and efficient removal.
So let’s imagine you have removed the bird from the oven. It’s on your great-grandmother’s Wedgwood serving platter and everyone has had a chance to admire your handiwork.
Set a small cutting board next to the turkey and proceed like this:
• Remove the bird to the cutting board.
• Orient the turkey so the “butt end” is facing you. Grasp the thigh quarter on whichever side you are most comfortable with and slowly pull it down toward the table. Pierce the skin in the area between the thigh and the body and make small slices to help pull the thigh away from the bird until the joint attaching the thigh to the carcass is exposed. Gently slice through this joint, cut the skin along the back of the bird, and transfer the thigh to the cutting board.
• Using your finger, locate the thin flexible bone down the center of the breast and run the knife along it on the same side as the thigh you just removed. Place the tongs in the incision and gently pull the breast away from the carcass, slicing slowly at the underside of the breast, tracing the tip of the knife along the rib cage around the side of the bird. Follow the cut up around the neck portion of the bird and separate the breast from the carcass, so all that remains is the joint connection between the wing and the carcass. Gently slice through this joint and transfer the breast to the cutting board.
• Repeat with the thigh and breast on the opposite side.
• Separate the legs and thighs at the knuckle that joins them. Slice the meat away from the bone in chunks.
• Remove the wings from the upper portion of the breasts and slice the breasts into medallions across the grain of the meat, which runs head to toe.
• The real prize on the bird, however, still remains on the carcass. Flip the bird on its side, and where the thighbone connects to the carcass, along the back will be a large thumb-size piece of dark meat tucked away in its own little compartment. This is called the “oyster.” There is one on the opposite side as well, and these are the two most delicious bites of your bird.
• All that’s left to do is to throw the carcass in a pot with some vegetables and make turkey gumbo.
• Feel free to thank me later for making you look like a stud. Make checks payable to the “Buy John Currence’s Daughter a Pony Fund.”