Monday, November 21, 2011

Butchering a turkey into boneless roasts

Kevin and I got drove to Mockingbird Farm yesterday afternoon to pick up the two turkeys we'd ordered ahead, figuring we'd want to eat turkey more than once this year. It was a fine late autumn day, dry and clear. Pete Solis' farm is on a residential street in Easthampton, houses filling in what must once have all been farmland. When we got out of the car, what was notable was how sweet the air was. You wouldn't know he raises pigs and cattle as well as chickens and turkeys, or, except for all of the cars parked in front of his house and down the road,  that today had been a day for slaughtering.

In the yard, what looked like a bladeless guillotine stood, spattered with blood, and a few long turkey feathers lay before it. Chickens crossed and re-crossed the yard, evidently unconcerned. The turkeys were already packaged, bagged and then bagged again in red insulated bags, lined up on the barn floor. After a conversation about bird size, hens versus toms, and flavor, we picked two larger birds, around twelve pounds each. I asked about eggs and was able to buy some that were apologized for as being dirty. I guess I'll have to wash them before I crack them.

We made room for it all in the fridge yesterday, and today after Kevin went to work and I'd walked the dog and had breakfast, I cleaned up the kitchen, sharpened my best knife, and took out a turkey to cut up. My plan was to take them both apart, make boneless roasts of the thighs and breasts, save one whole turkey's worth of roasts in the fridge to brine before Thanksgiving, and freeze the others. Use the wings and bones for stock to make gravy and dressing for Thursday, and freeze the drumsticks to stew another day.

Butchering a turkey is much like butchering a chicken, something I do much more often. I follow the same order: take off the wings, then the legs, then deal with the breasts last.

Front left casserole dish contains two each of boneless breasts and thighs, and the drumsticks are in the bowl to the right. Behind them is turkey number two.
If this picture is too much for you, you probably don't want to continue reading. These are the steps for butchering a turkey down to boneless roasts, wings, and drums.

How to butcher a turkey into boneless roasts, wings and drums:
  1. Place the turkey on its breast. Use one hand to pull the wing away from the body, manipulating the wing until you can see where the joint of wing and shoulder is.
  2. Slice into the middle of the webbing of skin toward the shoulder joint. 
  3. When you encounter the joint, look for the dull white cap on the end of the wing bone, then angle the knife between the wing bone and the turkey body, slicing through some cartilage and tendon. Finish slicing through the meat of the wing, angling back to include as little breast meat as possible in the wing portion you're cutting.
  4. Turn the turkey around and repeat the steps to remove the other wing. If you like, you can tip the wings so that you can keep the tips for stock and serve the wings. Manipulate the tip and prod it with your finger to find the joint. Slice through the skin to the joint, move the tissue around and slice it some more to find the joint if necessary, then slice between the bones.
  5. Place the turkey on its back to remove the first leg. Use one hand to both pull the leg away from the body, and to brace against the turkey to hold it steady.
  6. Make shallow cuts to split the taut skin, then widen and deepen the cut. There may be some foamy-looking connective tissue to cut through, but other than that it's mostly skin and then a gap and then meat. 
  7. Widen the cut and push the leg farther away from the body.
  8. Begin making the cut starting at the head-end of the body, holding the knife against the body as you cut through the skin and flesh at the top of the thigh. Cut as close to the body as possible to include as much meat as you can in what will be the boneless thigh roast.
  9. Cut along the body, this time from the tail-end toward the thigh joint, again holding the blade close against the body to include as much meat as possible in the cut. When you reach the joint, look for the end of the thigh bone where it joins the body and angle the knife around the bone cap so that you only have to cut through tendon, not bone. As you cut through the rest of the skin and meat connecting the thigh to the back, keep the knife against the body to get as much meat as you can.
  10. Prod the joint between thigh and drumstick to find the joint in the leg quarter.
  11. Cut into the meat, then move the tissue around to find the ends of the bones, and slice between the bones to remove the drumstick from the leg quarter.
  12. Slice down the center of the thigh.
  13. Using the tip of the knife, trim the meat from the cartilage and connective tissue around one end of the thighbone.
  14. Slice the meat away from the bone, rotating the thigh and pushing back the meat as you go, until the roast comes free of the bone. Trim away any remaining hard tissue on the thigh roast.
  15. Repeat the steps to remove the other leg, separate the thigh from drumstick, and meat from the thighbone.
  16. Grip the turkey firmly while making an incision just to one side of the breastbone where it protrudes.
  17. Using the tip of the knife, and keeping the blade against the bone, widen the incision, only going about an inch deep to where the sternum joins the ribs, and following this concavity with the knife.
  18. At the bottom or tail-end of the breast, free the tip of the breast meat from the bones by slicing along the ribcage, and holding the breast meat out of the way.
  19. Holding the tip of breast meat at the bottom, continue working the knife along the ribs to part the meat from the bones. Always keep the knife close against the turkey's bones, and take as much meat as possible for your boneless breast roast. Some of the edges of rib meat may come out a little ragged, but better to take as much as you can and trim it later if you're so inclined. I will tie these roasts with string and no one will know the difference.
  20. As you finish removing the breast, continue staying close to the ribs. Look for the shoulder joint and cut through the small muscles around it to free the larger breast and attached tenderloin from the turkey body.
  21. Remove the other breast the same way, holding very firmly to the rack, as now that most of the meat is removed, the turkey will become unstable on its back.
Now that you have disassembled your turkey, you can bag the cuts and freeze or refrigerate them, depending on when you plan to use them. The racks and other bones, turkey neck and heart (but not the liver) can all be roasted in a 350-degree oven until deeply colored, then covered in water in a very large stock pot and simmered for stock. The roasts can be brined for a day before roasting, but do not over brine them or they will get mushy and too salty.

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    Like them apples?

    Apples grown in western Massachusetts

    The harvest season in New England is rich in the produce that is depicted with nostalgia, and sometimes tasted only at this time of year. The apple, that lowly fruit so common that even McDonalds sells them now, could be in danger of being so highly commercialized that, like milk, what was once the image of wholesome, natural food is muted in all of its original flavor and food value. In an Ingmar Bergman film, a meal of raw milk and apples is treated as rustic ambrosia. The variety available from a fast food outlet does not taste like this, but you can still get real apples in western Massachusetts.

    The problem with commercial apples is how few varieties are grown, and the qualities that commercial growers prize them for are not what endear them to eaters. I want taste, an acidic bite, a dry, crisp texture. I want different kinds of apples: little mild ones to pack in my husband’s lunch, and big zesty ones that hold their shape when I bake them into pie. Ugly, flavorful apples that make me feel like a clever insider for knowing that a knobby Russet exists despite its unlovely mug because it has a winning personality worth propagating.

    The website Orange Pippin, no doubt named for Cox’s Orange Pippin, a variety of apple, describes an exhaustive list of apple varieties on their website, including such western Massachusetts favorites as the Mutsu, Rhode Island Greening, Ananas Reinette, and Knobby Russet, as well as the more widely known varieties like Macoun, Empire, Gala, and Golden Delicious. The images, while lovely, don’t give a sense of scale. Here are a Mutsu, which typically weigh about a pound each, beside its tiny cousin, the Ananas Reinette.

    Ananas Reinette, left, and a Mutsu apple, right
    During apple season at my neighborhood co-op, the produce manager hangs a chalkboard with the number of varieties of apples available for sale that day: forty-three on the day I visited. “These were all harvested a month ago,” Joe Stan told me, indicating the baskets of local apples from Dwight Miller, Apex Orchards, and Scott Farm, among other local orchards. “And they’ll fill orders through March.”

    The secrets to storing your apples, according to Joe Stan, are low humidity and a cool temperature, around forty degrees. If you plan to cellar your own apples, choose unblemished specimens only--use the ones with nicks and bruises, don’t store them. Wrap each storing apple in a clean sheet of newspaper to prevent the apples from touching one another, and store in a dark, dry place in the cellar. For cooking apples, you can peel, core, and slice even imperfect apples, then either cook them gently, cool, and freeze for pie filling, or put the slices in a food dehydrator or warm oven until they are beyond leathery to brittle. Dried apples reconstitute well in porridge and stews.

    I've been experimenting with gluten-free alternatives to the classic apple pie. Here are a butternut custard pie with a "crust" of sliced apples, and an apple pie recipe from Real Food Forager that uses a pecan meal crust.
    Butternut custard pie with a crust made from thinly sliced, peeled apples
    This apple crumble pie is made with a pecan crust
    Another tasty way to enjoy the local apple harvest all year round is as cider. A local vendor, West County Cider, produces ciders from several named varieties. They range from dry to sweet, and the crisper ones are like champagne. Much drier than the sweet, fresh cider you give the kids, and an excellent alternative to wine or beer at Thanksgiving or any harvest meal.

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    Back to normal after the Halloween Snowstorm

    Bacon, egg, and cheese grilled sandwich

    Eighteen minutes.

    That's how long it took me to make this amazing sandwich. Just for kicks, I checked the clock before starting. While I was making this sandwich, a variation of which I've eaten almost every morning for months, and so a task I have broken down into the most efficient series of steps, I also put on a pot of chicken stock, and started a batch of yogurt in the crock pot.

    We had a crazy weekend: a snowstorm struck Saturday afternoon, before Halloween. The snow fell quickly, and because of the relatively warm weather was very heavy and wet. It fell all night, dropping about a foot of snow. It's so early in the season for a snowstorm, that most of the leaves were still on the trees. Heavy snow and ice bent the trees, in some cases to the ground, and in others, breaking boughs. I saw a few relatively small trees in people's yards, where two laden boughs crashed on either side of the trunk, which was split down the middle. Branches and trees came down across roads, and brought down power lines. The night of the storm, we heard transformers going off like shotgun blasts, then actual fireworks. Then the power started going out.

    I'm eating the sandwich while I compose this post and enjoy the cable internet connection. We lost our power in the evening on Saturday, and got it back, finally, on Monday. All weekend, we read our email and surfed on our Android phones. We have a glorified car battery with a handle that Kevin bought for our honeymoon camping trip last year, and it's proven handy through the power outage, allowing us to keep our phones charged. We had miraculous hot water but no heat, due to weak link of an electric thermostat on our gas heat. Comcast has just restored sweet, sweet internet service this morning.

    I talked to my local friends to make sure they were all right, and we even hosted friends for dinner on Saturday night. Last night, despite local officials "postponing" Halloween (as if you can do that), we got one group of trick-or-treaters, and were ready for them, too. All in all, I'd say that while we would not be the first wave caught in a zombie apocalypse, we should not become complacent. We were lucky as well as somewhat well-prepared. We have a quarter of a beef in the freezer, and if the power outage had threatened to run longer, we might have tried to buy a generator. When the power came back on, we checked it out and everything was still solid. Food that was in the refrigerator was mostly eaten over the weekend or has come through all right.

    Today I can stock up from the Northampton Tuesday Market on greens and eggs. I checked for farmers' markets running on Mondays, but they're all so far from here that I've muddled through on what products I can get at the local supermarket. They remained the only open business in town, as far as I know, through the power outage, selling only shelf-stable items and running their registers on generator power. Once the power was restored, they were selling cold things again. A friend warned us that another local supermarket, upon reopening, was selling meat that felt warm to him; he reported it but his complaint seemed to fall on apathetic ears. Caveat emptor.

    I posted in the summer about how to make a grilled sandwich, but I neglected to mention the importance of warming the fillings before you begin. In fact, the way to make a good grilled sandwich is to build it from the inside out. This applies to omelets, as well. Fry bacon, warm sausage, sauté potatoes, warm greens or any other fillings, then cook the eggs. Then, if you're making a sandwich, assemble it and grill it.