There’s been a lot of buzz this year on the cooking networks, magazines, and cooking blogs about a technique for cooking turkey, called “De-constructed Turkey” but this technique goes way back. Even Julia Child’s used this technique in her “The Way to Cook” cookbook, but she called it “The Re-assembled Roast Turkey”.
What are the benefits of taking the turkey apart, cooking it, and then re-assembling it? Great question! There are two main advantages: One advantage of roasting a de-constructed turkey is time. It takes almost half the time to cook the bird this way and for lots of us, time can be a challenge when you have multiple ovens cooking multiple dishes with multiple people asking, “When are we eating?”
But even more importantly is the ability to control the internal temperatures of the different parts of the bird. If you’ve ever roasted a whole turkey it doesn’t take too long to figure out that not all parts of the bird cook for the same length of time. An easy way to remember this is that dark meat takes longer to cook than white meat. So when cooking a turkey, the breast meat will take less time to roast than the legs and thighs. Cooking using the deconstructed method means the breast meat won’t dry out while the legs and thighs continue to cook. You’ve got to like that!
Still another advantage is that our generation of home chefs like to experiment with new recipes and cooking methods. I don’t know about you, but that never happened with my mother and grandmother’s generations. Not that one is better than the other, it’s just different. Today, we often try new side dishes and even new ways to cook a turkey (like brined, grilled, cooked in a bag, smoker, deep fried, and slow cooked in a crock pot) instead of the traditional roasted method. For some of these methods, a large sized turkey simply won’t fit inside the cooking vessel and needs to be cut apart in order to be cooked. In other methods, like brining or seasoning, when the turkey is deconstructed the solutions can be better absorbed by the turkey resulting in a better tasting bird.
So how much time can you save? The difference in cooking time between a 20 lb. fully constructed traditional turkey takes about 5 hours to roast and a 20 lb. de-constructed turkey takes about 2 hours for the breast and 2¾ hours for the legs and thighs. So, it’s pretty significant when you’re running around the kitchen like a chicken with its head cut off.
And if you want to get fancy, de-constructed thighs on the Thanksgiving bird can be deboned and filled with stuffing. This is impressive when you slice the thighs and guests and family see a medallion of dark meat with stuffing in the center. It’s nice to show off once in a while!
Deconstructing a Turkey 101
1. Cut through the skin that connects the breast to the drumsticks. Now look for the breastbone. Slice downward as close to the bone as possible using a long flexible knife or a boning knife along one side of the bone. As you slice, you can use your other hand to pull the meat away from the breastbone until you’ve cut the breast off the carcass in one piece. Then repeat on the other side.
2. Using the knife, slice away the wings by using the tip of the knife to find the joint and cut through the joint to remove the wing. Repeat on the other side.
3. Slice down along the thigh meat until you reach the joint. Using a paper towel, grab the leg and push down, separating the leg and thigh from the bird. Use your chef’s knife to cut through the joint, removing the thigh and leg. Repeat on other side.