Whether you’re making a big Thanksgiving dinner or a quiet dinner for just you, the key to a low-stress event is planning. I’m always saying that bachelors and other singles need to use strategies to make healthy, affordable food at home without spending lots of time doing it.
The first step, therefore, is to figure out what you want to make or eat. Then you have to find recipes that will fit that, or can be adapted to your needs.
Remember to go shopping early. Make a grocery list based on your menu and recipes. Start your preparations the week before, making those things that you can ahead of time. Don’t wait too long to defrost your turkey, it’ll take two to four days depending on size. If you can, brine your turkey, you’ll notice the difference.
Don’t rely on convenience foods. The more you make from scratch, the better and healthier it will be. Make your own dressing, cornbread, gravy and side dishes.
Don’t stuff your bird. Put aromatics inside and make stuffing or dressing on the side. It will be better, safer and easier. It also helps the turkey cook faster without drying out.
Now, it’s time to think about serving. A large turkey will need to rest at least 20 minutes before carving. That gives you plenty of time to get your dressing in the oven and make a pan gravy. It also gives you time to heat up your side dishes and make the final preparations for dinner.
One big mistake people make is not knowing how to carve the turkey. Rules for cutting up a roasted chicken are a little different because of the size of the servings compared to the size of the bird. If you can, there are videos on how to carve a turkey on the internet that can be a huge help. An electric carving knife makes the task easier, but you can do it with a good, long-bladed carving knife.
Here’s a big tip: don’t carve the turkey at the table. Those old movies make it look so easy. But you don’t want to end up hacking the thing to pieces in front of witnesses. If the presentation is a big deal, carry the finished turkey on a platter out to your guests as a cue for them to sit at the table. While they’re settling down and glasses are filled, you can be doing the dirty deed in private.
Make sure the turkey is cooled down enough you can touch it, but still warm. This is another reason why resting is so important. If the thing is too hot to handle, it’s hard to work with and probably too hot to be cutting anyway.
Be sure to place it on a dry cutting board. A juice-covered board gets slippery and you don’t want to be picking that bird up off the floor.
Make sure your tools are sharp. You may have heard that a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one, and that’s true. A sharp knife does all the work, meaning you don’t have to apply a lot of pressure which could cause you to lose control. Blood on the turkey is not good. In addition to a carving knife, you’ll need something to hold the bird in place like a meat fork.
Take a good look at it. The contours of the bird will give you a good idea of where to cut. Notice where the surface bulges or is depressed. Those are landmarks for carving.
Start with the legs. Pull the legs away from the body of the turkey and cut through the hip joint to remove the leg completely. Do the same with the wings. Then separate the drumstick from the thigh. Carve the dark meat from the thigh into nice slices. A good trick is to cut down the middle all the way to the bone and remove it. That will make the carving easier. You can also cut the meat from the drumstick if you want by holding it at the small end and cutting it parallel to the bone.
For the breast meat, begin at the base closest to where the legs were. Cut horizontally through the meat following the contour of the bones. Now you can cut from the top of the breast lobe next to the breast bone down to your horizontal cut, allowing you to remove the whole piece. Do the same on the other side. Now you can carve perfect slices with ease. Another technique is the begin at the breast bone and cut at a diagonal angle toward your horizontal cut, making slices as you go. This is the method you see at the table and by professionals. But it’s not easy and can lead to a hacked-up turkey with lots of meat left on the bones. Cutting against the grain of the meat will make for more tender slices.
With a plate full of beautiful slices, you’re ready to serve. Don’t throw away the carcass. You can make wonderful turkey stock that can enhance lots of dishes or soups for weeks to come.
Planning ahead can make your holiday meal a better and easier experience. Have a great Thanksgiving in The Bachelor’s Kitchen.