Tips on cooking and carving your Thanksgiving turkey

November 25, 2010 Since turkey is a relatively low-fat meat, it's important not to overcook it. It's easy to go from "just right" to "dry". Your turkey probably came with roasting instructions, and they're a good starting point.

Roger Bassett, who owns Reading Terminal Market's Original Turkey, says you need to roast the breast (white meat) to 165 ° Fahrenheit, and the thigh (dark meat) to 180°. To prevent the breast from overcooking, he likes to "tent" the breast with aluminum foil until about half an hour before the turkey is finished roasting.

But remember: Roasted meats continue cooking for about 15 minutes after being removed from the oven. If you roast until the desired temperature is reached, you'll end up with an overcooked turkey. So remove it from the oven a little before the target temperature is reached.

While the turkey sits, it also settles. There will be steam in the meat from the bird's natural juices and it needs to dissipate. If you try to slice the turkey before this settling occurs, it won't go as well.

Center City's Marathon Grill chain serves roast turkey every day. Executive chef Luke Eschbach gave us some carving tips.

After the turkey has been out of the oven for 15 ro 30 minutes, you can safely carve. Before you begin, he says you can show the finished whole turkey to your dinner guests. They'll probably be enjoying a preliminary course at this point. He does not recommend trying to slice it on the dinner table, which will likely be crowded with too many other items. Also, he says, trying to take slices from the whole bird at the table means dodging the shape of the turkey as well as your guests.

Eschbach says you should use a knife you're comfortable with, not necessarily the biggest knife in the drawer. First, he removes the various pieces from the frame. If you leave the leg quarters on at the beginning, they will lend some balance to the turkey. He suggests removing the breasts boneless by slicing down either side of the rib cage, then making one cross-cut at the base and around the wishbone. This should yield two large boneless pieces of white meat. Set these aside.

You may now remove the wings, which will come off the frame with one cut each. Leave these whole in case someone wants to snack on them.

Finally, remove the leg quarters by slicing the thighs away from the rib cage. Again, one pass with a sharp knife does it. By wiggling the leg, you can see where the joint connects it to the thigh. Slice into the joint to separate the drumstick, which, like the wing, can be served whole. Turn the thigh skin-side down, find the bone, and remove it. You will then have a boneless piece of dark meat.

You are now free to slice the breast and thigh meat as you choose. While many like to take slices off the breast, Chef Eschbach prefers to make cross-cuts at an angle, and serve these in a fan shape on a serving platter. Next, cut similar pieces from the thigh, and arrange these on the opposite side of the platter. You may place the wings and drumsticks in the middle. Garnish with roasted vegetables (many people put carrots, celery, etc. in the roaster with the turkey, perhaps as a base).

The chef says six ounces of sliced meat will satisfy the average diner, eight ounces to be generous. You might want to slice only enough meat to serve your guests and leave the rest in larger pieces for leftovers.

As for those leftovers, the chef says the turkey carcass is an obvious choice for soup. Boil it in water with aromatic vegetables for a couple of hours, and then filter the liquid. Add some chopped up leftover meat and perhaps some noodles and vegetables and you have another complete meal. Leftover turkey also goes well in sandwiches and salads.

More turkey ideas: The National Turkey Federation's website has cooking ideas, recipes galore, even turkey trivia. They're at http://www.eatturkey.com.

Camden's own Campbell Soup Company maintains an online library of recipe ideas considered among the best for post-Thanksgiving leftover ideas. Find them online at http://www.campbellskitchen.com.

And the people who pack Butterball turkeys have one of the busiest websites every holiday season. You may reach them online at http://www.butterball.com. They also have operators on duty on Thanksgiving and other major holidays in case you have a question about preparing turkey (you need not purchase one of theirs to use the hotline). The number is 1-800-BUTTERBALL.

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