by Louie Brogdon
COVID-19 will doubtlessly shrink Thanksgiving feasts across the country this week. Many families will simply decide it’s not worth potentially putting loved ones in danger for the sake of sharing a meal – tradition or no.
Aside from emotional heartache and an injured sense of nostalgia, this creates a new, practical dilemma which will foil many family cooks. Why spend hours cooking a giant turkey for just a few people? Even after everyone stuffs his or her face, there will still be a giant bird on the table. Does anyone on the planet really enjoy reheated turkey that’s been dried out by the refrigerator?
Luckily, my wife and I overcame these problems a few years ago. When we moved to Washington DC, it became impractical to travel to Georgia at the end of November only to return and make the trip again in mid-December. So, to our mothers’ shared dismay, we elected to stay home for Thanksgiving and take extra time at Christmas. This has been the way for a few years now.
It was tough at first. Thanksgiving is my wife’s favorite holiday (mine is New Year’s Eve). Skipping turkey was out of the question. So, for a few years, we would buy the smallest bird we could find and sit around hungrily on Thanksgiving Day as it roasted in the oven … for hours. Then, when it was finally cooked, we’d attack the festive fowl with great vigor – and pretty much just eat the dark meat. The cooked breast would then go in the fridge, where it would be picked at for sandwiches for a few days before it was simply too dry to eat.
It was a dark day in our home when I declared that turkey for two was wasteful and frivolous.
But then, my wife being an avid collector of cookbooks and food magazines, we stumbled upon a revolutionary idea – just break the turkey down before you cook it (or buy it broken down to begin with). (We owe our thanks to Bon Appetit for this moment of enlightenment, and we use the linked recipe in our house).
Even with a full traditional Thanksgiving crowd, the benefits of cooking the turkey in pieces are many.
First, the cook time is cut in half. Seriously, your turkey will be in and out of the oven in about 1 ½ hours (there’s still prep and resting time, but this frees up your oven for an extra hour or two).
Second, everyone knows the breast cooks more quickly than the thighs and legs. When it’s broken down, you can just take it out the moment it hits 150 degrees (letting it rest covered until it gets to 165 degrees, of course). Legs can come out when they read 165-170 degrees in the oven. Now, you have perfectly juicy white and dark meat! Everyone will be happy.
The third and final benefit – which expressly relates to cooking for a smaller crowd – is that you don’t have to cook it all at once. If you are like us and just want dark meat on Thanksgiving Day, only cook the legs and thighs. You can cook the breast later that evening expressly for Thanksgiving Sandwiches – or you can freeze it and use it for another meal entirely.
Now, I will be candid: There are two potential cons. First, strong believers in inside-the-bird stuffing will be disappointed (although I suppose you could partially breakdown the turkey leaving the breast and cavity intact – I have not tried this). The second con is purely aesthetic. You will not have the traditional roasted-turkey-on-a-platter photo for your social media feed. However, as you’ll see on the linked recipe, a broken-down bird can plate beautifully — and Normal Rockwell passed in 1978, so he’s not coming to paint your table.
I hope this helps make your COVID-challenged Thanksgiving a bit more pleasant. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Louie.
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