Carving Turkey

Carving Turkey (Metro Creative Photo)

Marc Alvarez's wife wishes Marc would just roast the whole bird. But chefs are chefs, and they know better than anyone that roasting a whole turkey isn't the best way to do it. By the time the thighs are cooked, the breast meat is dry.

Alvarez, whose Internet-based food delivery service Concierge Foods ( recently expanded into Fairfield County, says he's going to make both his wife and himself happy this year. He's cooking two birds. One will be a heritage breed, a Narragansett. The other will be a broad-breasted bronze, a cross between the ubiquitous broad-breasted white and a heritage American bronze. Both the Narragansett and broad-breasted bronze have been raised in pastures on small farms. The Narragansett comes from Lancaster, Pa. The broad-breasted bronze is raised by John Boy Farms in Cambridge, N.Y. Farmer John Ubaldo supplements his turkeys' foraging with feed he grows himself.

Heritage turkeys have more flavor but narrower breasts than the broad-breasted white. Farmer John says his broad-breasted bronze have the best of both breeds. Experts recommend cooking heritage turkeys "slow and low." Alvarez, who was a chef at Crispo Restaurant in New York City before becoming a personal chef to fashion designer Donna Karan (and other celebrities whose names he won't let me print), says you can also start the turkey out at a high temperature to "crisp up the skin," and then lower the temperature to keep the turkey moist.

Alvarez's favorite method is to bone out the breast and thighs, season them, and tie them up "to make nice little roasts" that take about 25 minutes to cook. He chops up the carcass, roasts it and makes turkey stock. He simmers the giblets for gravy. "I use the roasted turkey stock with the giblet stock to make a fortified gravy," he says.

If boning out a turkey sounds like too much work, you can just cut off the thighs and cook them separately from the breast. One Thanksgiving, when my husband and I were unable to travel to his sister's, we bought turkey thighs rather than a whole bird. Last year, we cut one of John Boy's fresh turkeys in half, roasted one half, and froze the other. Later in the year, I defrosted the livers and used them in pâté.

This year, Alvarez will roast a second turkey whole so his wife and family can enjoy seeing the bird carved at the table.

He won't stuff it. "I never stuff the turkey. I make the stuffing separately because I like a little crispness," he says. Here's another chef trick. He rolls stuffing in buttered tin foil and bakes it. "A tube of stuffing can fit into the side of an oven when you have a multitude of pans in the oven," he says. "You can cut it into nice little rounds."

If you haven't ordered a heritage turkey by now, try your luck by checking out Fairfield Green Food Guide's 2011 Guide to Local and Heritage Turkeys.