How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Different times call for different measures.

This year we do not need this 18-pound centerpiece for the table.

In fact, being #saferathome means my husband and I will be on our own for the Thanksgiving meal. And I am okay with that. If the pandemic has taught me one thing, it is how to manage my expectations.

Meanwhile, we still need 8-quarts of poultry stock and 7 pounds of turkey meat to make our twenty-quart pot of Bruce’s Turkey and Sausage GumboMy adult children and their families look forward to getting their Thanksgiving gumbo in to-go containers every year and it is my pleasure and honor to do this for them. It is my family I am most thankful for in my life.

Since it is 2020 and we have been trying all sorts of new things in every aspect of our lives, I decided it was as good a time as ever for my husband and me to try our hand at spatchcocking a turkey. He was game!

What does spatchcock mean and why do we do it? Spatchcock is a butchering technique where you remove the backbone of poultry. This allows you to open and flatten the chest cavity for faster and more even roasting.

When the bird is turned over, it looks like this.

I cooked this turkey in a 400º oven for 1 hour and 45 minutes. The meat was super moist and the skin was crisp.

The bird weighed 16.5 pounds to start. Once I removed the innards, the wingtips, and the backbone, it weighed 13.5 pounds. After it was roasted and my sweet husband took all the meat off the bones, we had 7 pounds of meat. Each breast provided us with two pounds. The bones all went into the poultry stock that had been simmering all day. I started the stock with frozen rotisserie chicken carcasses from the freezer. Read about that here.

How to spatchcock a turkey.

A Mennonite farmer once told us any job is possible if you have the proper tool. The proper tool for this job is a pair of poultry shears. This is crazy, but we had a pair of these shears in our house and I never knew what they were for. In fact, I almost got rid of them because they were not good at cutting paper when I couldn’t find the scissors I wanted!

Poultry shears have sharp, curved blades helpful for getting into hard to reach places when deboning meat. They remind me of pruning shears – the handles help you get a good grip so you can squeeze down hard as you cut. Plain scissors will work, but there will be a little more huffing and puffing involved.

How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Defrost the bird. Remove the neck and gizzards from inside the two cavities, one on each end of the turkey. Wash the bird inside and out. Pat dry.

Lay the bird breast-side down. The wings should be on top.

Remove the backbone with poultry shears. First, one side of the spine

and then the other. CRUNCH! CRUNCH! CRUNCH!

Save the backbone for the turkey stock.

Flip the bird over and press down on the sternum, aka the breastbone, located between the breasts, as if to do CPR. Repeat, moving your hands down along the sternum, until you no longer hear crunching as you press.

We practiced spatchcocking two different sized turkeys during the week. The smaller one splayed out flatly with just the chest compressions. The larger one needed a little more help to flatten it. My husband turned the breast over and used a meat cleaver to cut into the sternum to split the chest open a little more.

 

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How to Cook the Bird 

We cooked one in the oven and the other on the grill. I’ll show you the oven method first.

Preheat oven to 400º.

Arrange the bird on a roasting pan. Rub olive oil all over it, top and bottom, and season with a generous amount of salt and garlic pepper. I use McCormick’s Garlic Pepper.

The hottest part of an oven is the two back corners. Place the roasting pan in the oven, so the thick breasts are in the back.

I cooked the bird for an hour and fifteen minutes and then started checking the meat’s temperature every ten minutes. I checked the temperature in many spots — the thickest part of the breast, the thickest part of the thigh, etc. As long as every section registers at least 165º the turkey is safely cooked. I shoot for 160º because, after many years of cooking, I understand the concept of “carryover” heat and know that as the turkey rests, the internal temperature will climb to 165º. The concept is well described in this post.

I let the turkey rest on the counter for about 30 minutes and then poured off and saved the drippings for my poultry stock.

Before I added the drippings to the stock, I poured them into a fat separator to remove the fat.

When my husband and I spatchcocked the other turkey earlier in the week, we cooked it on a grill using indirect heat.

Don’t ask me what got into me; all that frilly seasoning was unnecessary! The flavor profile was a FAIL; too sagey and lemony.

Having said that, it sure was fun to decorate!

And it sounded lovely in all of its crackly glory as it roasted in the grill.

 

That turkey was 13.5 pounds before I opened the sack. It was done in 75 minutes. It was as moist as the oven-roasted turkey.

So, that is the end of my spatchcocking saga. I’ve got my eight quarts of gelatinous poultry stock and seven pounds of turkey meat.

Later this week, I will gather all the ingredients for Bruce’s gumbo and get busy chopping. For now, I’ll rest on my laurels

knowing this is in my future.

The recipe that is trending on my blog this morning is Karen’s Foolproof Make-Ahead GravyIt is delicious!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! I am grateful to all the folks who read my blog, make the recipes, and write to share their experiences. Thank you. You give me joy!

If you need last-minute instructions on how to cook a few traditional sides and desserts for Thanksgiving, check out Thanksgiving Week on the Menu.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may not be reproduced without the written consent of Judy Wright.

The Fabulously Colorful Asteraceae Plant Family

Warning: Reading this may lead to a fondness for dandelions.

What do these flowers have in common?

Zinnias

Sunflowers

Cosmos

Marigolds

Asters

Goldenrod

Dandelions

Artichokes

Artichokes?

I’ll give you a hint, the artichoke is a bud! If left to mature on the plant, it will produce hundreds of purple, narrow-tubed flowers cradled in one base.

These flowering plants are all part of the Asteraceae Family.

Plants are placed in families based on characteristics they share. These flower heads are all round and have a flat central disc. While each flower appears to be a single flower, all Asteraceae flowers are actually a composite of many small flowers, each with their own reproductive parts, packed densely into one receptacle.

The flowers in the center disc are called disc florets and those surrounding it are ray florets.

As beautiful as flowers are to us humans, flowers are trying to impress insects and birds. Pollination is the primary objective of a flower. Once pollination happens, the flower withers and dies. Pollination activates the fertilization of seeds, ensuring reproduction of the plant. Both ray and disc florets have all the necessary reproductive parts.

Another feature of plants in the Asteraceae family is their sepal-like leaves, called bracts, on the flower head’s underside. Bracts surround and protect the base of the plant where the seeds mature. They are arranged in either an overlapping or a linear pattern.
 

 

I took a few bracts off to see the seeds beneath — they are packed in there!

Rings of new disc florets emerge gradually in an orderly fashion from the disc’s outside perimeter to the center. A cone-shaped arrangement forms as the underlying seeds grow larger and require more space. This was a marvelous insight for me; one of the traits we love about zinnias is how long the flowers last. They last that long to ensure that every ovule (pre-seed) gets fertilized.

If you dissect a flower head, you can see the many seeds at various stages of maturation.

A good visual of a composite flower head is the sunflower.

Sunflowers are a bee magnet. We hear a lot about the benefits of growing “pollinator” plants in a garden. You need look no further than plants in the Asteraceae family for colorful flowers that attract insects.

The end result is hundreds of sunflower seeds to eat and ensure reproduction.

Not all Asteraceae plants have both ray and disc florets. A few species have one or the other. Dandelions, for example, are comprised of ray florets only. With my new appreciation of flowering plants, I don’t think I will be as quick to pull dandelions out of my vegetable garden anymore. After all, my Sicilian immigrant grandmothers picked dandelion leaves to eat. The leaves are a good source for vitamin C. During early times, the cool-weather plants were grown in kitchen gardens for settlers to eat to prevent scurvy.

Artichokes are comprised of all disc florets. The bristles that make up the choke are actually hundreds of very immature flowers.

Knowing this, I forevermore will say a prayer of gratitude when I remove those less edible filaments from a stuffed artichoke. For without the choke, we would not get seeds for more artichokes! THAT would be a travesty.

Studying and photographing the unfolding reproductive cycle of flowers in my garden has been a source of joy, a saving grace, and a silver lining of diversion while living through this crazy pandemic. I am grateful to my mother for instilling in me a love of gardening and to Mother Nature for providing everything I need to grow food in my backyard. I hope to inspire others, most especially children, to experience the peace and thrill of planting a seed, watching it grow, and being a witness to the beauty of the natural world.

A moth imbibing in nectar.

 

If there are cool-weather plants such as asters, cosmos, chickory, or chrysanthemums in your yard, maybe cut one open and see for yourself!

I am grateful to my fellow naturalist and Instagram friend, Rose Marie Trapani, for sending me a flowering artichoke in the MAIL so I could dissect it. That’s a whole ‘nother story! You can follow Rose Marie @oursiciliantable on Instagram.

Related Posts
How to Build a 4 x 4 Raised Garden Bed
Winter Floral Arrangements Using Greenery from the Yard
Lemon Tree Very Pretty
Family Dirt
Edible Landscaping with Nashville Foodscapes

© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may not be reproduced without the written consent of Judy Wright.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

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It’s Sweet Potato Season!

I love sweet potatoes!

Sweet potato plants are typically grown from slips as opposed to seeds. The slips are created from baby vines that sprout on stored sweet potatoes.

If you gently detach the vines and place them in a jar with a little water, they will send out roots and start to leaf. Those little plants are called slips.

On commercial farms, slips are planted in late spring or early summer. Sweet potatoes are tropical plants and love the heat of summer.

The next photos were taken on sweet potato planting day at Delvin Farms in College Grove, Tennessee, on June 8, 2015.

Thousands of sweet potato slips were planted.

I have a fascination for farm machines that get a job done in simple, efficient ways. This sweet potato planter is ingenious.

As the tractor moves forward, farmers in the red trailer feed sweet potato slips into a device that drops them in the ground, covers them with dirt, and gives them a sip of water from the yellow tank.

Let’s look a little closer. Here are the guys dropping the slips into a feeder one by one.

At the soil level, a stationary v-grooved piece of metal cuts a thin gully in the dirt. The slip drops into the gulley, and two fixed metal wheels move the side soil around the slip as the tractor moves forward. A squirt of water is given to each plant from the yellow tank. Ingenious, right?!

Beautiful!

In three to four months, the sweet potatoes will be ready for harvest.

In 2012, I planted about 15 sweet potato slips in a 4 x 13-foot raised bed. I had a very low yield, as you can see from the photo below. I never grew them again; they took up too much real estate for the yield. In retrospect, I suspect my soil was too rich from the nitrogen in the compost I added. Nitrogen leads to lots of leaf growth and not so much root growth, something to think about when growing root crops. The chickens, however, were thrilled to scratch for worms and insects in the newly turned soil. That was the plus.

With this not so productive past experience trying to grow sweet potatoes, you might imagine how excited I was to walk out of the YMCA  just as the Y’s landscaping team was converting the entryway garden from summer to winter plants. The summer garden was filled with flowers and ornamental sweet potato vines such as the lime-green Margaritas, the blackish-purple Sweethearts, and the grayish-green, pink-veined Tricolors.

The cool-weather planting consisted of pansies.

What caught my attention was the three mature sweet potatoes sitting on the brick ledge.

Hey landscaping company, I was that crazy, astonished woman who walked by and asked if the sweet potatoes really came out of the raised bed. “Of course,” they said. In all my years of planting window boxes in Boston as a newlywed, I never grew a sweet potato from the ornamental vines. It never occurred to me that the vines would grow vegetables.

That is what I love about growing food — there is always something to learn, and often what you learn is astonishing!

All of this leads to why, on March 26, 2020, I decided to drop a sprouting sweet potato from my larder into the dirt near the raised bed where I was planting unsweet potatoes.

Fast forward to May 16th when I spied a random clump of leaf growth in one of the dirt paths between the raised beds. It took me a minute to figure out the leaves were from the sweet potato I had planted.

Five months later, to my surprise and delight, I dug up five pounds of sweet potatoes; a few potatoes from each of those vines that turned into individual slips!

While digging up the potatoes, I found this spidery-looking thing in the dirt. I’m guessing it was the mother sweet potato.

This variety of sweet potato is so delicious and richly colored, I am going to try and spout it for a potato crop next year. Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of the variety.

I washed a few potatoes to use for my favorite quick dinner — Sheet Pan Supper: Italian Sausage, Peppers, Onions, and Potatoes. I forgot to add the onions! The white potatoes came from the yard, as well.

Sometimes I spiralize the sweet potatoes–for fun.

I mix the potato core from the spiralizer and the slinky-like potatoes with olive oil, garlic pepper, and salt, and roast them in a 425º oven. We call this side dish Nuts and Bolts Potatoes.

Here are a few other ways to prepare sweet potatoes.

Mrs. Lombard’s Portuguese Kale Soup

Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes

Roasted Butternut Squash (or Sweet Potatoes), Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries

Melissa’s Sweet Potato Casserole

Pumpkin (or Sweet Potato) Bread Pudding

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

Always check my blog for the latest version of a recipe.

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© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Migrating Purple Martins Pass through Nashville

Here in Nashville, Mother Nature has given us a brief diversion from COVID, #SaferAtHome, Zoom meetings, FaceTiming, home-schooling, cooking, cleaning, weeding, and searching for a good movie on Netflix.

She has given us reason to “ooh” and “aah,” followed by a peaceful, easy feelin’.

She has done it all by sending us waves and swirls of Purple Martins coming in to roost after a day spent foraging for insects along the Cumberland River. The birds come to fatten up for their 4000-mile flight to Brazil and other areas of the Amazon Rainforest. I’d call this swarming a murmuration, but I’m not sure if that term is reserved for starlings only.

My niece, Elizabeth, was with my husband and me and captured the sky dance of the Purple Martins in this video shot at 7:00. Like I said, lots of “oohs” and “aahs” and even a “Holy S#$%” in there.

 

I learned about the Purple Martins roosting in Nashville yesterday in a New York Times column written by my friend, Margaret Renkl. Her article is definitely worth reading, as are all of her weekly Monday opinion pieces in the Times. Click here for a link to the story, A 150,000-Bird Orchestra in the Sky.

I am not sure how long the birds will be in Nashville. We drove downtown and parked in front of the Schermerhorn around 6:40 p.m. At first, we didn’t see any birds and figured we had missed them. Then, suddenly, they started to show up by the hundreds. It was exciting! We were glad we had made an effort to go downtown.

The trees were full of roosting birds.

The sky dance was extraordinary and just what I needed to get re-energized during a blah COVID-fighting week.

Take care and in the words of Dr. James Hildreth and Dr. Alex Jahangir, Nashvillians docs who have been leading our city in its fight against COVID, along with our Mayor, John Cooper, “We’ve got this Nashville.”

COVID Projects
How to Build a 4 x 4 Raised Bed Starter Garden
Upbeat Movies to Watch While Social-Distancing
How to Make Gorgeous Birdhouse Gourds
How to Make Artisan Bread the Easy Way
How to Make Greek Yogurt at Home
Marion’s Crazy Good Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips
Fall Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden
Putting Your Garden to Bed with a Blanket of Cover Crops

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

Always check my blog for the latest version of a recipe.

If you enjoyed this post to become a follower, please be sure to press “confirm” on the follow-up letter that will be sent to your email address.

© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.