Meat carvers explain the kindest cut of all

November 18, 1998|By Rob Kasper

THIS YEAR I FEEL ready to attempt the horizontal cut, right in the middle of the Thanksgiving table.

The horizontal cut is one of the turkey-carving moves touted by the nation's slicing elite. They are the group of knife-wielding professionals who are so confident of the way they handle sharpened steel that they happily slice the turkey at the table while everybody is watching.

During the carving season - from now until New Year's - guys like me, master-carver wannabes, are looking for tips from the pros on how to slice the bird without embarrassing ourselves.

Several years ago, I thought I had found a way around the nation's major turkey-carving problem - getting the legs off the bird without sending turkey parts shooting around the room.

A turkey with its legs off is a carver's delight, presenting the knife-wielder with ideal, unencumbered surfaces begging to be sliced. Master carvers, the big showoffs, like to slice off the legs after the bird has been cooked. My solution had been to remove the legs before the turkey went into the oven.

I did this because, in my experience, a turkey does not willingly let go of its legs. I found it was much easier to perform the necessary leg-removing maneuver when the bird was uncooked and cold, not sizzling hot.

Moreover, once the uncooked legs had been removed, they could be put in a pan and baked separately. This procedure, which I picked up from Julia Child in one of her cookbooks, also helped deal with the common turkey-cooking dilemma of drying out one part of the bird as you wait for other parts to finish cooking. When the legs reside in a separate pan, they can either linger in the oven after the rest of the bird has left, or if necessary, they can exit early.

One drawback of the get-the-legs-off-early procedure was that it hurt the visual appeal of the cooked bird. A bird that arrived at the table with its legs off did not present the traditional turkey look. To cope with this problem, I tried to spruce up the appearance of the legless bird by reuniting its parts.

On a previous Thanksgiving, I propped the severed legs against the body of the cooked bird.

The reunited look did not impress the diners. Rather than looking like glistening parts of a golden whole, the legs looked like drunks leaning against lampposts.

One of this bird's more vocal critics, one of our sons, has told me he wants our Thanksgiving turkey to look like Rockefeller. He meant Rockwell, as in Norman Rockwell, the artist whose renderings of Thanksgiving always seem to include a dad carving a turkey, with legs, at the table.

So, in preparation for this year's feast, I have been reading about "the horizontal cut" and other Rockwell-like carving procedures. The horizontal cut appears to be the big thing in bird slicing. I found it in books like "On Cooking: Techniques From Expert Chefs" by Sarah R. Labensky and Alan M. Hause (Prentice Hall, 1995) and in a carving tip sheet sent out by the makers of Chef'sChoice knives and knife sharpeners.

fTC According to these sharpies, when the turkey comes out of the oven, I should let it cool while I sharpen my knife. Then, the experts tell me, I should start the carving process by removing the leg and thigh in one piece by cutting through the joint.

Next, I should slice away only the tip and center sections of the wings, leaving the last section of the wing on the bird. Keeping this part of the wing on the body of the bird, the experts tell me, gives the bird a stable base that helps prevent the tilting turkey syndrome, a situation that often occurs during the slicing of the turkey breast.

Finally, comes the cut I have been waiting for, the horizontal cut. To do this, I should place the knife just above the remaining wing part and slice sideways, toward the rib bones. Once a turkey breast has been subjected to the horizontal cut, the next move is much easier.

That would be the traditional vertical cut, the one in the Norman Rockwell painting that the dad employs to produce picturesque slices of meat.

Lately, I have been practicing horizontal cuts on loaves of bread. So after this Thanksgiving, my family will either call me Norman Rockwell or buy me an electric knife.

Pub Date: 11/18/98

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