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Courtesy of Fine Cooking

Boning an uncooked turkey is easier than it sounds, and the 20 minutes of concentrated knife work it requires are worth its many benefits: shorter roasting time, unique presentation and compact storage of leftovers. The leg and wing bones remain intact, so the turkey still looks like a turkey when it comes to the table. But without the breastbones and backbone, carving is infinitely easier. Also, the raw bones from the main carcass produce a rich turkey stock, which you can then use to make an excellent gravy.

The photos guide you through each step of the process. Just remember that your goal is to remove the central carcass with as little flesh on it as possible and without tearing up the meat. A sharp boning knife is essential for this task, but much of the work can actually be done with your thumb and forefinger. The serious knifework comes at the wing and thigh joints, where tough ligaments connect muscle to bone. If things get murky along the way, take a moment to figure out what's holding everything together and then make a critical snip or two with the knife. Finally, you'll need a long skewer for stitching up the bird after it's stuffed.


Separate the wing and thigh bones from the main skeleton
1. Remove the giblets and set them aside. Set the turkey, breast side down, on a stable work surface with the tail facing toward you. With a sharp boning knife, cut a straight line through the skin along the length of the backbone.
2. Wedge the tip of the knife between the backbone and the skin at the top left hand side of the bird and, staying as close to the bone as possible, cut away the flesh between the backbone and the shoulder blade. Continue cutting away around this bone until you reach the wing joint. Use your thumb to free as much of the meat from the bone around the joint as you can and identify the connective tissues that will need to be snipped.
3. With the blade pointing directly at the joint, cut the connective tissues. With a twisting motion, separate the wing from its socket.
4. Working on the same side of the bird, use your knife and fingers to separate the flesh from the bone until you get to the joint where the hip meets the thigh. With the heel of your hand, press downward on the thigh until you feel it come free. Locate the tendons that connect the thigh bone to the hip socket and then snip those tendons. Cut any remaining connective tissue around the thigh joint, and free the thigh meat from the central skeletal structure. Using your thumb and knife as necessary, free the breast and thigh meat from the central skeletal structure all the way down to the sternum, which is the piece of cartilage that runs the length of the breast. The flesh is now freed from one half of the bird. Repeat steps 2 through 4 on the other side of the turkey. The bird should now be butterflied, with the carcass attached only at the sternum.
Cut through the sternum to remove the skeleton
5. With one long cut, remove the central skeletal structure: Wrap one hand firmly around the bony carcass and use the other to cut through the cartilage of the sternum. Cut through 1/16 inch of the cartilage, lifting the carcass away and being careful not to cut through the flesh or skin beneath the sternum. Continue cutting from front to back until the carcass is freed.
Stuff the bird, stitch it up, and roast
6. Season the flesh of the turkey with salt, pepper, nutmeg and sage. Pack the dressing into a large egg shape on top of the breast meat, and then bring the sides up and around to enclose the dressing. Use a long bamboo or metal skewer to stitch the skin together vertically up the length of the bird. Pack in any loose bits of stuffing and fold the wing tips back. Turn the turkey over and set it in the roasting pan. Without its central skeleton, the turkey may look slightly disfigured. Press the turkey into shape and then season it with more salt, pepper, nutmeg and sage. The bones you removed will reduce the overall weight of your turkey by about 25 percent, so cut down the roasting time by that same amount. A 12- to 14-pound bird will need about 3 hours.To carve the boned bird, first pull out the skewer. Use a sharp knife to detach the wings at the wing joint. Starting at the back cavity, cut across the breast so each slice has a round of stuffing sandwiched by breast meat. Support the stuffing with a carving fork as you lay it on the platter. When you get to the legs, remove them where the thigh connects to the body. Then continue slicing across the bird as before.  
-Greg Atkinson is the executive chef at Canlis restaurant in Seattle. Photos: Ben Fink. An Online Extra from FC #35, p. 26.

Cooking Methods
Boning a Whole Turkey
Basics of Cooking
Seasonal Versatility
Measuring Temperature
Cooking Whole Turkey
Cooking Small Parts
Turkey Stock
Heating & Holding

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