Okay, so if you're reading this article, chances are good that you did the thing you were most afraid of doing and burned the holiday bird. Maybe you smelled the smoke before the alarm went off. Maybe not. If you're lucky, everyone is still out in the living room watching the game, and not in here, reading this over your shoulder. (If they are: Hi family! Don't worry. Dinner may take a little longer than expected, but we got this. Grab a few chips and get back to the game.)
Alright, now that it's just us, let's get this thing sorted. Step one: Grab a glass of wine to steady your nerves, and check on the rest of the Thanksgiving sides. Everything okay there? Potatoes coming along? Hopefully you've got some stuffing on the stove, and a casserole or Thanksgiving salad ready. So: No one is going to starve today. That's important to remember.
Now. Step two: Inspect the bird. How burnt is it? Choose your answer from the list below, and we'll go from there.
1. It's actually more singed than burnt.
Okay, great! It looks like you caught it in time. It's possible the family doesn't even know, and you're just looking at some singed skin, and perhaps a little dry and/or overcooked meat on the breast and wings. This is the best possible bad situation to be in, and the solution is pretty straightforward.
First, forget about carving the turkey in front of everyone. Norman Rockwell was great and all, but it's not that important of an event. Instead, you can cut up the meat and plate it in the kitchen. If you arrange it nicely enough, no one might even know what happened.
Simply use a knife to remove the blackened skin and/or the dry meat, looking for where it starts to look tender and juicy again. Then from there, start cutting the meat (against the grain) into medallions, and put them on your prettiest platter (so it looks a little like this recipe). When everyone asks why you cut it ahead of time, you can just laugh and say "Oh, carving the turkey in front of everyone's such a process. I figured it would be easier if we could all just help ourselves." Then change the subject by asking about the game. Boom. Problem solved.
If you need more help, here's a quick guide to carving a turkey for reference.
2. I'm going to be honest: It's pretty burnt.
Okay, okay. All it not yet lost. First, give it a little time to cool and/or stop smoking. Maybe now is a good time to mash up those potatoes. Now, if the skin is entirely blackened and the breast meat is dried out and looking a little chewy, this is the time to use the power of moisture. Just like the first situation above, you're going to want to carve the turkey ahead of time. But we'll need to tend to the meat a little before we can serve it. Chances are that toward the center of the bird, the breast meat is fine — and the legs and thighs may be okay, too. Peel off all the burnt skin, cut it into medallions, and put the good stuff up front. For the dryer stuff, this is your time to use the gravy: Thin the gravy out a little with some extra stock or water, and then let that dry meat really soak in it. Just pour it all over, and let it sit. If it's super dry, put it in on a microwavable plate, cover it with a bowl, and nuke it for just 20-30 seconds. This should help steam it a little, and soften it up.
You may not be able to pass this off as perfectly cooked, but it should still be edible, even tasty if there's enough gravy on it, and hopefully your family is forgiving.
3. This is a very burnt bird.
Ah. Yes. Okay. Well, hopefully the folks at the fire department were understanding, and you're able to eventually get rid of the smell. But if you have a completely blackened and inedible turkey then you probably already know this, but we need to tell you that there's just no bringing it back. We're sorry for you in this time of loss, but remember that this will be a story your family will enjoy telling for years and years. In the meantime, if there are enough side dishes (and they escaped the fire) then go ahead and dig in! We always thought the turkey was a little overrated anyway. It's the Thanksgiving pie that's the best part of the meal. And if there's really nothing salvageable, well, perhaps you should pour another glass of wine and peruse this list of restaurants that are open on Thanksgiving. It may be the best option.
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