Spatchcocking — or butterflying — your Thanksgiving turkey will make it cook faster and taste better

  • Ragasa says he will spatchcock turkeys for his customers, but if you have a sharp knife or cleaver, you can quickly do it yourself. Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Terry Ragasa, co-owner of Sutter Meats in Northampton, Spachcocking a chicken. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Terry Ragasa, co-owner of Sutter Meats in Northampton, Spatchcocking a chicken. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Terry Ragasa, co-owner of Sutter Meats in Northampton, Spatchcocking a chicken. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Terry Ragasa, co-owner of Sutter Meats in Northampton, Spatchcocking a chicken. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Terry Ragasa, co-owner of Sutter Meats in Northampton, Spatchcocking a chicken. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The first step in spatchcocking is removing the backbone. Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ragasa demonstrates spatchcocking on a chicken as his store has not gotten its Thanksgiving turkeys in yet. Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Terry Ragasa, co-owner of Sutter Meats in Northampton, Spachcocking a chicken. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The process called spatchcocking, or butterflying, your turkey is a quick procedure that reaps big benefits, says Terry Ragasa of Sutter Meats in Northampton.

Staff Writer
Published: 11/4/2016 12:33:26 PM

It’s almost turkey time. And contrary to past experience, you don’t have to carve out half of Thanksgiving Day to cook your big bird.

By flattening the turkey with a technique called spatchcocking, essentially butterflying the carcass, there are only two hours of cooking time involved in producing a perfect holiday roast.

Spatchcocking not only makes the turkey cook faster, it allows it to roast more evenly, making for tastier meat.

“The bird is spending less time in the oven, you are getting a more concentrated flavor,” said Terry Ragasa, co-owner of Sutter Meats in Northampton.

Every year, his butchery on King Street sells turkeys, both spatchcocked and not, though there isn’t as much demand for the flattened birds. The reason, he speculates, is because people don’t realize how good they are.

“You get really nice, moist meat from both the top and the bottom of the bird,” he said.

“You will also get really nice, crispy skin that way, too.”

A typical 16-pound spatchcocked bird should cook for just 1½ hours at 400 degrees, says Ragasa. It feeds six to eight people for $90.

The largest 30-pound turkeys he sells shouldn’t take longer than 3½ hours at 400 degrees. These birds could cost as much as $145.

All Sutter turkeys are from Vermont farms and slaughtered on-site, he says, avoiding a stressful trip to the slaughterhouse before landing on Thanksgiving plates throughout western Massachusetts.

Sutter Meats gets its turkeys the weekend before Thanksgiving, but the store is already taking orders. 

Atkins Farms Country Market in Amherst typically doesn’t prepare spatchcocked birds, but will take special requests. It is now taking orders for turkeys from Diemand Farm in Wendell, which are sold at $3.99 per pound or $64 for a typical 16-pound bird. 

Whole Foods has spatchcocked turkeys, many of which come from a farm in Pennsylvania.

But if you have a sharp knife, you can spatchcock your own bird easily, said Ragasa. It shouldn’t take more than five minutes.

The only downfall is that you can’t stuff it, but since bread and turkey cook at different rates, it isn’t actually a drawback at all to cook the meat and dressing separately, Ragasa says.

You can use the drippings from your already cooked bird to flavor the dressing.

 Ragasa offers the following instructions to spatchcock your turkey:

Start at least a day ahead.

First, you must remove the backbone. 

Lay the turkey bird breast-down before cutting along the neck bone with a sharp knife or a cleaver.

Move the knife, a few inches deep, along the bone, working along the spine.

Cut through the ribs and get as close to the bone as possible, so you don’t lose any of the meat. 

Slice along each side of the backbone. Make sure to cut around the oyster meat, a soft morsel near where the hip and the breast connect. 

“That’s where my oysters will be,” Ragasa said pointing his knife at a bulge near the bird’s thigh the size of a silver dollar.

This meat is a particularly flavorful nugget, known as the most tender piece of poultry. It is easy to spot if you are looking for it. 

Once both sides of the spine are cut, the backbone should be easily freed from the rest of the bird. 

Then, flip the bird over again and press down on the chest like you are giving the turkey CPR to break the keel bone, a part of the breastbone that runs along the center of the bird. 

You’ll hear a crack before the chest cavity collapses. 

That’s it, the bird is flat.

If you want to make stock, consider cutting off the wing tips and cooking them with the backbone.

“They add really nice viscosity,” Ragasa said.

Once the bird is sprawled out and ready for the oven, Ragasa recommends taking the time to pat it with a dry, salt-based rub with rosemary and thyme.

Then, let it sit uncovered in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. The air circulating around the meat encourages the drying.

 “It’s almost like a curing of the meat,” he said.

The salt pulls out the water that is inside the meat and replaces it with seasoning.

“Through osmosis the salt will act as a vessel to carry in your seasoning without adding extra water so that it concentrates the flavor,” he said. “That way it will make the meat really tender. It will also allow the skin to become really crispy because of the loss of the excess water.”

To make the skin even crispier, you can move your hand under the skin to separate it from the meat, so it is loosely hanging from the bird. Once in the oven, hot air will circulate more easily under and around the skin.

Before roasting, let the turkey rest on the countertop for about 45 minutes to an hour until it comes to room temperature. This way you don’t shock the meat with the sudden heat.

“If you don’t do that, it’s not going to cook evenly and the meat will seize up quite a bit from going from your cold refrigerator to a really hot oven,” Ragasa said.

After the turkey is done, let it sit for about 45 minutes before carving to let the juices reincorporate into the meat.

“It’s going to continue to cook outside of the oven for a good amount of time,” he said.

“By that point it will be more than done and still juicy.”

“That’s it. It’s very simple.” Lisa Spear can be reached at lspear@gazettenet.com.




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