electronic Gourmet Guide

Cooking and Carving

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by Prof. Steve Holzinger


In "The Art of Carving, by the Reverend John Trusler, 1788, the title page quotes Lord Chesterfield,

"To do the honors of a table gracefully, is one of the out-lines of a well-bred man; and to carve well, little as it may seem, is useful twice every day, and the doing of which ill is not only troublesome to ourselves, but renders us disagreeable apt ridiculous to others."

          —Lord Chesterfield's Letters

In this edition of eGGsalad I will offer some personal notes on carving, as I see plenty of recipes but little about this art. Carving is one of my favorite tasks, and it was my first job in the food business. I carved a nice fat roaster chicken for you, to show you how to carve a turkey. ( I didn't have a turkey handy! Sorry.) See the Pictures folder for the step-by-step photos of carving the bird.

There is one thing in common with these three roasts, they are all best cooked slowly by dry heat in an oven, about 350 degrees F, and the cooking is not a very difficult technique. Internal temperature is the key to perfect roasts. Rare is 140 F, Medium is 160 F and Well Done is 180 F. The key to using the meat thermometer is to have the point of it at the center of the roast. I like the small fast acting stainless steel thermometers. You insert them in the right spot when you want to test. Taylor makes a good one that I have used with good results for years (about $12), and just came out with a digital one. I tried it. Not good, use the old dial type until they get their act together with the digital one. For a turkey, you want to insert it well into the armpit (between the leg and thigh) and 175-180 F is the correct temperature.

Roast Turkey

Be sure to roast the turkey with the legs to the back of the oven, where most ovens are hotter. Turkeys have pop up timers, that usually work well in the breast. Still, I check the leg. It should be soft and feel like it will divide into two muscles when done. The juice will run clear, not pink when pierced in the "armpit". I baste my turkey with butter, and make an old fashioned bread stuffing, to which I add chestnuts or oysters as the spirit moves me. One half a cup of stuffing per customer is the rule, but I make all I can, baking the rest in a pan. Then I can make Turkey Hash, which is the leftover dressing, and all the meat I can pick off the carcass and any left over meat, all mixed up, reheated under foil, and hot gravy over it!

No reason to worry about doing a Ham as well. Nothing I know serves such fine encores (we don't serve leftovers). No need to worry about what to have for breakfast on Boxing Day. My father used to mix Coca-Cola Fountain Syrup with mustard to glaze his hams. Use brown sugar and mustard to make a paste. I'm not fond of cloves, so I don't stud the ham. Instead I pare the fat away, down to a 1/4 inch rind, and rub on the paste.

I bake the ham on a rack with water under, so the sugar and mustard don't burn. I never much felt the need for gravy with ham. I serve apple sauce and cranberry sauce anyway, so that's enough for me. The Ocean Spray cranberries have good recipes right on the package. I won't bother to duplicate them, except to say they can be improved by adding a generous dollop of your favorite orange liqueur like Gran Marnier over the cranberry sauce when cool, and stirring it in. Don't tell the secret until they beg! Throw a few extra bags of cranberries for the summer in the freezer. A few bags keep better in a gallon freezer baggie. Carving Turkey

You can adjust the ham and turkey sizes to fit the appetites of you family and guests. Big ham, small turkey, or vice versa. If I buy a half a ham, I like the butt end better. Ask your butcher to remove the pelvic bone (haitch bone), so it will carve more easily. It is very easy to do. Save the bone for soup. Jones Farm, the sausage folks, are making absolutely divine hams, now. I tasted one. When you buy the ham, look for the words "fully cooked." This means you only need to get it to 140 F internal temperature. Roast the ham first, in the morning, then the turkey, and leave a little time to put the ham back in for a half an hour. Hams wait better than turkeys.

The secret of success in a Prime Rib is to buy a well marbled Choice rib, and get a butcher who knows his business to set it up for you. Speak to the butcher as follows:

"I want a Beef Rib , Roast Ready, Special, Tied, # 109A USDA Choice, well marbled.

"Remove the chine, exposing the lean meat, and remove and discard the feather bones, and backstrap. Open the fat cover and remove the blade bone and the deckle meat. Tie the fat cover back on in a uniform layer covering all the meat. From the end of the rib bones to the bottom of the eye, it should be 4 inches on the chuck end and 3 inches on the loin end, cut parallel to the chine. The rib should be netted or tied with at least 6 ties. In removing the chine bone, be sure that I will be able to carve through at every bone. This should weigh about 20 lbs."

That will impress the butcher to no end!

A Prime Rib like this will have seven bones, and if you carve with the bone on, there are two end cuts, and one cut on the bone, one cut off, equaling a total of 16 generous portions. Remove the bones and serve them separately, and you can do English or thin cuts, between 20 and thirty slices if you have a keen edge, a sharp eye and an experienced hand. Much easier to carve this way at the table, with the boned roast lying flat. (Remove the string and fat cover in the kitchen).

During the roasting process, I pour off the hot fat, but I don't throw it away. I pour the hot fat 1/4 inch deep into a pan or ramekins and pour the Yorkshire pudding batter into it, one after the other. I want to hear a sizzle as I pour. Then I know it won't stick. The pudding absorbs the fat and its flavor. When the roast is done, pour away most of the fat, add water to the pan to make the au jus gravy, which I like best on the Yorkshire pudding, not the meat.

When the roast is done, a good sign is that you will see an inch of exposed rib bones sticking out from the roast. The roast is done at just under 140 F, with the thermometer inserted into the center of the eye. If you can, leave it in while the meat rests, so it doesn't bleed out. It should rest 15—20 minutes before you cut it, top let the boiling juices settle down. In French this is called Reposer...to rest.

But there is NO REST for the weary! After this fine feast you will want to celebrate with some of my famous eggnog. Infamous is a better word for it. You can serve small cups of it after you flame the plum pudding. I gave you the recipe for it last month so you could age it a little. Next month or so, I will give you the fruit cake to end all fruit cakes. This is another fabulous recipe by a former student of mine, who you met in my Easter issue, and who did the Yorkshire Pudding in this one. You need to age it for a year. You will probably want to make the eggnog again for New Years eve, if you survive this years batch. This eggnog is NOT for the designated driver! Another test! There is a custom at Hanukkah of partaking of dairy dishes and oil fried foods. I offer the eggnog as the former, Latkes (potato pancakes) as the latter. A happy, if calorific, combination. It IS the season to eat, drink and be merry.

Perhaps as we approach this season of joy we can, like Scrooge, wake up and earnestly determine to do something about it.

At my school, NYC Tech, the students of the Hospitality Management Department and I have celebrated a tradition of giving meals to the poor. Each year, the students collect money, largely in single dollar donations, and food for a Christmas dinner they serve to the needy. A thousand meals are prepared and served to the hungry by my students, proudly wearing their best Chef's Whites and Toque Blanche. When I retired last year, a fund to help this Christmas Dinner was established in my name. You can share our joy, by sending a check to the "Holiday Meal, NYC Tech Foundation, 300 Jay Street, Namm 310, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11201-2985."

TIP: Don't throw the fat away. Pack it in layers in foil loaf pans or freezer baggies. Then when you make thick soups like pea, bean or lentil, you can take it out and julienne or dice it to make the smoky tasting fat for sautéing the soup mirepoix. Save the bones and trimmings in the same baggie, Waste not, want not.

eGGsalad Archive

All About Knives and Carving


© 1996, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.


This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.

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Modified March 2007