Experts offer tips for a pared-down Thanksgiving turkey

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      Thanksgiving tradition involves you serving turkey and then watching as your guests pass out on the couch in a happy food coma. The problem is, you may not be feeding enough mouths to warrant roasting a whole bird. Or you may just not want the hassle and stress of such a big undertaking. But fear not! Two chefs and a turkey farmer have come to the rescue with inspiration for inventive turkey dishes suitable for smaller gatherings.

      Kathy Robbins, co-owner of K & M Farms (28494 Maclure Road, Abbotsford), which raises free-range turkeys, suggests buying a three- to four-pound turkey roast (boneless, with white and dark meat) as an alternative to a whole turkey. You could also go with breasts for individual portions for your guests. Over the phone, she explains that she likes to marinate the breasts overnight in buttermilk to tenderize them, and roast them in the oven on top of stuffing (which could include turkey sausage). Alternatively, for a crunchy texture, you could bread them in panko and minced fresh herbs, such as rosemary and sage, and pan-fry them.

      If you don’t mind firing up the barbie, you could cut the breasts into strips, or buy turkey tenders, and thread the meat onto skewers for grilling. Or tenders would work for stir-fries in an Asian spin on Thanksgiving.

      Robbins says ground turkey is another great option for those wanting a taste of turkey for the holiday. She adds that K & M Farms ground turkey has thigh meat, in addition to breast meat, for added flavour. For her family, she makes lettuce wraps that feature a stir-fried mixture of ground turkey, red pepper, onion, green beans, celery, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sambal oelek. She also uses ground turkey for meatballs, which she serves in a cranberry-orange barbecue sauce or a spaghetti sauce, and in meat loaf. Robbins often makes a turkey-quinoa meat loaf, topped with barbecue sauce and mashed potatoes, which she bakes in muffin tins to make mini meat loaves.

      Instead of struggling to carve a whole bird, you could serve guests elegant slices of turkey roulade. Over the phone, Elizabeth Bryan, chef-owner of Dock Lunch (152 East 11th Avenue), recommends either deboning a leg and thigh yourself or getting your butcher to do the job. For this dish, she then rubs the meat under the skin, and on the underside, with a decadent mélange of butter, garlic, thyme, hazelnuts, and smoked schinkenspeck (cured German ham/bacon). She wraps the deboned turkey meat around cornbread, cranberry, celery, and leek stuffing, and then ties it up in a few places before roasting it in the oven.

      Bryan likes to give Thanksgiving a southern twist, since her family is from the Deep South of the U.S. She says that you can buy smoked turkey legs and thighs, chop the meat up, and then use it to make gumbo-laya (a combo of gumbo and jambalaya), along with onion, celery, bell pepper, andouille sausage, and even prawns and red beans if you want an ultra-hearty dish. You’d serve it with rice “dirtied” with turkey liver. Bryan says chopped smoked turkey would also be delicious in Hoppin’ John, a southern pilaf of tomato, onion, celery, and black-eyed peas (for good luck).

      “With turkey, the options are endless because the breast is so versatile,” says Peter Isacu, executive chef of Seasons in the Park (Queen Elizabeth Park, West 33rd Avenue at Cambie Street), during a chat at the restaurant. Last year, Seasons served 600 turkey dinners at Thanksgiving, so Isacu definitely knows his turkey. He says that basically, turkey breast can be used as a substitute in any recipe that calls for chicken or veal.

      For example, instead of veal, he says you could pound slices of turkey breast until thin and whip up a scaloppine in lemon butter or a Marsala sauce. Your favourite braises and stews could be transformed by turkey, such as chicken à la king, a dish that usually involves diced chicken in a mushroom cream sauce served over rice. You could also offer your guests turkey pot pie, Isacu says, which would be a lovely autumn supper. And instead of fried chicken, Isacu says you could lightly flour turkey wings and deep-fry them.

      Isacu understands the need to have turkey, even for a modest gathering, since his kids would revolt if they didn’t have it for Thanksgiving. If dinner seems too daunting, he suggests celebrating with a brunch at which you serve eggs Benny with slices of roasted turkey breast in place of the usual ham, or sandwiches of roasted turkey-breast slices with cranberry mayo, provolone, and arugula on ciabatta.

      Even sans the whole bird, you’ll be stuffed, with your turkey craving more than satisfied.