NOTES ON DE-BONING:

It's helpful to keep the following in mind:

  • Your goal is to end up with one large piece of essentially boneless turkey meat; the finished product will contain only the tip end of each leg bone and the first two joints of each wing. You will end up with one piece of completely boneless duck meat and one piece of completely boneless chicken meat.
  • Be careful not to pierce the skin except for the initial slits. (Cuts in the skin tend to enlarge during cooking and make the end result less attractive as well as drier.)
  • Allow yourself plenty of time, especially if you're a beginner. And even if you are experienced, approach the de-boning procedure with a gentle, careful touch - - the meat is not tough and you want to end up with as much of it as possible.
  • De-bone one side of each bird - - either the left or right - - before doing the other side.
  • Use a sharp knife and use mainly the tip; stay close to the bone at all times with the knife.
  • It's worth the time and effort!

 

TO DE-BONE A TURKEY

Place the turkey, breast down, on a flat surface. Make an incision the entire length of the spine through the skin and flesh. Starting from the neck end and using the tip of the knife, follow as close to the bone as you can cut, carefully teasing the skin and meat away from the frame. Toward the neck end, cut through the meat to expose the shoulder blade (feel for it first and cut through small amounts of meat at a time if you have trouble locating it); cut the meat away from around the bone and sever the bone at the joint so you can remove the blade.

Disjoint the wing between the second and third joint; free the heavy drumstick of the wing and remove it, being careful to leave the skin intact. Continue teasing the meat away from the backbone, heading toward the thighbone and being careful to keep the "oyster" (pocket of meat on the back) attached to the skin instead of leaving it with the bone.

Cut through the ball-and-socket joint to release the thighbone from the carcass; you should now be able to open up the bird more in order to better see what bones are still left to deal with. Continue teasing the meat away from the carcass until you reach the center front of the breastbone. Then, very carefully separate the skin from the breastbone at the midline without piercing the skin (go slowly because the skin is very thin at this point).

Repeat the same de-boning procedure on the other side (left or right) of the turkey, with the turkey still breast down. When both sides are finished, carefully remove the carcass. Then remove the thighbone and leg bone on each side as follows. Being careful not to break through the skin, use a small hammer to break the leg bone completely across, about two inches from the tip end. Then manipulate both ends of the bone with your hands to be sure the break is complete. Leave the tip of the bone in, but remove the leg bone and thighbone as one unit. To do this, cut the meat away from around the thighbone first, using the knife tip; then, holding the thighbone up with one hand, use the other hand to carefully cut the meat away from around the leg-thigh joint. (Don't cut through this joint, and don't worry if it seems as if you're leaving a lot of meat around the joint - - it can't be helped and, besides, it will add flavor when you make the stock with the bones!) Then use the blade of the knife to scrape the meat away from the leg bone; remove the leg-thigh bone. With your hands or the knife, one by one remove as many pin bones from the leg meat as possible; then, if necessary, pull the tip of the leg bone to turn the meat to the inside (so the skin is on the outside and it looks like a turkey again). Lay the de-boned turkey on a sheet pan and immediately place in the coldest part of the refrigerator.

NOTE: Reserve the bones and neck for making the Poultry Stock.

NOTE: Reserve and refrigerate the giblets for making the Cornbread Dressing.

 

TO DE-BONE A DUCK

Place the duck, breast down, on a flat surface and follow the same procedure as you did to de-bone the turkey, except this time you will remove all the bones, instead of leaving in part of the wing and leg bones. To de-bone each wing, cut off the first two joints of the wing (and save for stock), leaving the wing's drumstick; cut the meat from around the drumstick and remove this bone. When you reach the thigh, follow the thigh-leg bone with the knife blade to release the bone as one unit, again being careful not to cut through the skin. Lay the de-boned duck on a sheet pan and immediately place in the coldest part of the refrigerator.

NOTE: Reserve the bones and neck for making the Poultry Stock.

NOTE: Reserve and refrigerate the giblets for making the Cornbread Dressing.

 

TO DE-BONE A CHICKEN

Use precisely the same procedure to de-bone the chicken as you used to de-bone the duck. Lay the de-boned chicken on a sheet pan and immediately place in the coldest part of the refrigerator.

NOTE: Reserve the bones and neck for making the Poultry Stock.

NOTE: Reserve and refrigerate the giblets for making the Cornbread Dressing.