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Turkey on a Small Scale : You don't have to give up the aroma and taste of a traditional Thanksgiving turkey for a small ham or chicken just because your dinner party isn't a large one. The solution is to buy and prepare turkey parts--a delicious, practical way to continue one of the season's favorite culinary customs.

November 19, 1987|BETSY BALSLEY | Times Food Editor

Thanksgiving traditionally means a gorgeous turkey, all golden-brown and redolent with enticing aroma, in the starring role of the holiday feast. And for many families, that is just what will appear as friends and family members gather to celebrate.

Those who don't plan to celebrate with a group large enough to merit a whole turkey, however, will still find plenty of tradition to go around. There's no need to substitute a chicken or a ham or some other less-traditional centerpiece. Not when it's as easy to buy and prepare turkey parts as it is to serve a whole bird. For small families to whom leftovers are an anathema, turkey parts are a wonderful solution.

Elsewhere in today's Food section, you'll find plenty of suggestions on how to cook a whole turkey, plus some excellent stuffing recipes and even the simplest possible instructions on how to make a rich, brown turkey gravy. But today's Page 1 is devoted to suggestions for making Thanksgiving dinners for small households and for larger groups who don't want a repeat of the Thanksgiving meal ad infinitum.

One of the great joys in serving turkey parts is that you don't risk overcooking the white meat to get the dark meat done. A turkey breast, cooked by itself, can be roasted to a tender, yet still juicy stage . . . and, oh, what a difference that makes in both flavor and texture. No more cottony dryness one has to conceal with gravy.

And for those who find the finest flavor in turkey thighs and legs, it's easy to add an extra portion so you can actually have all you want at a sitting.

Although the rule of thumb for figuring the number of servings in a whole turkey ranges from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 servings per pound, that varies greatly when one buys parts. When buying bone-in turkey breasts or thighs, figure you will get about 2 1/2 to 3 servings per pound. Boneless turkey breasts or thighs will provide 3 to 3 1/2 servings per pound, according to the National Turkey Federation; while a bone-in turkey hindquarter (thigh and drumstick) will provide about 2 1/2 servings per pound.

Cooking times also will vary greatly. In testing the recipes that follow, The Times found that using a thermometer was the best way to be sure the turkey parts were neither undercooked nor overcooked. Using an oven temperature of 325 degrees, we found that it took about 20 to 25 minutes per pound to obtain an internal temperature of 170 degrees for a whole turkey breast. Dark meat cuts such as the drumsticks and thighs weighing 1 to 1 1/3 pounds each were roasted at 325 degrees and took about 50 to 60 minutes to obtain an internal temperature of 175 to 180 degrees. Don't forget that when using a thermometer, it should be placed in the thickest part of the meat but not allowed to touch the bone.

The following recipes provide a range of holiday suggestions that cover a variety of turkey parts. For those who prefer white meat, the delicate flavor of turkey is superbly supported when boneless turkey breasts are stuffed with shiitake mushrooms and poached in white wine. When served on a platter surrounded by julienne-style crisp vegetables, it makes an elegant presentation with wonderful flavor.

Another interesting treatment for turkey breast has marked Oriental overtones. A roasted whole breast is served with a well-seasoned, jambalaya-style mixture of Chinese sweet rice, long-grain rice, smoked oysters, onion, ginger, shrimp, peas and sausage. The spicy rice-based accompaniment adds a touch of the exotic to the rather bland turkey.

Those who prefer dark meat will find Corn Bread-Stuffed Turkey Thighs have most of the attributes of a normal Thanksgiving dinner on a small scale. The spicy corn-bread stuffing enhances the flavorful dark meat nicely, while a good, rich turkey gravy rounds out the holiday entree.

If you could never get enough drumsticks when you were a kid, you might like to try a more adult version of this popular poultry item. We loosened the skin on turkey drumsticks and slipped garlic and sage leaves between the bone and the meat. As the drumsticks baked, the seasonings permeated the meat providing both a winning taste and an appetizing aroma.

These are just a few suggestions for ways to serve turkey on a small scale for the holidays. Keep them in mind for future use even if you decide that a whole bird and delicious leftovers are a better choice for the big day. They'll do just as well for small dinner parties as they will for our traditional day of the turkey.

WINE-POACHED TURKEY BREAST

1 boneless whole turkey breast

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Salt, pepper

2 (1-ounce) package shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted in warm water

4 stalks celery, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup white wine

1 1/2 cups water

1 carrot, cut in chunks

1 teaspoon fines herbes seasoning

1/4 cup butter or margarine

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 onion, chopped

2 cups carrot strips

2 cups yellow crookneck squash strips

2 cups zucchini strips

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 to 4 tablespoons whipping cream

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

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