This time of year, both seasoned cooks and neophytes are cocooning themselves in their kitchens to prepare an impressive, bountiful (and hopefully healthy) Thanksgiving feast. It is also that time of year when assorted culinary crises abound, including everything from leaving the giblet bag in the cavity to undercooking a turkey to the point where a competent veterinarian could possibly revive it. Here is some solid gustatory advice to help you seamlessly navigate your way through turkey land. Gobble, gobble. Gender selection
Do you want a girl or a boy bird? Tom is the boy, hen is the girl. Large, older males are tastier and more tender than the young, wily boys, while old hens are tough birds. So it’s better to buy an old tom or a young, tender hen (no older than 15 months). If your druthers are breast meat, the young hen is for you, but if you prefer dark meat, then buy the old tom.
Dressed to kill
The big Thanksgiving dilemma is whether to stuff the bird or do the stovetop method. For the nays, an unstuffed turkey will roast more uniformly and quickly, but if you stuff, it must be completely scooped out from the cavity within an hour after the turkey is removed from the oven, to prevent an environment rife for the formation of bacteria and food-borne illnesses. For a no-fuss stuffing technique simply pack the dressing in a cheesecloth bag and insert in the bird. This cavity protection not only prevents sticking to the insides, but makes for easy removal when the turkey’s done.
Rack it up
For easy cleanup, swap out the roasting rack for an edible makeshift one. Line your roasting pan with layers of carrots, celery and parsnips that will also infuse the bird with divine flavors, and create an aromatic blend of juices for gravy.
Let’s talk turkey
Fresh is always best, but if you go the other route, never put a frozen turkey in the oven unless you are cooking it for Christmas dinner. The best way to thaw the bird is in the refrigerator, breast side up in a shallow pan, in its original wrapper allowing 24 hours for every four pounds. Massage the skin with virgin olive oil and season with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Or do a dry rub instead of liquid brine by seasoning with 1/3 cup of kosher salt and an herb blend, and letting it marinate overnight for a tender, juicy bird.
It’s about time
While cooking times will vary depending on whether you purchased a fresh or frozen bird, generally for a frozen defrosted one, allow 20 minutes per pound, while a fresh 10 to 15 minutes per pound at a moderate 350 degree F oven. In addition, a stuffed turkey will need extra roasting time, around 25 to 30 minutes per pound.
Tent the bird with aluminum foil or parchment paper to prevent over-browning. Only open the oven about 30 to 45 minutes before ETA, and remove the foil or parchment paper to allow it to brown nicely.
A meat thermometer is a great gadget to check for doneness. Stick the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone. When the temperature reaches 180 degrees F, the bird is done.
Also test the stuffing temperature, which must reach 165 degrees F for doneness. If you don’t have a thermometer, use the old school method of joint jiggling and juice testing. Pierce the thigh with a knife, and if the juices run clear, then it’s done. Also, the joints should wiggle freely. Let the turkey take a nap for 20 minutes after removing it from the oven so the juices settle in, for easier carving.
I’ll drink to that
With 15 minutes to go on the clock, brush the bird generously with white vermouth to give a golden glaze thanks to the sugars in this fortified wine.
Foolproof Zesty Cranberry Citrus Relish
2 cups fresh cranberries, stems removed
Zest from one orange or Meyer lemon
Flesh from one orange, chopped
1/2 cup brown sugar (adjust to taste)
1 sweet apple, peeled, chopped
1/3 cup roasted pecans
1/3 cup dates (optional)
Method: Place ingredients in a blender or food processor and coarsely chop. Refrigerate in an airtight container.
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