Thursday, November 1, 2012

Turkey tips - what NOT to do

The photo-op turkey
These tips were published last year in Food & Wine, but they're still good advice for the coming holiday. I cook four turkeys every Wednesday before Thanksgiving to feed about 80 people at St. Paul's Memorial Church. Please join us if you can; we ask those who are planning to come to call the office at (434) 295-2156 and let us know what side dish you'd like to bring.

I've taken the liberty to add some of my own hints to Alessandra Bulow's excellent ones.

5 Easy Ways to Ruin the Thanksgiving Turkey

You’ve reserved a beautiful bird, found a big enough pan (that fits in your oven!) and purchased an instant-read thermometer to roast your Thanksgiving turkey to a perfectly moist 160–165°F—but there's still room to go wrong. Here, F&W’s Senior Recipe Developer Grace Parisi reveals the biggest turkey mistakes made by home cooks.

For a better-tasting bird, divide and conquer
1. Overstuff the cavity. By the time the stuffing reaches a safe temperature (165 °F) in an overstuffed bird, the white meat will be totally dried out. Parisi’s rule of thumb: Cook no more than five cups of stuffing in a 15-pound bird and bake the rest in a separate dish. She also stuffs the neck, which won't increase overall cooking time.
My advice: Cook the stuffing, made with the broth from the giblets, in a casserole, and make a good gravy from the drippings to go over it.

2. Crowd the oven. Like a teenager, a roasting turkey likes privacy and space. Baking casseroles and other foods with the bird disrupts oven temperature and alters your turkey’s expected cooking time. Also, if the bird is placed too close to the top of the oven, the breast will dry out and the skin will burn; you should remove some of the higher oven racks to make room.
My advice: If your sides don't involve Parmesan or bread products, cook them ahead of time and warm up in the microwave. If they have a topping that needs to be crispy, cook them to almost done and cool.  Cook the turkey, take it out and cover it loosely, then turn up the heat. Take out the dishes that need oven time and cook 15 minutes or until bubbly.

3. Check the bird obsessively. Opening the oven door cools down the oven so much that you’ll end up increasing the cooking time by a lot.
My advice: Forget about basting. Brine or season well, make sure the skin is dry then well oiled, and don't overcook. Take it out when the instant read thermometer hits 160 degrees - it will gain another 5 degrees as it rests. If you really want the breast moist and the legs done, and don't need the bird for a photo op, separate them and cook the legs long and slow on the stove or in a crock pot, the breast in the oven. This also cuts down on the cooking time.

4. Carve the turkey immediately. Turkey needs to rest for at least 30 minutes to keep the juices from flowing out of the bird and drying out your meat. Resist the urge to carve right away and go freshen up. If guests aren't already waiting for you, they'll certainly be there soon.
My advice: That half hour is also a good time to finish the side dishes you've partially prepared in advance.

5. Brine a kosher turkey. Since a kosher turkey has already been treated with salt, brining it will yield an overly salty turkey.
My advice: Don't brine any turkey that says it has up to 15 percent saline solution added.

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