|How (Not) To Cook, Serve and Carve A Thanksgiving Turkey
by Marjorie Dorfman
To baste, brine, marinate, bake, roast, grill, smoke or broil are decisions that must be made rather soon, but while your mind is getting around the best mode of preparation for you and your family, consider the following tips about what NOT to do. Read on, whether you are one of those in the know or no (know).
|There are probably almost as many ways to prepare turkey as there are reasons to be grateful, but for most Americans, this remains a moot culinary point at this very special time of year. The poor turkey has little to be grateful for, and can only hope that its swan song will be memorable. This is, of course, totally in the hands of the fowl chef who hopefully will not live up to the pun/homonym for this word.
Never invite guests who eat regularly to your Thanksgiving feast.
Invite only starving people to dinner. This will insure a good time for all. If necessary, keep them chained in your basement for a few days before hand, without water as well. This way, when they are released, they will not only be hungry and thirsty, but will have more than most to be grateful for, which will align with the necessary mood for the season.
Do not under-estimate the power of numbers.
Weigh each dinner guest a few days before and then decide on what size bird to buy, considering the proportional body weight and food intake designated for each guest. Plan on about 1-1/2 pounds of turkey per diner unless for some reason, you feel they dont deserve it.
Frozen meat or fresh? An old dilemma
Stay focused on this issue at hand, as we are not speaking here of our dinner guests but rather the bird destined to feed all of you. Which is better? Actually both fare quite well, but with a frozen bird you have to plan ahead and consider thawing time. Allow at least 24 hours in the refrigerator for every 5 pounds of turkey (for defrosting children, allow about half that time). A twenty-pound bird will therefore take 4 or 5 days to thaw. You can also thaw the bird under cold running water, changing the water every 30 minutes or so and allowing 30 minutes per pound to thaw. (Not recommended for thawing out children however, as most dont swim well.)
Preparing the bird for its ultimate fate
Remove the gizzard packet from inside the turkey. Fill cavity with a halved onion, celery, unpeeled garlic cluster or orange. Rinse the turkey and pat it thoroughly dry with paper towels. Place the bird on a large roasting pan on top of a cooking rack. Sedate the bird and possibly yourself with a glass of happy something.
Tie the legs to the tail with cooking string or tuck the leg ends under the tail. Twist the wing tips under the back, ignoring the expected screams of protest. (Wear earplugs if you are faint-hearted.) Brush the turkey liberally with melted butter or olive oil and insert an oven-safe thermometer into the center of the thigh muscles. Make sure you dont hit the bone with the thermometer. You could also use an instant read thermometer and just check the bird as it get close to the end of the allotted cooking time.
Never stuff your turkey ahead of time
Stuffing should enter the bird only when it is ready to go into the oven. Cook it in a crock-pot alongside the turkey so that they have a real chance to talk and get acquainted. If tradition calls for you to cook it inside the bird and no other way will do, then only do so when the bird is ready to go into the oven. Stuffing should be spooned lightly into the turkeys body and neck cavities. Pull the neck skin over the stuffing and fasten it to the back using a skewer. Dont pack it as the internal temperature of the stuffing must reach 165 degrees and if it is packed too tightly, the interior wont get hot enough. Stuffing also tends to expand as it absorbs moisture from the bird; fill lightly for best results.
Be optimistic when carving turkey.
When carving, remember it can always be worse even if you cant specifically recall exactly when that might have been so. Throw finesse and all epicurean etiquette to the winds if you find that the bird will not cooperate. Turning the bird on the side will give the carver more balance than will be achieved by letting it lie on its back. (If necessary, bribe the bird with some flimsy promise of joy in the afterlife.)
Carve specifically rather than generally.
Honest effort is sure to meet its proper reward for carvers who demonstrate admirable restraint when faced with the formidable task of carving a thanksgiving turkey. Begin carving horizontally outside, towards the body of the bird. (Outside in rather than inside out, but never upside down which would really be upside-in and not work anyway.)
Use unconventional and different ways to remove stubborn stuffing.
If you cannot remove the stuffing from the bird, simply invert it and let it all slide out on the table. If nothing else, your actions will be a prime subject for conversation when your guests eventually do recover.
And in case after reading all this, the entire idea is just too overwhelming
Buy your turkey already roasted from a restaurant or specialty store. Dont go where you are known and make sure to wear a mask and dark glasses just to be on the safe side. Avoid using silk stocking and pulling it over your head. It makes babies scream and some misanthropes may actually think you are trying to rob them! Go home through the back door and put the bird in the fridge after disposing of any telltale wrapping.
Remove from oven and remove stuffing to a serving bowl, cover with foil to keep warm. Cover turkey with foil and let rest 15-20 minutes before carving to allow juices to redistribute.
If things still dont turn out as planned
Pour some more champagne and just forget the whole thing. Everything will keep (sort of). Cancel any plans you may have made about cooking a turkey for Christmas as well. Get invited some place where people know how to cook. It just wont work.
Happy Thanksgiving and to all a good
Did you know . . .
Lets Talk Turkey, 1939 MGM short film
Don't miss this excellent book:
How to Cook a Turkey: And All the Other Trimmings
by Fine Cooking Magazine
A holiday survival guide for a wide range of home cooks: first timers who have no idea where to even begin; more experienced cooks who, nonetheless, forget every year what temperature to cook their turkey at and for how long; and cooks of all levels who like the idea of having one compact holiday handbook of recipes and how-to information specific to their circumstances. 100 recipes for everything from appetizers to desserts (including an entire chapter on pies), as well as lots of information on everything to do with turkeys (buying info, thawing times, oven temperatures, cook times), as well as on stuffing and making gravy.
Click for a printer friendly version of this article.