Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving 101: Turkey! (And Pan Gravy)

Before we begin, could we all take a moment to be thankful for the fact that I did not title this post "Talkin' Turkey" or something equally cheesy? You're welcome! Now, since we don't have much time before T-Day, let's get right to the point: how to ensure the bird is prepared properly and deliciously.

Now, there is no one exact right way to cook a turkey, although there are certainly right and wrong things to do with each method. I’m personally a proponent of going the classic roasting route, but if you want to do your bird deep-fried (I’ve sampled such a bird and found it surprisingly non-greasy)—or whatever other trendy method you’ve read about—go for it. I would just suggest doing a trial run if you’re trying a brand-new technique; a holiday meal where everyone is gathered is not the best time to experiment.

  • First, figure out how much turkey you need. For a smaller group, you might want to consider doing just a bone-in turkey breast, which still has an ooh-and-aah-inducing effect presented on a platter. For a larger group, consider buying an extra package of drumsticks in addition to the whole bird, so nobody has to fight over them. (Apologies if you could have put this advice to use sooner, gentle reader; planning my own feast and, oh yeah, working for a living have been sucking up precious blogging time!)

  • I am a fan of brining the turkey, though this is not necessary. A lobster pot or even a brand-new plastic garbage barrel are good vessels to contain the bird and the liquid, which tend to be heavy. You can brine the bird overnight; if refrigerator space is an issue and you live somewhere the temperature drops below 30° at night, you can keep the container on your porch. (This year, we're doing a dry brine since The Beez's fridge isn't big enough, and it's supposed to be like 50° in Brooklyn. Thanks a LOT, global warming!)

  • There are plenty of websites where you can determine the cooking time for your weight of bird, but keep in mind brining could make it cook faster, and every oven is different, so keep an eye on it. Remember that it will continue to cook through while it's resting.

  • Let the turkey rest at room temperature for maybe an hour before you put it in the oven. This should be fine food-safety-wise; however, BGC is not responsible for readers who contract salmonella-ella-ella-eh-eh-eh, or any other food-borne illnesses, for that matter. If you're stuffing the cavity, the stuffing should also be at room temperature.

  • Before putting it in the oven, sprinkle the turkey skin and the inside of the cavity with salt (unless you brined it) and pepper, and rub the skin with butter or oil. (Alyce's mom soaks a paper bag in oil and puts the turkey inside to keep it moist.)

    Above: Two recent Thanksgivings past. Note my predilection for wearing patterns that are as stain-concealing as possible.

  • I also sometimes put chopped herbs (e.g., sage, thyme, rosemary) between the skin and the breasts, or whole sage leaves as pictured above right; to do this, carefully sever the center membrane with a paring knife or kitchen shears. Then slide your hand between the skin and meat to loosen the skin, and stuff in the herbs, spreading them as far back as you can reach. (Do not get skeeved out! You can wash your hands in a minute, for God's sake.)

  • If you're making pan gravy, put the neck and giblets in the roasting pan to add to the flavor. You could also contribute to gravy flavah by putting a couple carrots and/or leeks or sliced onions under the turkey; you won't actually eat these, they'll get strained out and discarded once the bird's done. (Pan gravy instructions below.)

  • Baste, baste, baste! This will keep the turkey moist and also afford you opportunities to check on the cooking process. But I wouldn't open the oven door more than once every 20 minutes, or the heat will get lost and the cooking process will take longer.

  • If the legs start to get crispy and brown before the main carcass, tent them with aluminum foil. Likewise, if the exposed part of the stuffing gets too crispy, cover it with foil.

  • The bird should rest for about 15-20 minutes after cooking (check one of those websites for exact times).

  • During this time you can make the pan gravy: Pour out all but a couple tablespoons of the drippings from the pan into a gravy separator, and discard the entrails, carrots, etc. Heat the roasting pan over a burner. Sprinkle it with about 1/4 cup flour and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the yummy bits. When the flour mix is medium brown, add your pan drippings (if you don't have a gravy separator, pour off the grease on top), plus chicken stock as needed, whisking to mix. Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer to the desired thickness, and strain out any solids before bringing it to the table in a gravy boat.

  • I suggest bringing the whole roasted turkey to the table on a platter; allowing guests to ooh and aah and take pictures on their phones; then returning it to the kitchen where it can be dismembered out of sight. Think of it like an actress at a premiere doing red-carpet photos and then immediately being whisked off by handlers to the VIP area. (The metaphor kind of breaks down when you get to the part of bringing the carved-up turkey back to the table, but we won't worry about that.)

  • Carving the turkey can be intimidating, but there is usually one guest who enjoys doing it, so ask for volunteers. (In our family, we have an aunt who brings her own electric carver to dinner and wears the top to my mom's old karate uniform in lieu of an apron; I call her the Turkey Ninja.) Rather than making slices lengthwise off the breast, you can remove the entire breast from the bird and then slice it crosswise.

    Now it is time to eat! Give thanks that you can finally sit down and enjoy the meal. Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

  • No comments:

    Post a Comment