Tips for cooking turkey
Ezra's talking turkey on his new food blog, The Internet Food Association.
I gather from Facebook and listerv chatter that many of my peers are going to be cooking their first turkeys this Thanksgiving. Here's what I've learned so far.
1. Always brine your turkey. Let it defrost in the refrigerator for a couple days first, though. Don't try to brine a Butterball turkey.
2. Avoid salmonella. Keep the bird cold at all times and take care to clean up any splashed or spilled brine.
3. The fancy food magazines never warn you about this, but the first law of Thanksgiving is that refrigerator space will be at a premium. You don't want a turkey in a vat of saltwater monopolizing that real estate.
The best brining receptacle is a large beer cooler topped off with ice. Close the lid and put it in the garage or another cool place. Replace the ice periodically if it seems to be melting.
4. Optional: After brining, pat the bird dry with paper towels and let sit in your fridge on a wire wrack, loosely draped with plastic wrap for several hours. The air-drying ensures crisp skin.
5. Don't rely on a recipe to tell you how long to cook your turkey. Every bird and every oven will be different. Older cookbooks systematically over-estimate the amount of time it takes to cook a turkey. Agribusiness has literally remodeled turkeys over the years.
Buy a Polder probe thermometer.
Insert the probe into the thickest part of the thigh, roast to 165 degrees. Don't let the probe touch the bone because bone conducts heat, which will throw off your reading.
You can set the thermometer to beep when the turkey's done. (It shouldn't take all day.)
6. What I'm about to say sounds heretical, but stay with me: Don't cook the stuffing inside the turkey. Instead, fill the body cavity with a quartered raw onion, an quartered cored apple, half a lemon, and fresh herbs.
Cook the stuffing in a separate casserole dish. This is partly a safety issue and partly an aesthetic consideration. Since the stuffing contains raw turkey juice, it must be cooked as thoroughly as the bird itself. But by the time your stuffing is hot enough not to poison elderly and immunosuppressed guests, your breast meat will be desiccated.
7. You may be wondering: How will the stuffing taste like turkey if I don't bake it inside the bird?
Use turkey stock as the liquid in your stuffing. When you buy your turkey, buy several pounds of detached turkey parts and make a brown stock with them. Don't salt the stock. You can complete this step in well in advance and freeze the stock until you're ready to use it.
Cook your stuffing in a chafing dish and baste regularly with turkey stock and, if desired, drippings from the bird itself as it cooks.
If you bake your Thanksgiving stuffing separately, you will have a clean carcass for making the turkey stock for Christmas dinner.
8. Having plenty of good, concentrated turkey stock on hand dramatically reduces stress when it comes time to make gravy. Remember, gravy is just thickened brown stock. There's no law that says that all the pan juices have to come from the same bird.
A lot of the best turkey recipes call for high heat, and sometimes the pan drippings will burn. Don't worry about it.
If you have stock, swirl some of it to lightly deglaze the roasting pan, to give the gravy more color. But don't feel obliged to scrape down the real char.
Even if the pan drippings don't burn, you don't always get enough to make gravy for a crowd. Good turkey stock will stretch the drippings.
9. If you're using drippings from a brined turkey, always taste the gravy before you add more salt.