Simple tips for perfect turkey reduce Thanksgiving stress
BY NICOLE MARSHALL MIDDLETON World Scene Writer
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
11/14/12 at 2:22 AM
Thanksgiving horror stories of turkey cooking calamities can intimidate even confident cooks.
After all, most people cook a turkey only once a year, and your entire family will be judging the results.
But chef Grant Vespasian of The Tavern on Brady has some tips that should help novice turkey makers prepare the perfect turkey this Thanksgiving.
First off, "Stay calm."
"Have a glass of wine and relax," Vespasian said. "It's just a piece of poultry."
Vespasian suggests buying the turkey several days in advance because it's best if you can let the frozen bird thaw gradually.
"It will be solid as a rock, so put it in your fridge for two to three days," Vespasian said. "I think that it is better than putting it in water and thawing it faster. You are shocking the fibers of the meat that way."
Once it is thawed, remove the giblets and neck from the cavity of the bird. Vespasian said that you can keep them covered with water in a pot. The liquid can be used as stock for a gravy.
Brining the turkey in a saltwater solution is one method of preparation, but Vespasian said that for beginners, it's probably best to keep it simple.
"That's what most chefs do. We try not to overdo things or buy into the latest prepared spice rub or blend," Vespasian said. "Try just starting out using salt, pepper, butter and chicken stock."
Put the turkey in a roasting pan and stuff it with vegetables such as celery, onion, carrots and a little garlic and herbs such as parsley and thyme.
"But don't overstuff it and cram the vegetables in there too tight," Vespasian said.
Rub the bird with butter and then season it all over with salt and pepper. Then truss the bird by using cooking twine to tie the legs together, he said.
"The bird will cook more evenly if you tie it up."
Fill the bottom of the pan with about 1/2 inch of chicken stock.
"A good amount of juice is going to come out of the bird as it cooks," Vespasian said.
Cook the turkey according to the instructions on the package, Vespasian said. He grew up eating Butterball turkeys, and "the people at Butterball know what they are doing."
And he suggested calling their hotline if you have a question while cooking.
Another mantra to remember while cooking the bird is, "set it and forget it," Vespasian said.
"Put it in there and don't mess with it a lot until the end, about an hour away from being done. If you open to the door too much, it is going to cook unevenly," Vespasian said. "Cook it with the lid on until the last 40 minutes or an hour then take it off and start basting it to get that dark color and to get the skin crispy."
That turkey may look so good that you want to cut into it right away, but Vespasian cautioned against it.
"Put a tent of foil over it and let it rest at least 15 minutes and up to an hour. It will stay hot," Vespasian said. "Make the gravy and let it rest. If you cut into it, you will lose all of the juice."
Use a sharp knife or an electric knife to make long, clean slices, he said.
And make sure you have a good whisk to make the gravy, starting with a roux of butter and flour and adding the juices and stock while cooking the gravy at a medium heat.
Without hesitation, Vespasian said that his favorite thing to do with leftovers is make a Thanksgiving panini, with turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and some cheese - maybe provolone or Swiss cheese - pressed between slices of country bread.
"You dip it in gravy, and it's amazing."
Smart prep can ease potential problems
Nothing ruins a Thanksgiving dinner like an undercooked turkey.
Or worse - food poisoning.
"Knowing how to properly prepare your turkey makes for a great-tasting main course for your Thanksgiving meal," says Donald Hensrud, M.D., a Mayo Clinic specialist in nutrition and obesity. "And proper preparation is also important to make sure your meal is safe."
That's why the Mayo Clinic offers tips to avoid turkey-related mishaps:
Turkey selection: At least 1 pound per person is the rough rule of thumb. That might sound like a lot, but much of that weight comes from bone and fat that you will trim away. If you enjoy leftovers, do the math for the number of people you will serve, then choose a turkey at least a few pounds heavier.
Defrosting: Keep your turkey frozen until it is ready to thaw. To thaw it in the refrigerator, leave it in its original wrapper, place it on a tray and allow at least a full day for every 4 pounds. For example, a 12-pound turkey, enough for about eight people plus leftovers, will take three or four days to thaw. If you decide to thaw the turkey in its wrapper submerged in cold water in a clean sink, allow a half-hour per pound and change the water every 30 minutes.
Turkey prep: After thawing, remove the giblets and rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water.
The base: Raw, chopped vegetables make a nice base on which to place the turkey in the pan. They keep the turkey off the bottom of the pan and let air circulate. And roasted vegetables make a healthy side dish.
Take steps to avoid salmonella: Use sanitizer to wipe down anything the raw poultry might have touched, then wash your hands to avoid spreading salmonella.
Start at a high temperature and finish low and slow: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Starting at a high temperature will sear the outside of the turkey, brown it nicely and push moisture toward the center of the bird. In about 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 275.
Quitting time: Use a meat thermometer to test whether the turkey is done. Insert it in the thickest part of the thigh and make sure it reaches 165 degrees. A 12-pound bird will take roughly five hours to cook.
Let it rest: Resist the temptation to nibble when the turkey comes out of the oven. Let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes, putting a lid on it if you're worried about the bird cooling. Letting the turkey rest will help redistribute the moisture throughout, keeping the meat tender.
Carving: Pop the thighs down first, then take the wings off and separate the legs from the thighs. Cut across the grain of the turkey.
Leftovers: Refrigerate or freeze leftover turkey promptly. Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator safely for three or four days. Do not let the turkey sit at typical room temperatures for more than two hours.
The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line is open weekdays in November and December from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. for all of those home cooks who have questions about cooking a turkey. The phone number is 1-800-BUTTERBALL (1-800-288-8372).
Over the years, the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line experts have solved some puzzling turkey situations, like which pan to use, what to do when the turkey is on fire, and when to start roasting the turkey so it's ready by halftime.
When the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line opened 29 years ago, six home economists responded to 11,000 phone calls in the first year alone.
The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line now employs more than 50 trained home economists and nutritionists, who respond to more than 100,000 questions each November and December.
And they have answered all kinds of questions, including how to cook for a whole firehouse, how to impress the in-laws and how to serve international students their first American Thanksgiving dinner.
Some basic turkey cooking tools
- roasting pan
- meat thermometer
- whisk, to make the gravy
- sharp knife, or an electric knife
For those who like to have a recipe to follow, here's one that was adapted from the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network.
PERFECT ROAST TURKEY
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 fresh turkey or thawed turkey (10 to 12 pounds)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 whole lemon, halved
1 onion, quartered
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the zest and juice of the lemon and 1 teaspoon of thyme leaves to the butter mixture. Set aside.
2. Take the giblets out of the turkey and wash the turkey inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers and pat the outside dry. Place the turkey in a large roasting pan. Salt and pepper the inside of the turkey cavity. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, halved lemon, quartered onion, and the garlic. Brush the outside of the turkey with the butter mixture and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the turkey.
3. Roast the turkey about 2 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh. Remove the turkey to a cutting board and cover with aluminum foil; let rest for 20 minutes.
4. Slice the turkey and serve.
- from Ina Garten
Original Print Headline: Turkey stressing
Nicole Marshall Middleton 918-581-8459
Chef Grant Vespasian says a sharp knife or electric knife will aid in carving long, clean slices off the bird. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World
Chef Grant Vespasian carves one of four turkeys being served during a turkey dinner at The Tavern. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World
CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World
That turkey may look so good that you want to cut into it right away, but tenting it with foil and letting it rest for 15 minutes to an hour will ensure a juicy bird. Associated Press file