thanksgiving … HELP!

We’re in to the countdown to game day now, so this week you will be putting all of your details together. First, let’s talk about the game day time table, then we’ll talk turkey.

things you should do ahead (Tuesday or Wednesday):

  • set the table
  • choose music
  • what are YOU wearing?
  • defrost stuff from the freezer that you were smart enough tho prepare ahead
  • if you purchased a frozen turkey, it’s time to get it into the refrigerator to defrost. If you have not already purchased a turkey, you should consider buying a fresh one — there is most likely not enough time to defrost it now. How large a turkey should I purchase? Allow 1 pound per person, for an average serving, or 1-1/2 pounds per person if you want leftovers.
  • brine or dry-brine (pre-salting) your turkey (directions follow). And if you are planning to brine it, you need to determine how long that process will take (1 hour per pound)
  • chop vegetables for stuffing, for roasting under the turkey, and for stock, if you desire
  • using the giblets from the turkey, make ‘doctored stock‘ to use in the gravy, if you like
  • dry or toast bread for stuffing, set aside
  • steam and refresh vegetables (like the miso green beans) and refrigerate. 
  • make the cranberry relish
  • wash the perishables
  • prep garnishes
  • chill the wines and other beverages

What’s the deal with brining or dry brining? It’s juicy, moist turkey! Here are my best tips for just that result:

master recipe for brine

  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 1 gallon water (my friend uses 1/2 apple juice or cider here —  it’s FANTASTIC!)
  • roast turkey
  • I start with 1 quart hot water to dissolve salt (and sugar if used), then add 3 quarts cold water and ice to cool the mixture.
  • optional ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar (or less) per gallon of water
  • minced garlic
  • bay leaf
  • pepper
  • hot peppers or hot pepper sauce

Be sure to refrigerate during allotted time. A great way to accomplish this is to brine your turkey in a picnic cooler. Place the turkey in the cooler, add brine to cover it, then place a large zip-top back of ice on top to weight the turkey down. Check every few hours to be sure ice is still frozen, and replace ice if necessary. Brining time: 1 hour per pound.

After removing from brine, pat the turkey dry. Brining may be accomplished early, meat removed from brine, dried and returned to refrigerator until 20-30 minutes prior to cooking time. Be sure to dry your turkey before putting it into the oven to ensure browning.

dry brine (also known as pre-salting) for turkey

If you would rather not deal with the whole brine thing, you may want to dry brine or pre-salt instead. Here is the method I learned from Molly Stevens, also detailed in her book “All about Roasting:”

Rinse and dry the bird, pat the bird dry with paper towels and place on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet or tray. Measure into a small bowl:

  • 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt per pound of turkey (I like Diamond Crystal Kosher salt for this)
optional additions to the salt:
  • 1 – 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced (NOT dry stuff here)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, or 1 teaspoon dried

Sprinkle it evenly over the bird. Place the uncovered turkey into the refrigerator overnight. The goal here is to allow enough time for the salt to penetrate, and to dry the skin. Trust me, it will be worth it!

turkey day time table

first you will need to determine how long to cook your turkey, so that you know when to begin cooking it.

For an unstuffed turkey:

8-12 pounds                        1-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours

12-16 pounds                      3-1/2 to 4 hours

16-20 pounds                     4 to 4-1/2 hours

20-26 pounds                    4-1/2 to 5-1/2 hours

add 20 to 40 minutes for a stuffed turkey.

about half an hour before you want to begin roasting the bird, preheat the oven and take the turkey out of the refrigerator to begin to warm to room temperature.

make the stuffing, stuff the bird if desired or bake in a separate pan for bout 1 hour, beginning about 2 hours before serving, then keep warm

peel  and cut potatoes for mashing, place win pot, an rarely cover with cold water. Set said until ready to cook.

plate all cold serving foods on their serving plates are store in the refrigerator or in a cooler with ice.

plan a ‘hot’ holding place — see holding food, below

2 1/2 hours before serving time, begin cooking the mashed potatoes. when they are finished HOLD them.

check the table

  • get yourself ready
  • set out appetizers
  • finish assembling the vegetables
  • just after removing the turkey from the oven (when it is done), make the gravy, then HOLD it.
  • place all cold serving items on the table or buffet
  • carve the turkey, unless you plan to do so at the table
  • light the candles
  • place hot items on table or buffet
  • Happy Thanksgiving!

roast turkey

  • 6-10 pound turkey** 
  • 3 feet of string for trussing turkey
  •       (optional)
  • 5 tablespoons soft butter
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 small carrots
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 large onion, in thick slices

for the gravy:

  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • ½ cup Wondra or all-purpose flour
  • 2-5 cups turkey or chicken stock, or combination of stock and white wine. For darker gravy, I hear Mogen David is great here!
  • 1 tablespoon Kitchen Bouquet

Preheat oven to 450°F. Lightly salt and pepper inside of turkey and smear inside with about 1/3 of the butter. Truss the turkey if you like, or simply tie the legs together loosely; dry the outside well, and rub skin all over with the remaining butter.  Combine the oil and melted butter, set aside.

Set the turkey on a roasting rack, breast side up in the roasting pan, place in the oven for 15 minutes. Baste quickly with the oil and butter mixture. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F, distribute the onion, carrot and celery under the turkey, and baste again. Salt the turkey, continue roasting and basting every 30 minutes until done. When it’s time to baste the turkey, it is best if you can take it out of the ven to do so, and close the oven door. You loose far less heat that way, but it is difficult to do with a very large bird! Heat loss from each basting will lengthen the cooking time considerably.

And, how do I tell if it is done?

To tell whether the turkey is done, insert an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh. Your turkey is done when it registers 170°F.  Stuffing should be 165°F. I typically use more than one method to be sure my bird is fully cooked: prick the thickest part of the drumstick with a fork;  if the juices run clear or yellow, it is done.  If not, roast another 5 minutes and test again.  As a final check, lift the turkey and drain the juices from the cavity into the pan; if the last drops are clear or yellow, it is definitely done.

Be sure to let the turkey rest at least 15 minutes, under a foil tent, before carving it. Transfer the turkey to a warmed platter; remove the string.  Let stand, loosely tented in foil, at least 15 minutes before carving so juices will retreat into tissues.

holding food

An important bit of trivia for a successful Thanksgiving dinner is that you can hold almost anything for up to two hours in a warm oven. I set mine at 170°F, heat plates, platters, the gravy boat,and leave space for the mashed potatoes in there too. No enough oven space? The microwave on 10% power works as well. You can warm plates in the dishwasher …. You can keep mashed potatoes warm in a heatproof bowl, covered loosely, set over simmering water; or in a slow cooker on low heat. Click here for the recipe for marvelous mashed potatoes.

Now it’s time to make the gravy.

classic gravy

Pour the juices and vegetables from the roasting pan into a strainer, pressing down to extract all the juices. Degrease the juices if you wish. Return ½ cup of fat to the roasting pan. Stir in the minced shallots and cook 2-3 minutes. Add flour, cook and stir 2-3 minutes, until smooth and bubbly. Add the degreased juices, the stock, and the Kitchen Bouquet. Boil rapidly over high heat, deglazing the pan. Cook 10-15 minutes, to develop flavor. Correct the seasonings if necessary. Hold the gravy in  a heated gravy boat or bowl until time to serve. 




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