Embarrassing truth: I have cooked one turkey in my life. That’s what happens when you have a big family and you live in a small apartment. You get to bring a side dish or a dessert and leave the bird to the hosts who have big kitchens, big ovens, and lots of space.
My one turkey, if I may boast, was spectacular. It was a long-ago year in which Bon Appetit, which always promises something special for Thanksgiving, had a clean easy layout. Four turkeys. Four kinds of stuffing, Four gravies. I made my selections, purchased the ingredients, and then come Thanksgiving day, as I prepared the turkey for the oven, I could not figure out which side belonged up. Randomly, as I pondered, a call came in from my best friend and co-blogger, asking me how you tell which side of the turkey faces up. And why was it so hard to tell which side had the breasts?
Well, here’s a tip for you. Never worry about roasting a turkey upside down. In fact, some do it on purpose because juices flowing down from the “bottom” you’ve placed on top helps keep the white meat from becoming dry. And, now, from someone better at turkey talk than turkey roasting, some other tips for this year’s Thanksgiving:
· Not cool. Germs can grow quickly on a turkey left at room temperature even while defrosting. Encase in a big zipper-lock bag and place it in a large bowl of cold water, or under cold running water, until just thawed. The safest defrosting method is to thaw turkey in the refrigerator, but you have to think ahead. A 20-pound turkey will take about 3 days to fully defrost.
· Tea-rrific Flavor. To give your turkey breasts or thighs a light, smoky flavor and help them retain moisture as they cook, brew 2 strong cups of your favorite spice-flavored tea blend. Cool; add black pepper, salt, paprika, and garlic to taste; and pour into a large self-sealing plastic bag. Add or turkey pieces. Put in a shallow dish and marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours before cooking.
· Veggie Rack. No need to scrub a roasting rack it if is edible. Crisscross whole carrots and celery stalks on the bottom of the roasting pan, top with turkey, which will lift out of the pan easily leaving behind veggies that will enhance your gravy.
· Like the skin crispy? Unwrap the turkey the day before roasting and leave it uncovered in the refrigerator overnight.
· To stuff or not to stuff? A turkey will cook more evenly if it is not densely stuffed. Consider adding flavor to a turkey by loosely filling the cavity with aromatic vegetables — carrots, celery, onion or garlic work nicely — or by carefully tucking fresh herbs underneath the breast skin, and cooking the dressing in a casserole dish. Stuffing lovers will not like this approach.
· No peeking. Got the turkey into the oven? Resist the temptation to open the oven door and admire your handiwork. When the oven temperature fluctuates, you’re only increasing the likelihood of a dry bird. About 45 minutes before you think the turkey is done, remove the foil from the breast to allow it to brown.
· Under cover. Tent the bird with foil and let rest for about 15 minutes before carving. If you need more time to make gravy, heat up side dishes, etc., you can let the turkey set for up to an hour without losing too much heat.
· Ready yet? A turkey – or any other poultry – is properly cooked when the leg joints move easily and the juices run clear if the thigh is pierced with a knife.
· Don’t throw away the carcass. You can make a vat of homemade stock from the leftover carcass, adding vegetables and herbs to the water as you boil the carcass.
· Cooked chicken and turkey, properly wrapped, can keep in the freezer for two to three months. Be sure to remove all air from the freezer bag before popping it into the freezer.