Monday, November 17, 2008

Turkey Tips: Part One

Much as I'd like to deny it, we're getting closer to the BIG day; the most important eating holiday of the year. While I'm nothing if not a gracious hostess, I must admit that there's a small part of me that approaches Thanksgiving with a mixed sense of joyous anticipation and ... abject terror. Ok, so maybe terror is too strong a word - but you try fitting 16 people around a table that seats eight and see how Zen you feel! But, I digress. And, really, I exaggerate. I've been hosting the Diva Family Thanksgiving for years now. My holiday runs like clockwork and your's can too ... as long as you've got a plan of attack.

A little bird told me that a loyal reader ... who has yet to speak out in the comments ... is hosting her first Thanksgiving and in need of some tips. (Yes, Lauren, I'm looking at you!) Thus, without further ado, I now present my most cherished Thanksgiving secrets.

  • Follow this link to the Food Network's website and scroll down the page to their miraculous Turkey Calculators. The first one will tell you what size turkey you'll need to feed your crowd and the second calculator will tell you all you need to know about cooking it. Simply input the size of your bird, indicate whether or not it will be stuffed, and choose your desired dining time. That's it! Like magic, this spectacular tool will do the rest of the work for you and even tell you when to begin roasting your turkey. This is the most valuable link I will ever post. Learn it, know it, use it, love it!
  • The above magic notwithstanding, ovens vary greatly in terms of cooking speed - so get yourself an instant read meat thermometer and use it properly. Your turkey is done when an instant read thermometer - inserted into the thickest part of the breast or thigh - reads 165 degrees. DO NOT - and I can't stress this enough - rely on your turkey's pop-up timer. This is the most useless gimmick ever invented. Without fail it will pop too soon or, in some cases, may not pop at all. Forget the pop-up deal and take the turkey's temp yourself. If you know your oven runs fast, begin checking an hour before the indicated time and proceed accordingly.
  • Basting is over-rated and largely unnecessary. Season your turkey well with a lovely compound butter, throw some savory, aromatic veggies in the bottom of the pan, place the turkey in the oven and forget about it. Half-way through your roasting time, add some chicken broth to the bottom of the roasting pan, close the oven and forget about it again until its time to start checking the bird's temp. I have never in my life served a dry turkey and I don't baste.
  • Let your turkey rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving it. The turkey will continue to cook a bit as it rests, so be sure to account for that by removing it from the oven when the temperature reaches 165 degrees. Cover the bird with foil, tell your guests to back off and remember that patience is a virtue ... the juices will redistribute themselves as the turkey rests and your patience will be rewarded with moist, delicious tenderness.
  • Some recipes will tell you to cover your bird's breast with foil during the initial phase of roasting and remove the foil later to let it brown. I discount such notions as poppycock and insist on roasting my turkey uncovered until it has achieved a rich, mahogany color. Like I said, I've never served a dry turkey and this method has always worked for me. Keep an eye on the bird, once it has browned to your satisfaction, cover the breast with foil and proceed. Use your judgment and don't drive yourself crazy over it.
  • Lastly, make sure your roasting pan is large enough to accomodate both your turkey and the aromatic vegetables used in roasting. Do not cram a giant bird into a tiny pan - you'll be sorry if you do and you'll have a huge mess on your hands. Be sure that the whole bird, legs and all, fit within the confines of your pan. If you're going to be hosting and roasting a fair bit, you'd do well to invest in a quality pan. I adore my Calphalon roaster! A good, dark roasting pan is the key to a rich, savory gravy and a well-browned bird. I wouldn't dream of roasting a turkey without it - its well worth the investment.
  • DO NOT, under any circumstances, use a foil roasting pan. Don't even THINK about using one. Period. I will say no more.
Thus begins our Thanksgiving mini-series. Follow these tips, and those to come, and you'll be well on your way to a Divalicious holiday. Stay tuned for Turkey Tips: Part Two ... wherein I will divulge the recipe for that delectable compound butter I mentioned. Trust me, this one is a keeper and guaranteed to yield a moist, picture-perfect bird every time. Come back tomorrow and I'll tell you all about it.

Meanwhile, what's your favorite turkey tip? Curious Diva wants to know!

Bon appetite!


Sass said...

My favorite turkey tip?

Let my mom cook it.

hee hee.

And try not to do what a certain in-law family member of mine does...don't cook it the day before and then let it sit in it's juices thinking it'll make it more moist. It doesn't work. Yuck. ;)

The Diva on a Diet said...

OMG, Sass, really?! That is positively revolting. I'm gonna go with your tip and say, yeah, let *your* mom cook it! LOL

Deborah said...

Silly Diva, the point of basting is to give early access to the stuffing. One grabs a heaping forkful on one's way out of the oven, and then interested family members gather around the basting plate to enjoy it. Being hoity-toity people at my house, we call this process "appetizers."

Deb said...

Okay I admit to using the roasting bag another secret to a moist juicy bird that cooks in record time. I love those things and have used them for years along with the secret family meat stuffing - all adds up to my most favorite holiday that I too have been hosting for years (too mant to admit to)


HektikLyfe said...

>Diva: Why is turkey so damn hard to get right??? We may be spending our first Thanksgiving home without family this year so I feel for the work my wife will have to go through. She cooks daily so this will be more work for her. I will try to help in whatever way I can.

The Diva on a Diet said...

Deborah - Oh how I needed that laugh, thank you! The "appetizers" just about killed me. Love it!

Of course, it is true that the best and most tasty stuffing is that which has been stolen right out of the oven. This is a universal truth!

Deb - Do they make roasting bags large enough to fit a turkey?! I'm a fan of the bags too, especially for pot roast - but have never used them for the bird. Interesting. I'm curious to hear about your meat stuffing - I'll be discussing the husband's family's pork stuffing tomorrow.

Hektik - Honestly, roasting a turkey isn't difficult at all. Its all of the other sides, gravy, etc. that make the meal complicated. Good for you for helping out! Its fun to cook together and then enjoy the fruits of your labors. :)

Deb said...

They do make the bags big enough and sell them around this time of year.

Stuffing is pre seasoned bread stuffing in a bag and Jimmy Dean sage sausage in a tube and celery onions and chicken broth. I then usually add more poultry seasoning and throw it in the bird. My family believes you can never have too much stuffing so I make an obscene amount and nearly cover the stuffing end of the bird. So my bird is not so pretty as yours but boy does it stay moist and taste good.


The Diva on a Diet said...

Good to know about the turkey-sized bag, Deb. I'll have to try it sometime. Stuffing sounds really yummy! And, I agree that you can never have too much. We always end up with two different kinds ... one half of the family likes meat stuffing, one half prefers bread. I like 'em both, so yay for me! :)

Lauren said...

I am finally reading your blog with tips for Thanksgiving. Thanks for thinking of me and wish me luck. My house is currently a mess due to construction and I have been living at my mom's and mother-in-laws for the past few days. Don't know how I'll ever be ready for Thursday. Thanks again and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!!!

The Diva on a Diet said...

Hi Lauren! So great to see you here! OMG, you're hosting Thanksgiving even with the construction? Yikes, you're brave! I hope you've found this series helpful and that your holiday will run smoothly. I know it will be delicious. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours as well - and I hope to see you soon! xoxoxo