Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Talk about turkey

     Just finished talking to my great layout editor, Anne Melnyk who lives in Pittsburgh, as we finished up on all the little niggley changes, like comma here, comma there?
Anne & Margie at Bonnie Leifer's in Pittsburgh
      All done and the Winter Issue of Notes From Toad Hall is ready to go to the printer. We started chatting about Thanksgiving and I learned she’s having sixteen people for dinner including three of her son’s college roommates. I exclaimed that she’d need a really big turkey if she wanted leftovers, like at least 18 pounds. Better at 20. Those are big beasts to roast and I’ve had too many close calls and glitches despite years of experience. It seems I unintentionally attract disaster and feel this is very unfair of life.
     So despite my own lack of perfection, I’m sharing some of my fail-safe tips. In the manner of Hints from Heloise who often leaves me snickering and thinking, these people need to get a life.

These are my best suggestions for roasting a turkey:

Get a digital meat thermometer. Seriously. Maybe everyone else knows this. It’s taken me YEARS to figure out you NEED one. (I should be slapped for sniggering at Heloise.) There’ve been countless times when I thought I understood how long to roast a 21 pound turkey only to learn I’d done the math wrong and had to keep taking the thing out of the oven cutting into it, finding bloody flux, putting it back in, waiting, waiting, and then finally risking salmonella because everyone was either getting crabby and hungry or filling up on antipasto and egg nog and coming to the weighted table full. So get a digital meat thermometer with a probe and a wire that can string to the outside so you don’t even have to open the oven door if you don’t want to.

Get it done early. Err on the side of having it done an hour or even hour and a half before dinner time. (A thermometer will help you know when to take it out, and you can always keep it warm.) You will be so much more relaxed. Done early also gives the turkey time to relax which makes it easier to carve. This rarely happens at my house because I push the timing way too close and there we are carving a steaming hot turkey that shreds and splits rather than slicing up nice and clean. I am confident you can read cookbook tables with minutes per pound far better than me.

No special turkey roaster. Put it in a large pan, or whatever it fits in – it’s okay if the legs hang over a bit. Stuff it, if you’re into that. Jab the thermometer into the fleshiest part of the thigh. Be sure to oil the outside with butter or olive oil – this helps keep the aluminum foil from sticking to the skin. Cover it loosely with foil tucking it in around the edges. About an hour before it’s done remove the foil and baste if you like to have the skin all browned and crisp. Prick a fork into the leg joints and a lot of juice should run out.

Turkey baster. I’m really not one for gadgets. I don’t like gadgets like little dealies that help you separate egg whites from yolks. No. No. No. But a turkey baster has some uses that are deal breakers. Sucking up the juices in the bottom of the pan and squirting them over the beast really helps it stay moist and browns it up beautifully. The baster comes in handy for other things, like drawing the fat off a broth before you make gravy, and other things I mostly forget now.

Frozen Turkeys. If you have a frozen turkey, you have to remember to thaw it way in advance. If you need to put it in the oven early on Thanksgiving morning, you can’t just take it out the night before and let it thaw overnight. It will still be cement in the center. I know this from sad experience and hours spent running hot water into its cavity trying to pry out the plastic bag with the neck and giblets. You should take it out at least the morning before.

Living in the north. Has its advantages this time of year. If you make your stuffing earlier in the day before Thanksgiving: chill it. That way you can stuff your prepared turkey that night. Stick it on your porch or patio safe from predators (I set up steel traps and grenades) and where the temperature is close to freezing, because you know very well it will never fit back into your full refrigerator. Even a balcony will do. This way you get to sleep about an hour longer or until you hear guests muttering about breakfast.

There. Those are my best tips. Good luck. I will not be available for triage on Thanksgiving Day. But I will be glad to post any of your questions or disasters the day following.

Happy Thanksgiving way in advance. And I’m sorry I haven’t been posting more lately. Thank you for stopping by. I really appreciate it.



kate o. said...

even when roasting a small-ish chicken i think a digital thermometer isn't *really* necessary. and every time i end up regretting i don't have one.

thanks for the advice.

and oh, to be able to stash a turkey outside in florida.

anne melnyk said...

it would be thanksgiving for the racoons if i did that on my back stoop.

sandy said...

We usually have a 25 pound turkey but I just throw it in there with lots of butter on top and 5 hours later...voila''s done! So far it has worked!

I've not been to your blog for a time...;( But now I see you've written a book. Where can I get a copy without ordering online?
sandy ;)