8 TIPS FOR MAKING YOUR FIRST CHRISTMAS TURKEY
One of the easiest ways to make an almost-foolproof holiday turkey is to buy a self-basting bird with a pop-up thermometer, read the directions, and let the fantastic fowl turn itself into a masterpiece. If you want to go the extra mile to make sure your Tom is terrific, use these eight tips to get even better results – and on a dime.
CHECK OUT WEEKLY SALES BEFORE HEADING TO THE STORE
Purchasing the main dish and accompanying ingredients can really add-up, so keep your eye on weekly sales from your favorite retailers, and use that to form your grocery list before you head to the store.
Here’s an online peek at this week’s circulars (from many stores and multiple categories) that you can browse through. While it’s great to stay focused on filling the shopping list with the items that you see are on sale, keep an open mind to inspire other side dishes or complementary beverages that are also on-sale.
DEFROST THE BIRD CORRECTLY
If you buy a frozen bird, you’ll need a day or more to defrost it. Don’t put your turkey on the counter to defrost at room temperature. Start the defrosting process by transferring the rock-hard bird to your refrigerator. Don’t try to rush the process by using a microwave (even on the defrost setting) or running it under hot or cold water. Butterball recommends 24 hours of refrigerator thawing for every four pounds of frozen turkey, leaving it in its wrapping while defrosting. Alternately, you can defrost it in a sink or tub of cold water, breast side down, changing the water every 30 minutes. Give yourself 30 minutes of thawing time per pound using this method.
BUY A CHEESE CLOTH
A cheesecloth helps you keep your bird moist by trapping escaping moisture in the butter-soaked cloth. This also reduces your need to continually baste the turkey during a multi-hour cooking process.
BASTE FOR TASTE
If you don’t have a self-basting turkey, brush it with melted butter every 15 to 30 minutes to create a dark, crispy skin. When you’re cooking a bird for six hours or more, this can be a labor of love, but it’s well worth it. Here’s an aluminum basting pan that’s non-stick and comes with a lid.
PROTECT THE BREAST
The breast is the most tender and sough-after part of the bird. Because all parts of a turkey don’t cook the same way at the same time, it’s important to give the breast a little extra attention. You can place a piece of aluminum foil over it to prevent moisture from escaping through the skin during the cooking process.
You can also cook your bird upside down in a greased pan—this causes the juices from the meat above to drip down into the breast. If you use this method, lift the bird from the bottom of the roasting pan several times during the cooking process to make sure the skin doesn’t stick to the bottom. You can also cook the bird right side up, finishing it breast side down the last 30 to 45 minutes if you want to pay more attention to basting the skin on the top of the bird, or start it upside down and finish it right-side-up.
If your turkey doesn’t come with a thermometer, buy or borrow one to check the temperature of the bird and stuffed cavity (if you’re using that method for cooking your dressing). According to Butterball, the thighs should reach a temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit and the breast and stuffed cavity 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Be careful not poke large holes in the bird that let juices run out; wait until you’re about 30 minutes away from your recommended finishing time.
BE WARY OF STUFFING DRESSING
Yes, one’s a verb. Cooking your dressing inside the bird (which makes it stuffing) can increase the flavor of this side dish by adding the juices of the turkey to the bread and other ingredients as the turkey cooks. However, this increases the cook time and can result in a safety hazard if you don’t cook the interior of the bird (and the stuffing) thoroughly. The interior meat might not cook completely, increasing your risk for bacteria that can send people running to the restroom.
Don’t “stuff” your dressing into the cavity, packing it in tightly. Leave some space so the interior of the bird can cook properly (to 165 degrees Fahrenheit). Make the rest of your dressing in the oven, adding some stock to create a savory, crunchy side dish. Pre-cook raw proteins (such as oysters or sausage) if you plan on adding them to dressing you stuff and bake inside the bird.
You’ve worked for hours on making a tender, juicy turkey, so it’s naturally difficult to wait more than a few minutes to eat it once it comes out of the oven. However, if you slice into your bird shortly after removing it from the heat, the juices that have bubbled close to the surface won’t be able to be re-absorbed back into the meat. As soon as you start carving, all of those delicious juices will run out of the bird and onto the carving platter. Plan on letting your bird sit, or rest, for 15 minutes for a medium-size turkey, and up to 30 minutes for a very large one.
GET THE GRAVY CORRECT
Tossing some flour into your hot, liquid turkey fat can result in a thick, pasty sludge that hides the taste of your turkey, dressing and mashed potatoes. The best gravies take a bit of patience to make. Check out a few recipes on the ‘net to find the flavor and seasonings that you think will float your gravy boat. Gravy recipes often require you to melt some butter, slowly whisk in some sifted flour, and then add your drippings and/or some stock, along with seasonings. Depending on how much you seasoned your bird before you baked it, you might not need to add any more, but be prepared to add some salt and pepper to taste. For more flavor, add the innards of the bird while you cook your gravy.
Cornstarch is an acceptable alternative to flour and creates a gravy closer in consistency to the sauces you find in a Chinese restaurant. Mix the cornstarch with a bit of cold water before you put it directly into the turkey drippings.
This article was written by Sam Ashe-Edmunds, contributor for The Daily Clutch.