I was typing up a recipe for homemade pan gravy today when the phone rang and the "new email" message sounded. Not surprising, family and friends usually call out their Thanksgiving turkey prep questions when faced with a challenge in the midst of cooking. At least the 9-1-1 calls are coming before Thanksgiving Day.
So today (with time to spare before company arrives) I'll share a few of the questions -- and my answers.
Q. I am not making a whole turkey this year. Do you have a suggestion for cooking a turkey breast that doesn't dry out?
A. Make a compound butter to place between the skin and the meat:
1 lg onion-rough chopped, 4 cloves garlic- peeled, 1/2 cup tightly packed fresh parsley leaves, 10 fresh sage leaves, 2 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, zest of one lemon, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 4 oz cold butter-cut into pieces, 2 teaspoons Mrs. Dash or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Place 1st 7 ingredients in food processor, finely chop, add butter pieces and Mrs. Dash seasoning, pulse until combined-do not overwork the butter it will melt from the heat of food processor. Cut 1 orange and 1 onion into quarters. Place on the bottom of roasting pan with 3 bay leaves, or stuff in turkey cavity. Pour ½ cup vegetable stock + 1/2 cup dry white wine in the pan. Place turkey breast on the rack, brush with light coat of melted butter. Season skin with Mrs Dash or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast in 425 F for 15 minutes, turn down oven temp to 350F, continue to roast until thermometer reads 160 F. Note:Tent with foil if skin browns to quickly. Rest for 20 minutes before slicing.
Q. Do I have to use a roasting rack?
A. Yes. The rack keeps the turkey off the bottom of the pan, away from added liquid and pan juices. If the bottom sits in the juices, it braises instead of roasts. The skin on the bottom will not crisp up if in liquid. The rack allows the oven air to circulate around the turkey.
even-cooking, the size to buy, and to stuff or not to stuff after the jumpQ. How do I get an even roast? My white meat is always dried out and the dark meat is perfect.
A. Pull it apart. No one sees the turkey for more than a second if at all before it gets carved, so forget visions of Norman Rockwell on the table. Separate the legs and thighs from the body of the turkey at the joint, cook them separated, remove each section from the oven when done. Or cover white meat (breast) with foil 30 minutes before removing the whole turkey from the oven.
Q. To stuff or not to stuff?
A. It's a mixed bag.
Pro: Stuffing tastes delicious with all the juice absorbed from the turkey. Con: It takes a stuffed bird longer to cook. Food safety worriers warn to make sure the internal temperature of the stuffing is 170 F.
Solution: Make a moister dressing to compensate for not cooking in turkey (try a bread pudding style stuffing!) or after you cook dressing, mix some of the strained pan juices in before serving.
Q. I am having (fill in the blank) people for dinner. What size turkey should I buy?
A. A good rule of thumb is 1 to 1.5 lbs per person. Buy a 10- 12 lb turkey for 8 people, 12-15 lbs for 10 people, 25-27 lbs for 18 people; the size range depends on your appetite for leftovers.
Another tip: If you are having a larger crowd and are hesitant to cook a 20+lb turkey, purchase one whole turkey plus extra breast or legs depending on what kind of meat (white or dark) you prefer.