Thursday, November 4, 2010

We're Talking Turkey for Thanksgiving

Like you, we feel intimidated by the prospect of cooking turkey for Thanksgiving. The turkey is an icon, a hero, a symbol of a great holiday that's focused on food (like all of FoodPair's favorite holidays). On top of that, turkey is the star of the show, and like those three tenors at the opera, the Thanksgiving turkey is huge.

So, how should you tackle this giant, tasty bird? Let FoodPair show you the ropes and check out our ideas for making a delicious turkey without breaking a sweat.

1. The Beginning: buy a Turkey and make sure to defrost it early.

Let's get the easy stuff and prep out of the way early:

Plan ahead: Figure out how much turkey you need based on the crowd you're feeding. Typically, aim for a 12-15 lb turkey for 10-12 people, 15-18 lb turkey for 14-16 people, or 18-22 lb turkey for 20-22 people.

Defrost well in advance: Thanksgiving Turkeys are typically huge, running well over 10 pounds. So, if you buy one frozen it's best to defrost it for 3 days in the fridge before Turkey Day arrives.

Start early on Thursday: When the big day arrives, remember that large turkeys take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours to cook, so plan your day accordingly. Get that guy in the oven early so you have time to relax with family & friends and watch some classic Thanksgiving football.

Pre-heat the oven: Along those lines, remember to pre-heat the oven. Most of our recipes call for cooking at 325 or 350 degrees. At those temperatures, the turkey will take a while to cook, but will be moist and that's what it's all about.

2. Prep the Bird.

OK, so we're ready to open the package and get moving. First, remove and discard everything you don't want: for most, this means tossing the neck and bag of innards that comes in the package. Next, rinse the turkey with water, inside and out.

For the outside of the turkey, we like to add more flavor. A lot of people rub or spray butter on the outside of the bird and that works well to add moisture and get the skin golden brown. We've also enjoyed spreading a marinate on the turkey. It's simple: combine 1/4 cup olive oil with 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar and minced garlic. Mix it up, then rub the mixture all over the turkey. Sprinkle salt & pepper on the bird as well.

Also, coat the bottom of the roasting pan. It's your call on what to use, but a lot of people use chicken stock, water, or olive oil. We like water or stock since evaporation will add moisture to the turkey as it cooks.

3. The Stuffing!

For a lot of people stuffing is their favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal, so don't miss out. Of course, there are prepared stuffing mixes or home-made recipes. This one with Sausage & Fennel sounds delicious. Nearly anything will work for stuffing and we like ones with cubes of bread, carrots, onion, celery and green pepper. Here's the deal for safety: if you stuff the turkey with veggies at the beginning, those should be discarded after roasting. If you want to eat the stuffing from the bird, add it during the last 30 minutes of cooking. It's a good idea to have stuffing in the bird from the beginning for moisture and flavor, so with 30 minutes to go, you can swap the original for a tasty version for dinner.

4. Roast the turkey, but stay alert for basting.

So, a large turkey will take 3 to 5 hours to cook. The rule of thumb is about 15 minutes per pound, but it's best to have a pop-up thermometer in the turkey or a meat thermometer to check the temperature. When it hits 170 to 180 degrees, you're done. Check out some of the great turkey recipes from FoodPair for more tips & ideas: Roast Turkey with Spiked Gravy or No Basting Roasted Turkey.

Cover the turkey with foil for roasting, but remove it for the last hour of cooking to allow the skin to crisp.

Basting is key, so every 15 to 20 minutes, spoon the liquid from the pan over your bird.

Remove the stuffing and let the turkey rest for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. That seals all the juices in!

Finally, the best gravy is made from the pan drippings. You can serve them straight up, or season with salt & pepper and thicken with a little flour

Have other favorite Turkey recipes or tips? Post them in the comments section!