Based on interactions with customers in the shop, I have some added tips for you holiday cooks. Not recipes, but tips to help eliminate some confusion or possible worry on Thanksgiving or any holiday for that matter.
Temperature Not Time
Always cook the turkey by temperature and not time. In other words, your turkey is done when it reaches the correct internal temperature and not the time according to the tick-tock device on the wall. If you use a remote temperature probe, you can set an alarm to sound when a specific temperature has been reached. I like a remote probe because you don’t poke lots of holes in the bird checking its temperature.
Please do not wait until the turkey is 180 degrees to pull it from the oven. There is something known as carryover cooking which means that when you have turned off the heat or removed something from the oven, it doesn’t stop cooking instantly. This is why recipes often tell us to blanch food, typically vegetables, in cold/ice water to arrest the cooking process.
A roast the size of a 15+ pound turkey will generate about 5-10 degrees of carryover cooking. So if your goal is 170 or 175, do the math and pull it when reaches 165 to 170 in the thickest part of the thigh.
My favored method is cooking the bird on a high heat, 425 degrees, for about 20-30 minutes then turning the oven down to 325 or 350 degrees and cooking until the desired temperature is reached. This burns off the fat quicker, kick starts the roasting process and still cooks slowly enough for even heat distribution.
If you are concerned with over cooking the breast meat, cover it with a foil “tent” or a plain paper bag with one side cut out at the beginning of cooking. This will protect the breast meat while you wait for the turkey to cook through. Simply remove the protection about half way through the cooking so the skin will brown and crisp.
Blind Bake Pie Crust
When making the Thanksgiving / holiday pies, I have found that it is best to blind bake the crust in the oven before putting the filling inside. Blind baking is simply baking the pie dough in the pie pan until golden brown and just set.
This method allows the crust to develop its own structure and flavor which will then compliment the filling. The best pies allow you to taste the flaky, buttery crust as well as the yummy filling. Why bother making or buying a good quality crust if it will just be softened and overwhelmed by the filling?
Set the oven to 425 and use aluminum foil or parchment lining between the dough and the weight which you will place on top. The weight(s) keep the crust from bubbling up. About 10 – 12 minutes into the process remove the lining with the weight(s) and continue until the crust is golden, about 8 minutes more. Trust your eye more than the time. I like to let the crust set up in the freezer for a few minutes or in the fridge for a bit longer before blind baking; this helps keep the crust from sliding down the sides of the pan.
People are curious about whether they need to buy a large baking pan for the stuffing or a couple of smaller ones. Obviously at Thanksgiving, we are cooking crowd-size portions and need to balance that with long term usefulness of the pan we buy. If you have a crowd, buying a large baking pan makes sense and by that I mean larger than the typical 13″x9″. You can use bigger baking dishes for lasagna or large gratins or stuffing, which may seem limited, but I find that seldom used cooking vessels like this are handy when you entertain and can even be used as an attractive roasting pan.
However during large cooking events like Thanksgiving, oven space is at a premium, so you may find it easier to make large amounts of food in a couple of smaller dishes and cook them in other ways (see below).
To make sure the thanksgiving meal comes to the table reasonably together, one needs to have a rough outline for when each phase should start and finish. The turkey is the long pole in the tent and everything should revolve around that end time.
There are so many items to be accounted for like boiling the potatoes, prepping other side dishes, making a stock for the gravy and making sure the necessary ingredients are laid out “mise en place” for each stage.
I make my own dinner rolls so those have to mixed and set to rise then to proof so that they will be ready for the oven when the turkey comes out, allowing for time to bring the oven to a higher temperature for the bread to bake and side dishes to cook or reheat.
Oven and cooktop space can get tight during huge feasts. In Thanksgiving’s past, I have used my convection toaster oven and an outdoor gas grill as additional cooking devices. In desperate times, a hot oven is a hot oven. I will use any means necessary to get the job done.
The Unexpected Thanksgiving Mishap
No matter how well you have planned and organized yourself and your kitchen, something will not go as expected, especially on Thanksgiving. Don’t panic, simply adjust, rearrange and go with the flow. Remember what Julia Child said, “Never apologize, Don’t make excuses”. In the modern vernacular, “what happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen”.
Thanksgiving Clean up
I have found that there is no stain or mess that Bar Keepers Friend cannot clean up. I always have it on hand and recommend you buy some for your Thanksgiving feast clean up. It works wonders on all metals (including copper), bakeware and even grout.
In the end, you will survive Thanksgiving and even enjoy yourself along the way.
Here’s wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. In the spirit of the holiday, may we be thankful for the generous bounty in our lives complete not only with material blessings, but also full of loving friends and family.