Thanksgiving Secrets: Three Steps To Avoid Late Turkey Syndrome
My family, like many, has a bad habit of Late Turkey Syndrome. Traditionally, we'd plan for Thanksgiving Dinner to be served at, say, six. The turkey wouldn't be done for another hour or two. A few years ago, my brother had our family over for Thanksgiving at his place in California, and he let me cook the turkey. I've been doing it since, and we've been free from Late Turkey Syndrome.
How did I do it? Read on...
- Turkey, Part I:
My basic method comes from Alton Brown's Good Eats Roast Turkey recipe. Why? It works. I'll have a fifteen pound turkey done in two and a half hours, and it will be good. The first time I made turkey this way for my family, they spent all morning pestering me to put the turkey in the oven. I kept putting them off. They thought we wouldn't be eating it until midnight. They were wrong.
I do tweak the flavorings here. The brine gets apple cider and bay leaves, for instance. While isn't mentioned in the recipe, you may want to cover browned areas with aluminum foil after the first thirty minutes of roasting to prevent burnination.
- Turkey, Part II:
I never leave well enough alone, so I had to improve on Alton Brown's turkey. How? Through basting. Normally, basting a turkey is counter-productive. First, normal basting of a turkey isn't going to lead to a juicier bird. A turkey's skin is waterproof. Normal basting is pointless. Second, normal basting a turkey involves opening the oven, cooling it dramatically. This is one of those things that leads to Late Turkey Syndrome.
So, if normal basting is bad, then clearly what we need is abnormal basting. What could be simpler? We need to be able to baste (1) under the turkey's skin (2) without opening the oven door. How do we accomplish this? Apples and butter.1 As they are heated, apples tend to release liquid. Similarly, butter melts. Freeze a stick of butter. Cut this and an apple (use a non-mealy variety that will get mushy when cooked) into slivers. Put these under the skin of the turkey before roasting it. If you are garlic-obsessed, you can add some garlic slivers in there, too. They aren't going to have quite the same effect, but you'll get roasted garlic bits in your turkey, and that's nothing to complain about.
Forget about stuffing. Instead, use dressing. It is the same thing - cooked outside of the turkey. Why? I am less concerned about the health reasons, actually, than I am on the effect that stuffing has on cooking time. Stuffing a turkey introduces a ton of variables to a turkey depending upon the density and moisture level of the stuffing. Stuffing is one of the main contributors to Late Turkey Syndrome. It isn't worth it.
My mother disagrees. We get in a fight every year about stuffing the turkey. She says it tastes better. Then I make stuffing that she loves and she recants her objections. Three hundred and fifty days later, she has forgotten this.
How do I make dressing2 that tastes as good as stuffing? That's another post. I promise you that it will be up on Monday at the latest. [update: Read it here!]
1 Not apple butter, though that is an interesting thought for a turkey glaze...
2 Generally, I just call it stuffing, since "dressing" is ambiguous.