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Monday, November 23, 2009

The Rules of Turkey Engagement

I am feeling the joyous Thanksgiving buzz all around me. The grocery stores are jammed with people, casual conversation inevitably turns into discussions of where to get a good deal on turkey, and more importantly how to cook that darn bird. What a great holiday, all centered around cooking, eating, and being with people you love. Because so many of you want to know, here are my rules for Turkey engagement:

1. Do not be afraid. Embrace the challenge and put all the love you have into your turkey, there's no one way to turkey. Turkey IS the way.

2. To brine or not to brine. This is a hot debate in around Thanksgiving. Soaking your turkey in a mixture of salt, water, herbs & seasonings is intended to give you a juicier bird. I will brine this year, since I am already devoting myself to 2 days of cooking, so why not? But don't get all worked up about brining, just throw in some extras that you already have around for your other dishes.

* 1 cup kosher salt
* 1/2 cup light brown sugar or regular sugar
* 2 gallon water or vegetable stock
* 1 tablespoon black peppercorns

Feel free to throw in some lemon, orange peels, fresh sprigs of thyme, parsley, a bay leaf, a little beer, white wine, maple syrup, whatever floats your boat. Place your defrosted turkey breast down in the brine for 8-16 hours. Weigh down if necessary. Flip bird halfway through brining. Keep in refrigerator or a cool area of your kitchen.

3. Don't play guessing games. Buy a thermometer and stick it in the widest section of the breast, it should read between 161-165 degrees, and in the joint between the thigh (without touching the bone), it should be 180 degrees. The juice should run clear. If you can help it don't poke it too much, or the juices will escape.

4. Keep it simple. I'm doing my turkey with a simple butter and herb mixture from Saveur's recipe.

Pat your turkey dry with paper towels. Season turkey all over and inside the cavity with salt and pepper.

Combine the following:
12 Tbsp UNSALTED butter, softened
2 TBSP finely chopped sage & thyme
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp light brown sugar

Rub the herb butter mixture all over your turkey, and under the skin, where the breast is, like Julia Child. Save some butter mixture to melt for basting.

Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees. Set turkey on roasting pan with rack on the lowest part of your oven. Pour 2 cups of water in the bottom of your roasting pan and roast bird for 30 minutes, baste with butter once. Then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bast occasionally until your temperature reaches the guidelines listed above. Cover loosely with foil and let it sit for 15-30 minutes before carving.

5. We love stuffing, but not in the bird. Make your stuffing separately from the turkey. I know it's called stuffing -or dressing if you're in the south- but it will just mess up your bird, because by the time the stuffing is cooked your bird will be dry and overcooked, or worse, you could give yourself food poisoning.

Instead fill your turkey cavity with this mixture:

1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped,
1 rib celery, chopped
orange or lemon slices, some leftover sprigs of fresh herbs

****Here is a great stuffing/"dressing" recipe from Food Network's Tyler Florence with sausage and chestnuts!

6. What to drink? The herbs and butter in this turkey will be great with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

7. I'm from New England, so you got to have FRESH cranberries. Here's an easy, refreshing cranberry sauce:

1 seedless orange
1 12 oz. fresh cranberries

pulse in food processor, add 3/4- 1 cup sugar according to your taste, some thyme if you have it.

Makes 2.5 cups

8. Have a wonderful, joyous, food coma-inducing Thanksgiving! I hope you have many things to be thankful for!

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