Thanksgiving Cooking Tips
I’ve made many Thanksgiving feasts over the years. During the preparation of these meals, I’ve learned a few kitchen-tricks that can help you have a tasty, successful meal this year!
I don’t endorse any particular brand of turkey. What I recommend is finding a bird that is plump, and fresh- not frozen. You can call your local butcher and reserve a fresh turkey if you haven’t done this before. If you have to buy a frozen bird, find one that is hormone and antibiotic-free. Frozen turkey will take 24-36 hours to thaw before cooking, so be sure to plan ahead.
Always season your bird before placing it in the oven! I always rub olive oil, a small amount of soft butter, and plenty of kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper all over the turkey, inside and out. You can fill the cavity with dressing, but I prefer cut onions, carrots, celery, and a few wedges of lemons.
Before cooking your turkey, let it sit out for two hours. Cold meat can seize up when exposed to heat. Once the turkey is cooking, leave it alone; opening the door constantly will lower the temperature in the oven slowing the cooking time. If you want to baste, do it 2-3 times only.
Once the turkey has completed cooking, let it rest for 15-20 minutes. As the meat rests the fats inside become more viscous, resulting in juicier, more flavorful meat.
Smooth, creamy mashed potatoes are an important part of Thanksgiving. Yukon Gold, and russet potatoes work well. If you’re looking for a different potato-experience give a high-moisture potatoes a try. Red skins are flavorful and can be mashed with the skins on.
To prevent lumps, make sure your potatoes are thoroughly cooked. While the spuds are boiling, insert a knife into the center- if it pierces the potato easily, they are ready to be drained and mashed.
Use real cream! Thanksgiving is not the time to watch calories. Find a quality cream with a high butterfat content to use. Place the cream and butter on the stove or in the microwave until it is hot- this will help maintain the temperature. There’s nothing worse than cold mashers.
If you want a real flavor boost, reserve some of the turkey fat from the roasting pan and add it to the mixing bowl with the butter while mashing your taters.
I’m not a big fan of placing stuffing inside the bird- I make mine in a separate pan. Caramelized onions, fresh celery, and carrots add important flavor layers. Experiment with different types of breads- brioche, whole wheat, rustic Italian, and cornbread all work well. Fresh herbs such as sage (my all-time favorite for stuffing) thyme, and rosemary are good choices. Apples, nuts, dried fruits, and sautéed veggies can all be used in stuffing- these ingredients add character and texture to your creation!
I always make extra gravy- it’s poor form to run out during the most important meal of the year. Hosts using jarred gravy will be dropped off in the woods never to be seen again.
While the turkey is resting, place the roasting pan (with juices from the bird) on the stove over low heat. Run a wooden spatula along the bottom of the pan- this helps remove all of the flavor goodies that will help form your gravy. After the liquid has heated slightly, deglaze with turkey or chicken stock. Continue stirring combining the liquids in the pan. Carefully strain the stock from the pan; set aside.
I always make a roux (a mixture of fat and flour used for making sauces) when preparing my gravy. Once the roux is ready, add the strained stock from the roasting pan and stir. The thickness of the gravy can be adjusted by adding more stock. Finishing the gravy with a few pats of butter and an immersion blender will provide you with a shiny, rich product.
If you have any tips to add, please share them with me!
Chef Chuck Kerber