Your guide to a juicy, flavorful Thanksgiving bird
This time of year turkeys are flying off supermarket shelves - 45 million birds will be gobbled up coast to coast for the Thanksgiving feast. Some will be tender and juicy, others NASCAR-tire chewy and Styrofoam tasteless. Let me dish up some seasoned bird advice and damage control to guide you through Turkey Land so your holiday won't turn out a "foul" one.
The pivotal question - do you want a boy or a girl bird? Tom is the boy, hen is the girl. Large, older males are tastier and tenderer than the wily young boys, while old hens are tough birds. So it's better to buy a young hen no older than 15 months or an old tom. (Why is it that men always seem to age better even in the turkey's world?)
If you want more breast meat, buy the hen, but if dark meat is your druthers, tom's for you.
Now do you want organic, free-range or kosher? The organic turkeys are raised on a balanced diet of pesticide-free corn and soybean meal compared to conventional ones that are pumped with antibiotics so they don't catch the flu and hormones for plumper breasts.
If you are migraine-prone or health conscious, stick to the hormone-free organic bird. And don't confuse free-range with organic. Just because these birds are dancing the turkey trot in the yard doesn't mean they are toxin-free (i.e. hormones and antibiotics).
Finally, kosher birds, oy vey, are slaughtered, cleansed and blessed under strict kosher laws with rabbinical supervision. They are soaked and salted in the old-world style similar to brining, so they are moist and tender.
Once you've made your informed pick, here are 10 cardinal turkey rules you may want to follow:
- Allow one pound of meat per person (for children, less than a pound is fine).
- Never, never, never put a frozen turkey in the oven unless you start roasting on Labor Day. Unthaw the bird in the refrigerator, breast side up in a shallow pan in its original wrapper allowing 24 hours for every four pounds.
- Only stuff the bird with cooked ingredients and pasteurized eggs to prevent the formation of food-borne germs. Stuff immediately before roasting, do not overstuff and unstuff immediately after removing the bird from the oven.
- Nuking the bird is also a no-no unless you want a 20-pound basketball. And puh-leeze don't cook and carve in advance and reheat. That's what leftovers are for.
- Massage the skin with olive oil and seasonings, and if cholesterol is not your problem, whip up a compound by creaming butter with fresh sage and slip under the breast skin for a juicy, flavorful bird.
- For a stuffed turkey allow 30 minutes per pound, unstuffed 20 minutes per pound, no lower than 325 degrees Fahrenheit. To check for doneness stick a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh. At 180 degrees, the bird is done, while the stuffing must reach 165 degrees.
- If you're planning on deep-frying the bird, please go outside. In any event, make sure your smoke detectors are working, and have a fire extinguisher and home cholesterol test handy.
- Tent your turkey with damp parchment paper instead of aluminum foil.
- After removing the turkey from the oven, let it nap for 20 minutes so the juices settle in, making it easier to carve.
- If you really don't know what the heck you're doing, order in Chinese. Black bean chicken isn't bad.