Saturday, November 26, 2011
This time of year, the subject on the cooking pages is turkey. Nearly every article on how to cook a big bird starts out by declaring turkey to be dry and tasteless, but if you must have one on the Thanksgiving table for whatever benighted reason, the author's method (which is more involved than a NASA moon launch) is the only one that will yield a moist, flavorful bird. The two main parts of the author's argument will be (1) don't stuff the bird! you will die of food poisoning! and (2) the legs and breast cannot possibly both be properly cooked at the same time.
I've eaten and/or cooked 50-some turkeys by now, and with few exceptions*, they have been moist and flavorful. Here's how to cook a delicious turkey:
1. Stuff the damn bird. Stuffing adds flavor and moisture (duh). If you prefer dressing cooked in a separate pan, fill the bird's cavity with chunks of onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and if it sounds appealing, an apple or lemon or two. The pan drippings, and thus your gravy, will be all the better.
2. Baste the bejesus out of it. Smear butter all over it to start, and add some stock or wine to the bottom of the pan if you like the idea. Once the cooking gets going, use the juices in the pan.
3. The bird is done when the thigh joint is loose. Use a meat thermometer if you're not confident about judging when the bird is done. Don't rely on the pop-up timer if the bird has one. It's probably calibrated to cook the bird to operating-room levels of sterility. Remember the bird continues to cook for a while after it's out of the oven, so allow for resting time.
And that's it. If you're taking timing directions from a recipe and the bird comes out dry, the directions are wrong. Since I cook a smallish bird if I cook one, I like the directions in Joy of Cooking: start with the oven heated to 450, then turn it down to 350 for 20-25 minutes per pound. And baste the bejesus out of it.
*One exception was a bird produced by an indifferent cook who didn't stuff it, and then followed the timing directions to the minute rather than relying on testing the bird. She used Stove Top pre-made dressing, too, which shows she was not a real cook. A couple of others have been off-years from otherwise good cooks. It happens to the best of us.