Tue 23 Nov 2004
Despite the advertisement, up to this point I've not posted at all on my passion for food and wine. But given that the season of eating is upon us, I thought I'd share some of the wisdom I learned at the French Culinary Institute.
So, here are the four foolproof tips for cooking your turkey this Thanksgiving:
1. Brine It
This is the single best thing you can do to improve the flavor and juiciness of your turkey. In a large pot on the stove add:
- about 1/4 cup of kosher salt for each gallon of water
- 1 whole lemon + juice (just squeeze it in there and throw the lemon halves in)
- 3-4 whole cloves
Heat the mixture up to dissolve the salt and then cool it completely. You can make any additions to the brine for additional flavor. For instance: bay leaves, thyme or rosemary, cinnamon sticks, a bit of honey or brown sugar, cardamom. The only way to tell if it's salty enough is to taste. It should taste like sea water.
Brine the turkey whole for at least 24 hours.
2. Do Not Stuff! Do Not Baste!
Stuffing and basting are about the two dumbest things you can do to a turkey. Here's why. You want moist turkey. The oven creates drying heat that will eventually suck the moisture out of your bird. So basically you want to get it in and out of there as quick as you can. If you stuff the turkey, you increase its mass. If you increase its mass you increase the cooking time. If you like dry turkey that's fine. Another thing you might want to try if you like dry turkey is opening the oven door all the time to baste it and let the heat out. That'll sure make it take longer. And don't be fooled: basting does not make your turkey more moist. How's that juice going to get way down into the meat?
3. Tent It
The problem with cooking poultry, as everyone knows, is that the white meat cooks faster than the dark meat. If you wait for the dark meat to be done, you'll have overdone white meat. If you take it out when the white meat is done, you'll have uncooked dark meat. So what do you do? Tent it. Crank the oven up to 425 and shove that bird in there (unstuffed, of course). Let the skin caramelize to seal in all the juices for about 45 minutes. Then take a large piece of tin foil, folded over and molded to fit the shape of the breast. (You might want to shape it in advance so you don't have the oven door open too long to put the tent on.) Turn the heat down to 350 and let it go the rest of the way.
4. Use a Thermometer
Take my word for it: there is no other way to know when your bird is done except by temperature. The x number of minutes per pound method is terrible. Buy one of those digital thermometers with a metal probe. After you've tented the turkey, shove the probe in to the deepest part of the breast on one side without touching the underlying bone. When the thermometer reads 165 degrees, that sucker is done!
Follow these simple steps and you can't go wrong.