Thanksgiving With A Twist – The Star of the Show: The Turkey!

Everyone is sitting there, patiently waiting.  The anticipation is building.  The crowd goes silent as the star of the show steps to center stage.  Then, the crowd oohs and aahs.  But this is just the arrival of the star…there’s more of the performance to come.

The dark green leaves enhance the grand entrance of Aida's Apple and Sage Turkey (cookingchanneltv.com)

YES!  This is the turkey – the star of the Thanksgiving Dinner show. 

The first reaction comes as the bird first comes to view – we “eat” with our eyes first.  We want the bird to look perfectly TANNED!  If the bird comes to the table a little pale, the audience automatically expects a poor performance. 

The next sense to react is the nose.  The smell of the bird alerts the mouth that something good is coming soon.  The nose also offers a critique.  It determines if the herbs and oil in preparation have done the job.

Finally, the taste buds are ready to give final approval.  The judging criteria for the tongue is texture and flavor.  A thumbs up indicates the flesh of the bird was crisp and the meat was moist.  It also gives another thumbs up if the bird has layers of flavor – from the skin and all the way through.

No pool of turkey gravy or mound of cornbread stuffing is going to mask the fact a bird is dry or has no flavor.  And people may have their favorite side dishes or love all the desserts they ate.  But they will always remember the poor performance of a turkey!

If you want to avoid hearing the crowd boo at your dinner table, here’s some tips to ensure that your guests request an encore performance!

Let’s start with choosing your bird and food safety:

  • Before choosing your turkey, make sure to allow 1 lb to 1 1/2 lbs. per person.  That sounds like a lot but that compensates for the bones and allows for a bit of shrinkage.
  • Also make sure you have the necessary equipment to cook & serve your turkey (roasting pan and rack, turkey fryer, pans, platters, carving knife and fork, thermometer, etc.)
  • If you are using a frozen turkey, make sure you allow 2-3 days for the turkey to thaw in the refrigerator.  Do NOT thaw on the counter because you could create the opportunity for bacteria to form on the surface of the bird while the interior is still frozen.  Bring to room temperature before you start preparing the bird to go in the oven.
  • If you are using a fresh turkey, don’t purchase it too early.  Tuesday or Wednesday should be fine.
  • Also wash your hands when handling the flesh of the bird to prevent contamination.

There are several ways to cook your bird:

  • Smoking:  If you’ve got the smoker, this is an excellent way to get that smoked flavor and pink, moist skin.  Really great flavor. 
  • Brining:  This concept has become very popular in the last few years.  Soaking the bird in a mixture of sugar, salt, and spices produces a very juicy bird.  The challenge is finding a container large enough.  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/good-eats-roast-turkey-recipe/index.html
  • Deep fried:  This produces a crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside product.  However, safety is the key here.  You need the proper equipment to cook the turkey OUTSIDE.  You need to establish a large space FAR from your house as your cooking “arena”.  And you also will need a LOT of oil.  But a short cut would be to simply order one from Popeye’s. 
  • Roasted:  This is the traditional way of cooking the turkey.  However, I do suggest one step to add for moistness.  Make a herb butter with some garlic and your favorite herbs.  Loosen the skin around the breast of the turkey.  Then, spread some of that butter between the skin and breast.  Also spread some on the top.  This will help to create a bird that is not only juicy but LAYERED with flavor.  (If you have any leftover butter, save it.  You can use it to saute veggies, butter rolls or flavor your mashed potatoes.)

    Herbed butter adds moistness and flavor to the skin and meat...it also adds color as the bird browns

Additionally, keep these tips in mind:

  • Whatever method you use in preparation, read your directions thoroughly before Thanksgiving Eve.  This will insure you have all the ingredients and tools you need. 
  • If you don’t have an instant read thermometer, invest in one.  It will not only come in handy for your turkey but other meats in the future.  For your bird, white meat is done at around 160 to 165°.  Dark meat temp should be about 170-180°. 
  • Personally, I don’t suggest stuffing your bird.  Sometimes the bird and the stuffing don’t reach doneness at the same time. 
  • If your bird is getting too brown, cover it with foil rather than lowering your oven temp.
  • Baste, baste, baste!
  • Once you remove the bird from the oven, let it rest for 20-30 minutes to allow the juices to settle throughout the bird. 
  • When slicing the bird, make sure your knife is sharp.  Or use an electric knife.

Finally, we come to serving.  Some people like to bring the bird intact to the table to make a grand entrance.  Others carve it first.  My suggestion is that if you are serving a lot of people, go ahead and slice and carve to save time.  You can still arrange the bird attractively on the platter. 

photo credit: Keller & Keller Photography

I hope your bird gets rave reviews!

Herb Butter

  • 1 stick of softened butter
  • 3 tablespoons of fresh herbs (I like basil, oregano and sage)
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic (optional)
  • grated orange or lemon zest, to taste (optional)

Stir together to combine.  Leave in a softened state if you are going to use to flavor your bird.  Otherwise, refrigerate until needed.

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