Fleisher’s Turkey Madness, Part IV: Cooking

Posted November 17th, 2011 in Posted in Recipes & Other Helpful Tips

I have so many dishes to make! How do I know what to cook first?

Make a list. Figure out how long each dish takes to cook and write them down in descending order, from the most time-consuming to the least. That may sound like obvious advice, but you’ll find that having a list to refer to really helps to avoid confusion.

Some recipes call for sweet potatoes and some call for yams. What’s the difference?

A true yam is a starchy African root vegetable that is rarely available in the United States. The term is often used, however, for orange-fleshed American sweet potatoes (the most common kind), to distinguish them from the less common pale-yellow-fleshed variety. Generally, American recipes that call for yams, red-skinned sweet potatoes, tan-skinned sweet potatoes, dark orange sweet potatoes, or just sweet potatoes are all talking about the same thing.

Do I have to rinse the bird before I prep it?

Yes, inside and out with cold water. Then pat it dry. And don’t forget to pull out the giblet packet that’s usually tucked into the neck cavity.

How do I tell if the turkey’s right side up?

Most recipes call for roasting the turkey breast side up. When it’s in this position, the broad, curved breast bone will be facing up and the wings will be close to or touching the bottom of the pan.

What’s the ideal temperature for roasting the turkey?

It depends on the recipe. Unless you have a standard method that you always use, it’s a good idea to follow a recipe’s instructions precisely when it comes to brining, roasting times, and temperatures. See the Fleisher’s Was roasting handout.

How do I know when my turkey’s done?

Roasting times depend on a number of factors and the traditional “until the juices run clear” test is not very accurate. For instance, if you’re cooking an organic turkey, the meat may stay pink even after it’s done. The best way to be assured of a perfect bird is to use a meat thermometer and take the turkey out of the oven at 150 degrees.

My gravy is often lumpy. What am I doing wrong?

Gravy is made by combining flour or cornstarch and fat (usually either butter or the fat separated from the pan drippings) and cooking the paste (called a roux), then adding liquid (usually chicken broth or the liquid separated from the pan drippings). Be sure to add the liquid slowly and whisk constantly to avoid lumps. To fix lumpy gravy, put it in the blender on high for about a minute.

My turkey is a complete disaster — I can’t even figure out what’s wrong!

When all else fails, you can always call the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line at 1-800-BUTTERBALL. A team of experts, available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. throughout November and December (6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thanksgiving day), will talk  you through all your struggles with the big bird.

I have the same problem every year: By the time I get everything on the table, some items are ice cold. What can I do?

This is the eternal cook’s dilemma, and there’s no perfect solution. One way to stack the deck in your favor is to prepare as much as possible ahead of time and then reheat things just before mealtime. This takes advantage of the fact that the turkey needs to “rest” after roasting for approximately 30 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. If you don’t have a microwave and you need to reheat baked items such as potato gratin, you might need to stick them in the oven during the last half-hour or so of turkey roasting. But otherwise, the resting time should probably be sufficient to heat microwave and stovetop items.

Reheat the denser items first, and start as soon as the turkey comes out of the oven. Turn the oven off (the residual heat from roasting will keep it warm). Remove the stuffing from the bird to a bowl, cover the bowl, and put it in the oven. Transfer the turkey to a platter, tent it with foil, and put it in a warm corner of the kitchen. Then start reheating items such as extra stuffing, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes. When those are done, cover them with foil and put them in the oven. (If you run out of room, the top of the stove, most likely warm form the vented oven heat, can handle overflow.) Then heat the other vegetables. At the last minute, put the bread into the oven to warm slightly.

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