November 24th, 2010

Cook that bird

The big day is tomorrow. As usual, there are many pointers on how best to cook that bird.

I have a simple method: it almost doesn’t matter. Just get a good turkey and the rest will follow. A bird will be dry or moist, tasty or bland, depending on its nature more than on the cooking method you use.

Within reason, of course. The principle holds true as long as you cook it according to any of the generally accepted, tried and true methods. I’ve used somewhat lower longer heat and somewhat higher shorter heat, basted it more and basted it less, covered it with cheesecloth or not, and haven’t noticed any patterns—except that, since you bathe it in gravy and cranberry sauce anyway before you eat it, even a piece of bland dry turkey meat ends up tasting not so bad in the end.

The whole point is really the rest of the food, isn’t it? I’m a sweet-potato-sans-marshmallow gal, as well as a proponent of the pumpkin-pie-can-be-easily-dispensed-with school. Pecan pie, on the other hand, is a must-have, despite the fact that it packs in about 1,000 calories a bite.

26 Responses to “Cook that bird”

  1. Scott Says:

    I double dare you to try this White Castle Slider stuffing recipe:

  2. gatorbait51 Says:

    Pecan pie in the South is 2,000 calories per look.. ;-)

  3. suek Says:

    I cook turkeys the way my Mommy taught me – breast down, so that the back fat does the basting. Not as pretty a turkey – it has the impressions of the meat rack across the breast, and the breast isn’t as beautifully browned – but always moist and tender. Start in an oven preheated at 400*, reduce temp to 325* after 20 minutes.

    My most interesting experience was a long long time ago in Germany. We had duck for a change – there were only the two of us. My oven was a German one that had – instead of the usual temperature dial we have in the US – a knob that controlled the heat on the basis of long, medium or short flame. The only way to know which way you were going (no marks on the knob) was to get down on your hands and knees and peer through a little slit that offered a view of the burner. I started the oven. Put the duck in for some period of time. It was too hot, and the fat started hissing and spitting rather noticeably, so I turned it down to “short flame”. It seemed to be taking forever, so I think I turned it up again – I don’t remember. In any case, when it was done, the skin was crispy crunchy and stood out from the duck like an encasement. There seemed to be about an inch of air space between the skin and the duck – but it was _delicious_!!

    And I’ve never been able to do it exactly the same again!

  4. Darrell Says:

    I highly recommend brining, in fact I wont do a turkey any other way, lots of resources out there explaining how to do it:
    Also the turkey cooks faster, 2/3 of the time an unbrined turkey takes. How about a recipe sharing post Neo?

  5. texexec Says:

    I agree about the sweet potatoes, Neo. They are already sweet…why add marshmellows?

    Here in Texas, lots of our turkeys are barbequed. And, in our family, we make two kinds of cranberry sauce…the traditional and one with the cranberries ground more finely and jalapenos and cilantro added. That is GOOD!

    My mom’s recipe for pecan pie has dark raisins in it. Oddly enough, it seems to cut down on the VERY sweet taste of regular pecan pie. It’s the best pecan/raisin pie evah!

  6. I R A Darth Aggie Says:

    I’ll pipe up for brining, too. It helps keep the bird moist, and can be used on all poultry. The size of the bird determines the length of time to brine. Also, Darrell’s helpful link shows a couple of brine receipes that include things other than brine to add flavors to your final product.

    And there’s something to be said for flan. True, it isn’t a traditional Thanksgiving fare, but I’m an outside-the-box kind of cook. The hard part is in not burning the caramel.

  7. I R A Darth Aggie Says:

    Oh, and since I’m cooking for only me, I’m going be throwing some steaks on the barbie and grilling them up.

  8. Darrell Says:

    IRA, thanks, this website describes my method with the ice chest I have been using for years since there is never room in the fridge:
    I also use it on shrimp, chicken, catfish fillets etc. awesome results.
    I recently updated my 20 year old copy of Joy of Cooking and it has new brining recipes in the updates:

  9. Rick Says:

    I do beer can turkey. You’re limited to no more than a 15lb bird, but it works great.

  10. Dr Bob Says:

    Here’s my turkey routine, with lots of photos:

    Doin’ da Bird

    Enjoy, and have a great Thanksgiving!

  11. SteveH Says:

    I’m deep frying turkey tomorrow. Turned out great last year. Except the bird this year is about 6 lbs heavier at 20 lbs. Now i’m sweating it because everything i read says don’t try it with that big of a turkey! I’m all about experimenting though.

  12. Darrell Says:

    Steve, use the water test to make sure the oil doesn’t run over with that large of a bird, I believe that is the main reason for the size warning. I used to deep fry before I started brining. 18 lbs was the biggest I fried, the dark meat gets a little over done on the larger birds. Add a tad more time than you used for the smaller turkeys.

  13. Gringo Says:

    In general I do not care for sweet potatoes, though one Thanksgiving I had a delicious sweet potato pie.

  14. LAG Says:

    neo, good to see that Yankees appreciate the finest dessert ever made. Especially good with pecans fresh off the tree.

    You might want to reconsider pumpkin though after reading this: I’m just not sure how the lavender is incorporated, though the article seems to suggest behind the ear.

    I was please to see vanilla rated high, too, since as a youngster I always though it was a nice fragrance when mixed with women, but maybe that was just the association with good baking that formed early.

    Too bad about the cranberries.

  15. Michael Says:

    My great grandmother made a wonderful sweet potato pie, delicious but not very pretty. I always thought that that was because, as she approached her hundredth birthday, her eyesight was less than sharp. My mother said that the pies always came out that way, so it now seems more likely that, as a pioneer woman, she was not as worried about presentation. Nobody ever had to improve the eye appeal of her cooking to get people to eat it. She died two weeks before my son was born, and he has a serious grudge against sweet potato pie, something he found in Leviticus, maybe? OTOH, my wife, who will tell you that she is not a great cook, and she is not expressing false modesty, makes the most marvelous sweet potatoes, served as a ‘vegetable’, with pineapple and pecans and brown sugar. I can assure everyone that, if the South had won the War, there would have ensued a civil war over whether sugar belongs in any vegetable, and we are on the NOT side, but the yams are right tasty.

  16. John F. MacMichael Says:

    Let’s hear it for the joys of pecan pie! My sweetheart does a version of it with maple syrup that is truly something to give thanks for!

    May Neo-neocon and all her readers and commenters have a very happy Thanksgiving.

  17. rickl Says:

    Michael Says:
    November 24th, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    I can assure everyone that, if the South had won the War, there would have ensued a civil war over whether sugar belongs in any vegetable, and we are on the NOT side, but the yams are right tasty.

    On the other hand I understand that Southerners like sweetened iced tea. I’m a Yankee, and I prefer my iced tea unsweetened, with a splash of grape juice. MUCH better than lemon. You can adjust the proportions any way you like. When I was a kid, I made it about 50-50, but nowadays I like straight tea with just a shot of grape juice. You don’t even need to stir it. It mixes itself.

    I got that from my parents, who were both from Maryland, which was a border state.

  18. rickl Says:

    Back to Thanksgiving:
    I live alone and don’t have any family to speak of, so my ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving dinner during the past few years has been a Swanson’s Hungry Man turkey dinner. I share it with my cats, who seem thankful, as cats go…

    I’ve started doing my own cooking just in the past few months and it’s going pretty well. My freezer, which was formerly filled with TV dinners, is now full of plastic containers of leftovers which I can reheat in the microwave.

    I still haven’t tried to make turkey and stuffing, though. Hopefully by next year I’ll have enough experience and confidence to give it a try.

  19. rickl Says:

    Robin of Berkeley has a very nice post up at American Thinker:

    My First Thankful Thanksgiving

  20. Ray Says:

    And an interesting way to carve the bird is like a butcher. We’ve followed the little video here with great success:

  21. SteveH Says:

    “”On the other hand I understand that Southerners like sweetened iced tea”"

    Theres a great line in a short film called “The Accountant” that refers to yankees infiltrating the south that goes…”Purdy soon we’ll have corn bread dats sweet an iced tea that hain’t”. A little 20 min film i highly recommend by the way.

  22. strcpy Says:

    “There seemed to be about an inch of air space between the skin and the duck – but it was _delicious_!! ”

    This is known as “peking duck” – the heat that you used is too volatile (I doubt you could do it consistently even if you could have exact control). You generally use some form of compressed air to separate the skin from the meat and then it does that.

    As for Turkey – I prefer “deep fried”. However I have an infra-red “oil-less deep fat fryer”. Of course it isn’t deep fat frying but that is what the device is called. It is radiant heat only (otherwise known as infra-red cooking) and primarily cooks by heating the fats on the skin (also known as frying) so it isn’t exactly incorrect either. Frankly it takes a a really knowledgeable person to tell the difference between that and a deep fat fried turkey and has none of the cost or safety issues with a true deep-fat fried turkey.
    Further it allows for a greater variation in spices and rubs placed on the skin as they aren’t washed off, though you have to be careful of burning.

    Never really been much of a fan of baked turkey no matter how good the meat starts out. Smoked Turkey is great of the person smoking it has the skill to do it right (I only get it right about 75% of the time) but fat-frying one takes little to no skill and a mostly job turns out better than all but the very best baked. If done right the Turkey absorbs little more than a few tablespoons of the oil too. The infra-red cooker makes it even easier.

    If you thaw the turkey completely, pat it dry, drop it in slowly, and make sure the oil stays around 350 degrees it is quite simple to do. You biggest worries are either cooking too long (which still dried the meat), letting the oil temperature get to low (makes it absorb oil and get oily/greasy), or the initial placing the turkey in the oil (this is where fire mostly happen – though if you let the oil get to hot during cooking it can too) then everything works great. For the most part it is about as safe as deep frying anything else and has the same rules.

  23. The Elephant's Child Says:

    Brined Turkey

    From Home Depot or the equivalent: In the paint dept. get a tall white plastic bucket with a lid. (very cheap). For a 14 lb. and up turkey:
    2 gallons water
    2 C. Kosher salt
    1/2 C. brown sugar
    1 1/2 quarts buttermilk

    Put the turkey in headfirst. This amount, covered — soak approx. 10 hours. Dry with paper towels, stuff, bake as normal. Moist, delicious, more closely grained,never fails.

    Stuffing: 2 loaves “homemade” white bread, picked to large crouton size, allowed to dry some( say the day before) Add:
    1 large onion, finely minced 2 C finely chopped celery
    Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and ground sage. Toss well, pour over 3/4 to 1 C melted butter. Nothing else.

    Sweet potatoes: Bake in microwave however many you need. Peel, mash, salt and pepper, and butter.
    A little cream, and a big dollop of bourbon or brandy.
    No marshmallows, no sugar.

    There, that was really easy. Save for next year.

  24. Doom Says:

    I never learned, officially, how to cook a turkey. I read the instructions and, pretty much, promptly ignored them, going by scent. I do baste, heavily and frequently, and I do turn the whole bird about 3 times during cooking. And, I like T-day 3 times a year, for the turkey and thanksgiving, and my turkeys run good. My ex-gal pal was one of the most notorious nay-sayers and critics one could hope to find and even she could not find fault with my birds (and she looked (and looked, and checked, and probed, and…). I even tried those organo-birds… poor things. Not that they were bad, merely that the poor diet they are on and being forced into working themselves to gamey skinniness… :P Not much difference in taste… other than being a little less plump so cooking was a little more exacting.

    Bah… Sorry, got on in my blather! Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving. Bon Appetite

  25. SteveH Says:

    My 20 lbs deep fried turkey was awesome. Whoever says don’t try one that big is sorely mistaken.

  26. Mission viejo Water Damage Says:

    Found your web site on AskJeeves, great subject material, but the site looks awkward inside my browser setup, but gets results fine in IE. go figure.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.


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