Well, it's that time of the year again. The Weekly newsroom is working in overdrive so we don't fall too far behind taking time off, I'm churning out holiday-themed articles, and we're all planning not to drive on Wednesday — It's Thanksgiving.
Nothing about the holiday really changes much year to year. Nothing's ever going to supplant turkey as protein number one (much to my chagrin), but there is one change Clam clan this year: I'm finally going to be making my family's turkey. So, for myself, and for those of you who're taking a crack at the bird for the first time or for the 40th, here's five ways you can make it better than ever before.
5. Avoid Stuffing
Nothing's more American than a turkey overflowing with stuffing at the center of a Thanksgiving table setting. Unfortunately, there's not much drier than a safely cooked stuffed turkey either.
It's nearly impossible to make a good stuffed turkey. Why? Well, if you're doing right, you have to make sure you cook the stuffing to a safe temperature — 160 according to the FDA — because as the bird cooks, its juices seep into the breading. So, once your meat's done, you have to wait for all of those bread crumbs to come up to temperature too. And you know what? Food doesn't really heat up all that quickly when you surround it in a layer of meat.
So, it's simple. The first step to making a moist turkey is to avoid stuffing it. Shove a lemon and some aromatics in there sure, but leave the dressing on the side instead.
4. Brine, Brine, Brine
My biggest problem with turkey is the fact that so many people overcook it to the point of teeth-sticking dryness (it's not your fault, turkeys are awkward to cook). What with the different cook rates, uneven heating, and failed trussing, your turkey can go from undone to way dry in the last two minutes of whatever football game your watching.
Want some insurance? A nice way to give yourself some more wiggle room is to brine your turkey — salt treating your bird so the surface proteins denature and squeeze less liquid.
I could tell you how to do it (I like doing it for chicken too), but I can't do it better than Serious Eat's J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. Check out his instructional over here.
3. Order/Go Out
Okay, this is a little bit of a cheat, but if you really aren't confident doing a turkey, why ruin your dinner? Let someone else make you a turkey instead. I recommend the Clay Oven's tandoori turkey.
Now back to the cooking methods! Spatchcocking is when your remove a bird's backbone and flatten it out so it can cook in one single layer. This reduces cook time, meaning you get more even cooking, a juicier bird, and crispier skin. It's the technique I'm the most excited to try out this year.
For a tutorial, I go back to Kenji!
1. Make a Chicken Instead
Seriously though, chicken tastes so much better, are easier to cook, and look just as pretty. Serving lots of people? Just make, like, five! It'll make your home look all that more bountiful.