Sunday, October 31, 2010

How to make perfect holiday turkey

Chef Cristian's Guerrilla Turkey Guide
By: Chef Cristian Feher

It's the night before Thanksgiving and procrastination has finally given way to panic. The invitations have been sent out, decorative cobs of corn have been hung, the extra computer chair from your office is now part of your dining room set, and the liquor cabinet has been overstocked. But like some things, this is something alcohol can't disguise - in 24 hours your family will be the jury and your mother-in-law will be the judge. There better be a succulent, juicy, perfectly roasted bird on that table, or you're facing a 12 month sentence of ridicule and "What you should've done was...". Below is a brief, to-the-point, guide of your options.

Deep-Fried Turkey:
Difficulty: Medium
Safety Factor: Probably best to do this in the emergency room parking lot so they can get you in right away.

There is nothing mysterious or difficult about this method of cooking your turkey. You go down to your local hardware store, buy a turkey fryer, fill it with a few gallons of peanut oil, bring it up to temperature and deep fry that sucker! The method is crude, but the result (if done right) will yield a perfectly scrumptious, moist bird with crispy skin. Recommended for those with a backyard and plenty of space to run if things go wrong. Not recommended for condo dwellers, drunks, or people who have kids running around.

Turkey Cooked in a Bag:
Difficulty: Easy
Safety Factor: If you can handle microwave popcorn, you should be qualified to do this.

Most people are unaware that this method of cooking is available to them. Thanks to the good people at 3M, you can now cook your turkey in a space age plastic bag. Yes, you heard me right, a plastic bag. The future is now! You can purchase a roasting bag at your local grocery store. Stick the turkey in the bag with some flavoring agents such as wine, garlic, salt and a whole lemon, seal it and stick the turkey in the oven (follow instructions on the roasting bag packaging). The bag is temperature resistant and will not melt or burn. The turkey cooks in its own juices and the skin crisps up nicely. The result is a very juicy, tender, flavorful turkey with crispy skin that your guests will gobble down with pleasure. It even forgives overcooking by sealing in the turkey's natural juices. Recommended for most people, and especially for novice turkey cookers! The only drawback to this method is that you probably won't get that picture-perfect, Martha Stewart catalogue turkey. But it will look good enough to eat.

Traditional Roast Turkey
Difficulty: Hard
Safety Factor: If you have a critical mother-in-law, and tender feelings, this probably isn't for you.

This is the old school way of roasting a turkey. You marinade it just right the night before, dress it just right the day of, surgically implant butter cubes under the skin (turkeyplasty) and roast it in your oven just right, with a carefully followed schedule of basting and praying. If you can pull this one off, my hat goes off to you. This is recommended for the seasoned cook or professional chef who make it their yearly ritual to perfect the art of turkey roasting. When done right, this yields a perfectly crispy roasted turkey with meat that is not moist - but not dry. It's just right.

Strictly Breasts:
Difficulty: Easy
Safety Factor: If you don't mind people talking about how lazy you are behind your back, then you're good to go with this one!

If you lack the time and initiative to roast a whole bird, or are just plain lazy, this method of cooking turkey will be right for you. And if you need a justification, just keep mentioning how "healthy" turkey breasts are. However, this will backfire when you're caught drowning the remains of your turkey in thick, rich, gravy. For this method, you take some boneless turkey breasts and put them in a Ziploc freezer bag accompanied by some beer, lemon juice, salt and spices. Marinade overnight. Roast in oven on a cookie sheet @375 for 30-45 minutes. This will yield moist and tender turkey breasts which you can slice and arrange on a platter. But hopefully you only invited your yoga buddies and no one will ask for dark meat.

A note on stuffing:
No matter how you choose to cook your turkey this holiday season, you will undoubtedly accompany it with stuffing. It is always best to make the stuffing separately and serve it on the side, or at the very least, stuff your turkey after it's fully cooked. Stuffing your turkey before cooking can be hazardous if (food poisoning from bacteria), and it takes the turkey longer to cook. You can also overcook the turkey and end up with a bird that rejected half the stuffing like a bad heart transplant not a pretty sight). I stuff the turkey's cavity with lemons, onion and garlic. These flavoring agents radiate their aroma throughout the turkey while it's cooking, and give the meat a little more flavor. It's a much better use of the turkey's cavity than stuffing.

Emergency Procedures:
You can't always fix a turkey, especially if you've over-cooked it and it's drier than bag of sand. But here is a brief mention of some common problems that can be fixed. If the turkey is done, but the skin still lacks that brown crisp, use a heat gun to brown the turkey skin after it comes out of the oven (you can buy it at the hardware store - it's used to strip paint off things). If your turkey is under cooked, cut it into pieces, stick the pieces on a baking sheet, pour some of the turkey liquid over the meat and roast it in the oven at 420 for a few minutes until it's done. Since you cut it into smaller pieces and slices, it will cook faster, and the liquid you put on it will keep it from drying out too much. If you are getting burnt spots on the skin before the turkey is done, you should cover the turkey with a sheet of non stick aluminum foil to retard the burning. To avoid the fourth most common problem, ALWAYS MAKE EXTRA!

It is my sincere hope that this guide will give you some sort of a game plan for turkey this holiday season. And remember that a good turkey will last an hour, but the story of the chef will last the rest of the year! Please send me your turkey tips and stories