For Thanksgiving, I'm making...reservations; I'll be dining at Big Cedar Lodge near Branson, MO.
But that doesn't mean I haven't roasted my share of turkeys -- a flock of them over my lifetime. And I wrote the annual cook-your-Thanksgiving- turkey story for 30 years during my food writing career at the St. Paul Pioneer Press-Dispatch.
Even with all that experience, I learned some new ideas for tackling a turkey from Williams-Sonoma cooking teacher Cheryl Schultz who teaches classes at the Rosedale store.
There's still time for those trembling about the Thanksgiving meal to take Schultz's free classes on stuffing, starters, side dishes, gravy and turkey techniques. Call the store at 651-636-0253 to register. You'll be able to sample what Schultz demonstrates at each session.
Jenni Buskirk of St. Paul and I had a private class (because we were the only two to show up) the night Schultz was roasting a turkey, which came out bronzed, yet moist. Buskirk was paying special attention; though she's made Thanksgiving dinner for her family, it's been awhile, and she wants the 12 at her table this November to give her rave reviews.
"This is a refresher course for me, " said Buskirk to intends to attend several Williams-Sonoma classes.
This is what we learned from Schultz, of Shoreview, who has been a caterer for much of her food career:
For those 12 people, Buskirk should calculate 1 to 1.5 pounds per person "for some good leftovers," said Schultz. OK, make that an 18 pound turkey, Jenni.
Schultz recommended a "happy turkey" that was allowed to roam during its upbringing, and she prefers buying it fresh.
If you do buy a frozen turkey, Butterball is her recommendation because it has the least amount of additives and injected saline solution. But don't rely on the pop-up timer inserted in the bird's breast. White meat needs to bake to 160 degrees, but thighs should reach 170.
"The thermometer in the breast pops up and says 'I'm done' but the thighs need more time," Schultz said. She prefers using a meat thermometer, either dial, digital or the new thermal-couple model, making sure the tip doesn't touch a bone.
Always, she emphasized, let the turkey rest for a half hour at room temperature before slicing.
Her turkey was roasted in a handsome All-Clad pan; she prefers a straight-sided model. Most importantly, the pan should be large enough so the turkey isn't squished and hot air can circulate around it. A rack is essential so the bird doesn't sit in pan juices. Aluminum pans from the grocery store she deemed too unstable, flirting with disaster when the turkey emeges from the oven.
"And the bottoms are bumpy so the juices are going to burn in the little crevices, and it will be almost impossible to deglaze the pan when making gravy."
Schultz likes to start the turkey at 450 degrees for the first half hour, no matter the size of the bird. She dials down the temp a hundred degrees for the remainder to roasting time. In the bottom of the roaster, she tosses a mixture of sliced onion, celery and carrots (50 percent onion; 25 percent each for the others). "They're not to be eaten, but to help flavor the drippings," she said.
Back when I was writing the annual turkey story, brining was never mentioned. Now it's the hot new technique to give the meat flavor and moistness. You can use a wet brine, with the seasonings boiled in water, or a dry brine that is simply rubbed on the meat; Williams-Sonoma carries prepared products to do it either way.
If your refrigerator doesn't have space for the turkey to soak up brine for 24 hours, Schultz recommends putting it in a Coleman cooler with bags of ice. Her sage advice: Don't put a cold turkey into a warm brine -- that's a recipe for bacterial growth. Chill the brine before pouring it on the meat. And use a brining bag to contain the liquid (Williams-Sonoma sells those, too).
Whatever brining method is chosen, the turkey should be thoroughly rinsed and patted dry before roasting. "Otherwise, it will be too salty," Schultz said.
Before it goes into the oven, Schultz likes to rub the turkey's skin with a mixture of soft butter and turkey herbs, herbs de Provence or even finely-minced shallots. Such a compound butter will flavor the skin and help it brown. If the skin seems to be reaching a mohogany tone, tent the bird with foil.
Schultz recommends using tined turkey lifters to get the fowl onto a platter. Then she adds Madiera, sherry or chardonnay -- about a 1/2 cup -- to the pan to loosen the brown bits. Strain out the vegetables, pour the juices into a separator to remove some of the fat, then add flour or Wondra to the drippings to make a roux. Finish off the gravy with chicken stock or potato water until it is the right consisency.
To watch a video on properly carving a turkey, go to www.williams-sonoma.com
Buskirk asked if it is better to put stuffing into the turkey or to bake it in a separate pan. Schultz favors baking it in its own pan because a stuffed turkey takes longer to bake which may dry out the meat, and its messy to remove that dressing before carving.
The one downside of my plan to eat out this Thanksgiving is that I won't be making my mother's wonderful turkey dressing recipe, the best part of the meal. But you can. Here's the recipe.
Ellen Ostman's Brown and Wild Rice Stuffing
1 pound brown rice (part wild rice, if desired)
2 pounds ground pork shoulder
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 can mushroom pieces (or chopped fresh mushrooms)
2 to 3 cups fresh bread cubes (whole wheat preferred)
Sage, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Cook rice as directed on package. If desired, replace 1/4 pound brown rice with 1/4 wild rice, cooked separately. Brown pork in large skillet. Add onion, celery and mushrooms. Cook until vegetables are tender. Mix cooked rice with pork mixture, adding enough soft bread cubes to hold the mixture together. Add sage, salt and pepper to taste. Best baked in a casserole pan for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.