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LET'S TALK TURKEY.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

It's down to the wire. In just a couple of days, we'll gather family and friends to indulge in the Thanksgiving Day feast. If you've been elected to cook this year, here's a crash course - including basic, must-have info - to get you through the turkey and trimmings without a culinary disaster.

If you need recipe help to complete your feast, peruse the numerous easy creations in today's section.

1. FRESH OR FROZEN

Opinions vary on the flavor of fresh vs. frozen birds. Some cooks prefer using fresh birds (they have never been chilled below 26 degrees F and have a short shelf life) while others opt for frozen. Suit yourself.

Among the many turkey choices available are standard fresh turkeys and natural ones without additives (both of which can be brined), self-basting and kosher (both of which should not be brined due to the salt used in processing). Read the labels.

A fresh turkey is best purchased a day or two before roasting, while a frozen turkey should be kept frozen (a year maximum, but quality declines after six months ) until ready to defrost and cook.

2. HOW MUCH TO BUY

Figure on 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person - more for hearty eaters and if leftovers or sandwiches are desired.

Be sure the size turkey you buy will fit into your refrigerator, pan and oven. In some cases, it may be best to buy two smaller birds and roast side by side.

Consider buying extra parts and roasting in a separate pan, if you know more diners prefer white than dark or vice versa.

For small gatherings, you might opt to cook a turkey breast or drumsticks and thighs - or even half a turkey (ask the butcher to cut a whole turkey in half for you).

When buying, avoid any torn packages.

3. THAWING

Thaw a frozen turkey using one of the three methods that follow. (If you've purchased a prestuffed frozen turkey, DO NOT thaw before cooking).

For food safety, NEVER thaw a turkey at room temperature or in warm water.

REFRIGERATOR: Place the wrapped frozen turkey on a tray or in a pan lined with paper towels (to catch any juices that drip during thawing), allowing 24 hours in the fridge for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. A 12-pound turkey, for example, would take 2 1/2 to 3 days to thaw, while an 18-pound bird would take about 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 days. The thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator up to two days before cooking.

COLD WATER: This thawing method is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention. Place wrapped turkey (if there are any leaks in packaging, place in a clean plastic food bag and secure) in a sink of cold tap water (you can also use a large pot or pail), changing the water as necessary (for faster thawing change the cold water every 30 minutes), so it remains cold until the turkey is pliable. Allow about 30 minutes per pound of turkey for complete thawing. A 12-pound turkey, for instance, would take about six hours to thaw. Refrigerate or cook immediately.

MICROWAVE OVEN: It's feasible to thaw a turkey of 12 pounds or less in the microwave oven on the defrost cycle, turning often (follow manufacturer's instructions). However, you must cook the turkey, unstuffed, immediately after thawing, either in the microwave or a conventional oven because some areas of the turkey may become warm and begin to cook.

FORGOT TO THAW THE TURKEY? On Thanksgiving Day, start cooking the unwrapped frozen (unstuffed) turkey in a preheated 325-degree F oven, but you'll need to add 50 percent more cooking time to the original times on the roasting chart. Also, once the turkey has thawed enough, you'll need to very carefully (without burning yourself) remove the giblets and neck piece from the turkey cavities.

4. PREPPING THE BIRD

To prepare the turkey for roasting, unwrap the fresh or defrosted bird and remove the giblets and neck from the body and/or neck cavities (use all but the liver to make gravy, if desired). Pull off or remove any globs of yellow fat inside turkey cavities and discard. Rinse turkey inside and out a couple of times with cold running water; drain well. Pat dry with paper towels. (At this point, immediately before roasting, stuff turkey, if desired.)

5. STUFFING STUFF

For optimum safety and uniform doneness, food professionals recommend baking the stuffing (or dressing) outside the bird in a casserole dish. Keep in mind that an unstuffed turkey requires less cooking time than a stuffed one.

If you choose to stuff, prepare the stuffing (made with a variety of breads or corn bread and sometimes rice), and stuff the turkey just prior to popping into the oven. NEVER stuff a turkey in advance.

It's feasible to prepare and cook the wet and dry ingredients ahead of time and keep refrigerated (if necessary) separately. Combine and mix just before placing inside the turkey or in a casserole dish.

Allow about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey. Loosely spoon stuffing into body and neck cavities (don't overstuff, as the stuffing will expand as it is moistened by the turkey juices) and truss as directed. Keep in mind that stuffing cooked inside the turkey is more moist than if cooked outside.

If you opt to bake the stuffing separately (or have some leftover after stuffing the turkey), place in a greased dish (you may want to add a little additional broth for a more moist stuffing), cover with foil and bake 45 to 60 minutes (the last hour the turkey roasts) at 325 degrees F. Remove foil the last 15 to 20 minutes of baking time to brown top, if desired.

6. TRUSSING THE TURKEY

To keep the stuffing in the turkey or to close the neck and body cavities of an unstuffed bird (season inside cavities with seasoned salt and pepper, and pieces of onions and celery, if desired), fold the neck skin over the back skin and fasten with a skewer, trussing pins or toothpicks; then tuck wing tips under. Close the body cavity by tying the legs together with a clean string or tucking the ends of the drumsticks into the hook or metal clamps that come with many birds nowadays.

7. OVEN-ROASTING THE BIRD

Place the prepped (and stuffed or unstuffed) and trussed turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan, 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep, lined with no-stick foil (for ease in cleaning up). Do not add water. Brush or rub turkey lightly with olive oil (or melted butter) or spray with Pam and rub with any seasonings desired.

Roast in a preheated 325-degree F oven, using the chart here as a guide. When the turkey is two-thirds done, loosely cover breast and top of drumsticks with a piece of foil to prevent overcooking the breast.

Remove the turkey from the oven when the thigh meat reaches an internal temperature of 175 to 180 degrees F (insert instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the muscle, not touching the bone) and the breast and stuffing reach 165 degrees F.

Once it's out of the oven, remove the stuffing and allow the turkey to stand 20 to 30 minutes before carving (in the kitchen for less stress).

NEVER partially roast a stuffed or unstuffed turkey one day and complete roasting the next.

8. OTHER COOKING METHODS

You can grill, brine, smoke, microwave or deep-fry a turkey, but if you do, it should NOT be stuffed. Many cooks continue to brine turkeys to ensure a moist and tender turkey. If you plan to brine, use a fresh turkey only. Self-basting, frozen and kosher turkeys already have been salted. Be aware that deep-frying requires special equipment and can be messy and dangerous.

For more information on these and other cooking methods, see the USDA Web site, www.fsis.usda.gov; the National Turkey Federation Web site, www.eatturkey.com, or the Butterball Web site, www.butterball.com.

9. FEARLESS GRAVY

If making homemade gravy without lumps is a cause for concern, rely on this method. Mix flour (use a wire whisk for best results) directly into hot fat (melted butter, oil, etc.), stirring to form a paste or roux. Then cook a minute or two until golden, whisking constantly. Next, gradually whisk in turkey pan drippings (use a fat separator, if desired, to remove as much fat as possible) and chicken broth or stock (amount desired) over medium heat, creating a silken gravy. Add seasonings as desired, a generous splash of Worcestershire sauce to perk it up and a few drops of Kitchen Bouquet for good color.

Avoid canned or jarred gravies or gravy mixes, as most taste pretty vile and are too salty - and no amount of doctoring can improve them.

10. DOING THE MASHED POTATOES

Opinions vary about the best way to prepare mashed potatoes. Some cooks prefer russets (also called Idaho or baking potatoes) with their white color, while others favor Yukon Gold with their buttery color. (Both have a dry, fluffy texture, which makes them the best potatoes for mashing.)

To ensure light, fluffy results, use a potato ricer (available at kitchenware shops) or food mill. A ricer is easier and faster to use than a food mill. It's also feasible to use an electric mixer, but you must keep mixing to a minimum to avoid ending up with gluey mashed potatoes that have lost their fluffiness. A potato masher can also be used but does not yield fluffy results. To avoid a gluey mess, never use a food processor or blender.

Cover potatoes (either peeled or unpeeled) with an inch of water; heat to boiling and then simmer until tender. (Or pierce and cook in a microwave oven with skins on, on a plate - with no water - then peel after cooking.)

For the smoothest mashed potatoes, add the butter first, then hot half-and-half or cream (to keep the potatoes warm).

While mashed potatoes are best prepared at the last minute and served immediately, it's feasible (even though they'll lose some of their fluffiness) to make them a few hours ahead and reheat, covered, in a 300-degree oven or in the microwave.

Survival strategies

If you're hosting the meal, it helps to get organized early. And don't be afraid to buy premade items. According to the National Restaurant Association, 53 percent of Americans supplement their Thanksgiving meals with ready-to-eat takeout items. Here's a checklist of things to keep in mind as you prepare for the feast:

--Jot down the menu along with any guests' contributions of potluck dishes or beverages.

--Make lists of last-minute items you need to pick up today or tomorrow along with any flowers, table decorations, napkins, plates, glasses, etc.

--Dig out serving dishes and utensils, and set the table.

--Plan to buy and serve prepared items, if necessary. Pick up side dishes, pies, rolls, salads and such at supermarket takeout sections or bakeries or order from local restaurants. Then, serve them in your own dishes and embellish with pretty garnishes. No one will ever know!

Keep it simple, time it right

When it comes to turkey, don't obsess. Keep the cooking simple. Here are three foolproof methods from experts on how to get it right with ease.

The November issue of Gourmet magazine, after roasting more than 40 turkeys, came up with an easy, no-fuss formula that relies on salt, pepper and high heat.

Their method? Cook an unstuffed 14- to 16-pound, fresh, frozen (thawed), organic or conventional bird 1 3/4 to 2 1/2 hours, until a thermometer inserted in the thigh registers 170 degrees F. They sprinkled the cavities and skin with a mixture of salt and black pepper, and roasted it on a flat rack in a flameproof roasting pan in a clean, preheated 450-degree oven (rotating the pan 180 degrees halfway through roasting).

The folks at Butterball traditionally prefer roasting turkeys, either fresh or frozen (thawed), at 325 degrees in an open pan with skin oiled, says Mary Clingman, director of the Turkey Talk-Line, based in Naperville, Ill. She favors spraying it with Pam for ease and good looks. ``Using this method is simple and consistent, and works with a 5-pound or a 35-pound bird,'' she says. There's no need to flip, baste, add water, cover, etc.

Allow 3 to 4 hours roasting time for a 14- to 18-pound unstuffed bird, a little longer for a stuffed bird.

To slow things down and avoid overcooking, shield it by tenting with an 8x10-inch piece of foil for the last third of the cooking ti Christopher Kimball, founder and editor of Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country magazines, advocates brining a fresh turkey. But he says you can also cheat and buy a frozen Butterball (thaw before roasting), which contains a basting solution injected into the breast.

He recommends cooking the turkey (injected or brined) on a V-rack in a roasting pan, breast side up, in a 400-degree F oven about 1 3/4 hours for a 12- to 15-pound bird or about 2 hours for a 15- to 18-pound turkey.

- N.H.

TURKEY ROASTING GUIDE

(In 325-degree F oven)

WEIGHT .... UNSTUFFED ........ STUFFED

(POUNDS) .. (HOURS) .......... (HOURS)

8 to 12 ... 2 3/4 to 3 ....... 3 to 3 1/2

12 to 14 .. 3 to 3 3/4 l...... 3 1/2 to 4

14 to 18 .. 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 ... 4 to 4 1/4

18 to 20 .. 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 ... 4 1/4 to 4 3/4

20 to 24 .. 4 1/2 to 5 ....... 4 3/4 to 5 1/4

Times are approximate. Variations in ovens, pan sizes and materials, and the temperature of the turkey at beginning of roasting affect roasting time. Therefore, begin checking for doneness about 45 minutes to 1 hour prior to the end of the recommended roasting time.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, 3 boxes

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) FOOD NOTES ON THE THANKSGIVING FEAST

(2 -- color) no caption (cooked turkey)

Box:

(1) Survival strategies (see text)

(2) Keep it simple, time it right (see text)

(3) TURKEY ROASTING GUIDE (see text)
COPYRIGHT 2005 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Nov 22, 2005
Words:2384
Previous Article:RECIPES.
Next Article:GOOD TASTES.


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