I assume that, for many of us, our memories of Thanksgivings of yore include not only weird Uncle Ned and the lonely neighbor man with wandering hands, but also plates of dry turkey that made you question whether perhaps wallpaper paste might, in fact, be more appetizing. It's time for Americans to stop committing culinary crime and to learn to prepare turkey properly.
I assume that some of you may be cooking (and hosting) Thanksgiving for the first time this year, so I'm here to help. I've got a few tips for hosting the perfect Turkey Day dinner as well as a foolproof recipe (courtesy of my Chef Hubby) for perfectly cooked, moist and delicious turkey that will ensure everyone will want to come back next year for Thanksgiving dinner. It's up to you whether to consider this a positive or a negative.
1. Make your feast a pot luck. There is no reason that you should spend your entire holiday slaving away in the kitchen cooking multiple dishes for your guests. This is expensive and unnecessary. Cook the turkey and force everyone else to bring the sides and desserts. Yeah, Aunt Rainbow might bring a soy and wheat berry loaf, but pretty much everything tastes good slathered in gravy.
2. Have plenty of wine and cocktails on offer (unless, of course, you or your guests are Friends of Bill's. In that case, stick with sparkling cider). Most people get kind of tense in social situations. Booze helps loosen people up and get the conversation flowing. Just make sure that you cut off Cousin Jeremy before he's six cocktails in and starts feeling up the decorative gourds.
3. Place cards. Seriously, I can't stress this enough. Yeah, they seem like something only WASPs from Greenwich use, but people really don't like having to figure out where to sit. Put some thought into who talks and who doesn't, and seat them next to each other. We're all children at heart and we just want someone to tell us what to do, so go ahead and print out some cute fall-themed place cards and go nuts.
4. Clean your bathroom. I can't believe I even have to write this, but if you're having people over, take the time to clean whatever commode they will use. Invest in a fresh bar of hand soap and a clean towel and maybe even a nice smelling candle in case someone who is lactose intolerant over-indulges in sour cream mashed potatoes.
How to Cook the Perfect Turkey:
Defrost your turkey. Please don't try to cook a frozen turkey.
One Day Before:
Brine your turkey (you can do this while your turkey defrosts).
Stuff turkey with one whole onion, a few cloves of garlic, herbs of your choice (rosemary, thyme, etc.), and one orange cut in half.
Rub with olive oil, a splash of soy sauce, and a touch of agave, maple syrup or honey, whichever you prefer.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place breast side down until skin becomes golden brown, approximately 30-45 minutes, depending on the weight of your turkey.
Turn turkey over, breast side up. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. The residual heat of the oven should brown the breast skin fairly quickly, which seals in the moisture and keeps your turkey from tasting like cardboard.
Baste turkey with pan juices and a little red wine every 30 minutes. (Bonus: this also creates a nice pan gravy, which you can reduce down on the stovetop to make a more traditional gravy; no gravy packet needed!)
Roast bird until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. With this high heat cooking method, the turkey should take about 12-18 minutes per pound.
Let bird rest at least 20 minutes before carving.
Enjoy your well cooked bird. Here's hoping Uncle Larry doesn't get drunk and barf in one of your houseplants.