Turkey troubles? Advisers are standing by

Training for Butterballs talk-line advisers includes a critique of the turkeys they roasted themselves.
Training for Butterballs talk-line advisers includes a critique of the turkeys they roasted themselves. (Chicagob Tribune)

If the star of the feast presents a problem, hotlines, websites, and broadcasts can help.

Posted: November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving dinner is in less than 24 hours - do you know where your turkey is?

Here's hoping you remembered to pick it up from the farmer's market or the store; and that it is not frozen; and that it is already brining in your refrigerator.

Here's a roundup of how-tos, how-comes, and hotlines to make your meal a success.

Last-minute thaw. Defrosting a turkey in the refrigerator (the safest method) can take up to four days. But you don't have four days-so try the running-water method recommended by NSL International, a nonprofit that's been doing food safety testing since 1944.:

Keep the frozen bird in its original wrapping and place it under cold, running water or let it sit in a sink or tub filled with cold water. Change the water frequently to keep it cold, or add ice every 30 minutes. Allow 30 minutes per pound - so nine hours for that 18-pound turkey. Be careful that there are no holes in the wrapping. If there are, you not only lose juices but risk bacteria contamination.

Do not let the turkey sit out at room temperature to defrost.

Brine that bird. A roast turkey that is juicy on the inside and golden-brown on the outside may be easier for Norman Rockwell to paint than for you to achieve. Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan swears by brining, and he's made converts of us all (see his recipe at www.philly.com/brine). Brining is not needed if you are using a kosher or a heritage breed turkey. And some cooks advise against making gravy from the drippings of a brined bird.

If the gravy train has left the station: Speaking of gravy, you can make a great gravy with pan drippings (see recipe). Or follow these directions from the folks at Butterball for gravy without drippings:

Melt 6 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat; stir in 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour; heat and stir until light brown. Remove from heat and slowly add 3 cups chicken broth, stirring to blend. Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until boiling. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until desired thickness is achieved.

When to start cooking? First, estimate your roasting time, allowing 15 minutes per pound if turkey will be roasted unstuffed, at 325 to 350 degrees. Add a half hour for the bird to rest, for making gravy, and other final details. Deduct the total from the time of your "sit-down" goal, and that's when you put the turkey into the preheated oven.

Are we there yet? My mother used to gauge whether the turkey was done by jiggling one of the legs, and as a result of her judgment, it was always overdone. Get yourself a meat thermometer and never eat dry or undercooked poultry again.

You can spend $40 or more on a digital-readout thermometer or $5 on a dial-topped metal skewer style, just don't buy a candy thermometer by mistake.

Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh as well as the thickest part of the breast. When the temperature reaches 165 degrees at all locations, the turkey should be done.

An oven-proof thermometer can be inserted when the turkey goes into the oven and remain there throughout.

If you are using an instant-read thermometer, pull the roasting pan out of the oven far enough to insert the stem about 2 inches into the thickest part of the thigh and then the breast, without touching bone; the temperature should register in about 15 seconds.

Hotlines and other helps. You don't have to buy a Butterball to call the company's Turkey Talk Line: 1-800-288-8372. Experts answer questions from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. You can also e-mail questions on Thanksgiving Day to talkline@butterball.com; or look online at www.butterball.com.

The Splendid Table: Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosts a two-hour live radio call-in starting at 11 a.m., with guests Jacques Pepin, Garrison Keillor, Jane and Michael Stern, and Ruth Reichl. 800-537-5252 or www.splendidtable.org The American Public Media program originates in St. Paul, Minn. and airs locally on WHYY-FM, 90.9.

USDA hotline: 800-535-4555 Get live answers from food safety specialists from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

Chow.com has a free app, Thanksgiving Day Coach, with instructions for a specific menu of classics (turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed or sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie). Online at chow.com, you'll find video tips for a range of fixes, from what to do when the marshmallow on your sweet potato casserole burns to how to smooth out lumpy gravy.

The Food Network will rerun a two-hour interactive Thanksgiving Live! starting at 10 a.m. on Nov. 23. Hosted by Alton Brown, the program first aired Nov. 20 and addressed problems from dry turkey to lumpy gravy.

In the don't-try-this-at-home department, the folks at Hostess Twinkies have the audacity to suggest stuffing an otherwise perfectly good bird with their product (plus an apple, some honey, and yellow corn-muffin mix) on Thanksgiving. In the interest of sanity (not to mention good health) we suggest you ignore their suggestion.

And at the end of the day, if it seems as if you've spent more money this year, it's not just you.

The American Farm Bureau Federation found a 13 percent increase in the cost of a typical Thanksgiving meal for 10 - the largest increase in the Federation's 26 years of price tracking. Much of the increase is in the turkey - a 16-pounder now costs $21.57, up 22 percent from last year. The federation attributes the steep hike in turkey prices to increased feed costs and demand.


Classic Thanksgiving Dressing

Makes 24 servings

12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter

4 onions (2 pounds) cut into 1/4-inch dice

16 celery stalks, strings removed, cut into 1/4-inch dice

10 large fresh sage leaves, chopped, or 2 teaspoons crushed dried sage

1 1/2 quarts chicken or turkey stock, homemade or low-sodium store- bought

2 loaves stale white bread (about 36 slices), crusts on, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 cups coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (about 2 bunches)

2 cups pecans, toasted, chopped, optional

2 cups dried cherries or cranberries, optional

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the onions and celery and cook over medium heat until the onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the sage, stir to combine, and cook 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup stock and stir well. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half.

3. Transfer the onion mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add the bread, salt, pepper, parsley, pecans, and dried fruit, if using. Add the remaining stock and mix to combine.

4. Turn the dressing into one or two wide, flat casserole dishes and bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, until top is crusty and golden.

- Adapted from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook

of Original Classics (Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2007)

Per serving: 255 calories, 6 grams protein, 26 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams sugar, 15 grams fat, 18 milligrams cholesterol, 531 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.


Basic Turkey Gravy

Makes 6-8 servings (about two cups)

1 cup of turkey drippings

7 tablespoons butter, divided use.

1/4 cup flour

1/2 cup dry white wine, or, for a nonalcoholic version, use 1 tablespoon of tomato paste

2 cups or more of turkey stock, homemade in advance or store-bought

Optional: turkey giblets; mushrooms, brandy or cognac

1. A 12- to 15-pound turkey will yield about 1 cup of drippings. If you estimate you have less, add 4 tablespoons butter to the roasting pan.

2. Place the roasting pan on the stove top, straddled across two burners set at medium heat. Heat until the drippings start to bubble, stirring to scape drippings that may be stuck to the bottom on the pan. Add 1/4 cup flour and whisk to form a paste. Brown the flour for 3 to 4 minutes.

3. Add 1/2 cup dry white wine, which helps deglaze the pan and adds flavor. Cook off alcohol for 1 minute, while whisking. If you don't wish to cook with wine, add 1 tablespoon tomato paste to help deglaze and add complexity.

4. Slowly add 2 cups of turkey stock, whisking constantly to achieve a caramel color and smooth consistency. Add more stock as needed to achieve desired thickness.

5. Finish gravy with 3 tablespoons butter cut into small pieces, add little by little while whisking. This makes for a shiny gravy. Season with salt and pepper.

Options/Tips:

If you want to use cooked, diced giblets in gravy, add those after the wine.

For a richer gravy, substitute a splash of brandy or cognac for the wine. For mushroom gravy, add after flour step and cook mushrooms until juices are released.

If the gravy is lumpy, remove from stove and strain it through a colander, or use an immersion blender to break up lumps. If it is too thick, add more stock or water, one teaspoon at a time, while stirring.

- Adapted from Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazine (Nov. 2009)

Per serving: 118 calories, 1 gram protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, no sugar, 10 grams fat, 27 milligrams cholesterol, 263 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.


Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211, dmarder@phillynews.com, or @marderd on Twitter. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/diannamarder

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