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PUBLISHED: 1:38 PM on Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Tips for turkey time

Maybe it's your first time preparing a turkey dinner and you need all the help you can get, or maybe you just want to perfect your cooking skills and prepare your Thanksgiving feast with more ease and confidence. With these tips and techniques from world-renowned, award-winning chef Shaun Hill, taken from "The Cook's Book" by Jill Norman, you can create the most delicious and memorable Thanksgiving meal ever.

1. Shopping - Buy fresh and use immediately. Choose a large bird for a more developed flavor and a better ratio of meat to bone. Meat should look plump rather than bony, and skin should have no dry patches.

2. Handling and storage - When fresh poultry is not used immediately and stored in the refrigerator, it dries out quickly because the meat has little or no fat covering. As a preventive measure, cover or wrap the meat in plastic wrap until ready to use.

Ready-frozen poultry rarely has any opportunity to develop flavor. If you want the best flavor possible from a frozen turkey, it's better to buy it fresh, wrap it carefully, and freeze it yourself until ready to use.

Because raw poultry carries high levels of bacteria, it's important to store it at the bottom of the refrigerator so juices from the raw meat don't drip onto other food. Cooked and cooled poultry should be stored in the upper part of the refrigerator to prevent contamination from other raw meats.

To prevent salmonella poisoning, scrub the board and knives you will use to prepare the poultry in hot, soapy water before using them again to carve the cooked bird.

3. Cooking - Use a pan large enough to collect the cooking juices that can be used in a sauce or gravy, but not so large that fat and cooking juices spit over the oven wall. Bring turkey to room temperature before cooking, rather than taking it straight from refrigerator to oven. Test if the meat is fully cooked by inserting a skewer into either the thigh or the thick end of the breast nearest the bone. If the juices run clear, the bird is done. Any traces of blood, and it needs to cook longer. Check again after 10 minutes.

4. Roasting (for an 11-pound turkey that feeds six) - Preheat oven to 400 F. Roast turkey for one hour on its back, another hour breast-side down, and a final 30 minutes on its back again. Cover turkey legs with a protective foil wrapping for the first two hours of cooking. If your oven is small in relation to the size of the bird, you may want to also cover the breast with foil (to keep it from drying out). Since there will be very little fat going into the pan, you will have to spread oil and butter across the bird to keep the flesh moist and tender while cooking. After it has cooked, let the turkey rest for 15 to 20 minutes; it will make it easier to carve. The general rule for roasting a turkey is 20 minutes per pound, plus and additional 20 minutes, at a temperature of 400 F.

5. Stuffing - Can be cooked in two ways: pushed under the skin of the bird onto the breast, or wrapped in foil and baked alongside the bird for the last 25 minutes of cooking. Filling the inside cavity of the bird with stuffing is a bad idea because little heat penetrates the bird until it is well cooked.

6. Gravy - Make gravy in the roasting pan in which the turkey has just been cooked so that residue from the pan will dissolve into the gravy. Using a large spoon, skim off most of the fat from the pan juices. Put pan on the stovetop over a low heat. Mix 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour with 1 tablespoon of the turkey drippings and whisk it into the remaining pan juices. Add 11/4 cups water or stock and 1 tablespoon tomato puree (use sparingly and rather than tomato paste as paste tends to overpower other ingredients). If desired, add herbs, chopped garlic, or lemon zest. Increase the heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Strain the gravy into a clean container, then pour into a gravy boat.

7. Carving - Remove the legs by cutting the skin between them and the main body. Press back each leg until it disconnects, then cut away the upper edge from the main body. To remove each breast, keep the carving knife very close to the carcass and slice downward and lengthwise along one side of the breastbone to release the breast. It will come off in one piece. Drumsticks: hold them upright by the bone and slice the meat downward into strips. Thighs: If the thigh is large, cut out the bone first by slicing down the thigh to expose the bone, then cutting underneath it to remove. Slice into strips. Breasts: Lay a breast half, flat-side down, on the carving board and slice across with a sharp knife like you would slice a loaf of bread.


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