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Thanksgiving Eve: A game plan

A turkey rests in the pan after being

A turkey rests in the pan after being roasted. (November 3, 2008) (Credit: Bruce Gilbert)

Reader, if you are eating Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant, I envy you. This item is not for you. But if you are cooking Thanksgiving, I offer this last-minute advice.

If you do not already own an oven thermometer and an instant-read meat thermometer, stop reading right now, go to the nearest Bed Bath & Beyond, and buy these two indispensable items.

Find out your local supermarket’s holiday schedule. Most supermarkets are open on Thanksgiving; call to find out how late. Ditto your liquor store, deli, gourmet shop, florist or anyone else you might need in a pinch. Put white wine and beer in the refrigerator.

Check on the progress of your turkey. If you are cooking a fresh turkey, it should be already procured and in your refrigerator. A frozen turkey should be in the last stages of defrosting. If yours is not, place it (still in its plastic wrapper) breast-side down in cold water to cover, and change the water every 30 minutes. (More details here)

Review your menu and make a game plan for the next 24 hours. Determine what can be done tonight (toasting nuts, chopping vegetables, washing salad greens) and tomorrow morning (making salad dressing, baking pie) and what must wait until the last minute (dressing the salad). Then, working backward from your desired mealtime, make a timeline. Here’s a sample timeline. (Scroll down to the bottom.)

Set the table. First, it will give you a sense of having completed one big task, thereby instilling a measure of calm. Second, it will reveal any unanticipated holes in your service — broken wineglasses, chipped plates — while there’s still time to get fill-ins.

Go through your menu and take out and set aside all the serving pieces you will need. In each platter or bowl, place the appropriate spoons, forks or tongs. If you have a lot of courses, you may want to label each piece with the dish it is destined to contain.

Now, turning your attention from dining room to kitchen: Go through the menu again, and this time take out and set aside all the pots, pans and tools you will need. Some of them — such as the gravy separator — you may not have seen for a while. (And, if they are irretrievably misplaced, most Long Island Bed Bath & Beyond stores are open until 9:30 tonight.)

Finally, I leave you with 4 Turkey Tips

Take your turkey out of the refrigerator at least an hour before cooking it. The temperature of a refrigerated turkey is about 35 degrees. You will be cooking it so that the thickest part of the thigh measures 175 degrees. The more chill you can take off of it while it sits on the counter, the quicker and more evenly it will cook.

Don’t baste the bird. All you are doing when you baste is wetting the skin, discouraging it from browning. You’re not moistening the meat — because the skin is essentially waterproof (like yours). You should have some vegetables in the bottom of your roasting pan to flavor the drippings. The only reason to open the oven while the turkey is roasting is to add water to the bottom of the pan to keep the vegetables from burning, and to take the turkey’s temperature.

Let your turkey rest at least 30 minutes before carving it, 45 minutes to an hour is better. If you tent it with foil, it will stay very warm for 90 minutes. As the turkey rests, the juices will resettle into the meat — meaning they won’t spill out onto the board — and you won’t have to wrestle a scorching hot bird.

Watch this turkey-carving video, in which Jay Post, owner of The Happy Hostess in Rockville Centre, demonstrates proper carving technique.

Happy Thanksgiving!
 

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