Eight Days...and Counting

November 14, 1990|By Jean Thompson

Anthony Dias Blue remembers the first turkey he cooked. His memories are sentimental, if not fond. "We had this apartment in New York that had a kitchen the size of my closet. We used a frozen turkey." He pauses. "It tasted like rubber."

The California wine expert and host of TV and radio cooking shows has pan roasted, grilled and roasted-in-a-bag countless turkeys since, many of them recently while testing recipes for his new book, "Thanksgiving Dinner" (HarperCollins, $19.95).

"My kids have had Thanksgiving dinner more than a few times already this year," he says, chuckling. Andy Blue and his wife Kathryn are carving a slice of the how-to-cook-a-turkey market for themselves. Their book updates old-fashioned feasts with food safety advice and practical how-to information. Traditionalists, they believe that this year's bleak economic forecast and Persian Gulf crisis send us back to our holiday roots: family, friends and a turkey.

"In our book, there's no turkey sushi," he says.

The secret to a juicy and golden bird, he says, is even, moderate-temperature open-pan roasting. He advises readers to center the turkey in a preheated 325-degree oven, and to turn the turkey 180 degrees halfway through roasting.

Mr. Blue recommends a glaze of maple syrup or molasses mixed with a little soy sauce, which produces a deep, dark mahogany hue. He also has gotten good color basting with chicken stock mixed with turkey pan drippings. But no two cooks agree on the best way to brown the bird. An oven roasting bag produces an appealing, golden brown and a moist bird; carefully open the bag for the last 30 minutes of cooking for crisper skin. If you choose an open-pan roasting method, rub the turkey lightly with cooking oil, say home economists at the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. Oil works better than butter, which can scorch or leave spots on the turkey skin, they say.

"I think a lot of people have had bad experiences" with turkeys, says Mr. Blue.

The best preventive medicine, he says, is planning. Delivering a beautiful turkey to the table on time is more a job of logistics than culinary magic. Writing a plan (see sample timetable on this page) heads off trouble. The following items should be included in your timetable:

Start with the turkey *Decide whether to use fresh or frozen. (Mr. Blue's preference for fresh is so strong that he calls freezing a turkey a Thanksgiving cook's gravest sin; overcooking it is the second greatest transgression, he says.)

Frozen can be bought almost any time, but must be purchased early enough to allow for thawing. Thawing can take two to four days (more on this later).

For apartment dwellers and families who have little freezer space, fresh turkey is a great option. Fresh turkey is best purchased within a day or two of cooking, but waiting beyond this weekend to buy is too chancy. Several Baltimore-area supermarkets report they'll be receiving their final shipments of turkeys this Friday and Saturday.

Here's the safest option: Reserve a turkey today and pick it up Tuesday or Wednesday. Some markets, including Safeway and Giant stores, take telephone orders. Others, like the SuperFresh store in Towson, accept orders in person in the meat department.

Busy working couples or procrastinators can take advantage of the 24-hour supermarkets that will have limited Thanksgiving Day hours. Jim Gregory, meat manager at Safeway at Mount Clare, says several customers place their orders this week and arrange to pick up the bird around 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day!

*Order a big enough bird.

A 9-pound turkey will provide a meal for six plus leftovers; a 16-pound turkey will feed a party of 12. Mr. Blue uses 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per person as his shopping guideline.

% Write a timetable

What time will the feast be served?

Counting backward from serving time, you'll need to pencil in:

*About 20 minutes for the cooked bird to rest before carving (juices will redistribute, carving will be easier)

*Roasting time

*Preparation time

*Thawing time (if using frozen turkey)

*Shopping day

*Today -- place turkey order.

When plotting the logistics, write down everything you can think of, even the obvious: Remove giblets from the turkey. Go ahead, laugh; but many a modern harvest feast has been flawed by the discovery of plastic- or paper-wrapped giblets deep in the

cooked bird.

Safe thawing takes time Susan Templin, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hotline, says the safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is to place it in the refrigerator. Allow 5 hours per pound of turkey.

That means a 9-pound frozen turkey will take about 45 hours -- almost two days -- to defrost. A 16-pound turkey will thaw in 80 hours, or about 3 1/4 days. Mark the start time for thawing on the timetable; make a note to buy the turkey before that date.


To defrost faster, calculate about 30 minutes per pound of turkey, about 4 1/2 hours for the same 9-pound turkey or 8 hours for the 16-pounder. Put the still-wrapped turkey in the sink and cover it with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes, Ms. Templin says.

Never defrost a turkey at room temperature, in hot water, in the oven or outdoors.

) Estimate cooking time In a 325-degree oven, a 9-pound turkey will need about 3 3/4 hours cook if it is stuffed, about 3 1/4 hours if it isn't. A 16-pound turkey will roast in about 4 3/4 hours if it is stuffed, about 4 1/4 hours if unstuffed. These are approximations because every oven and every turkey is different. The turkey will be done when the internal temperature of the thigh meat reaches about 180 degrees, says Ms. Templin.

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