Talking turkey: How to deal with the big bird

November 22, 1992|By Marilynn Marter | Marilynn Marter,Knight-Ridder News Service

Thanksgiving remains the American holiday with the most tradition-bound meal. And turkey still maintains center stage at that feast.

The original Thanksgiving menu, according to historians and archaeologists, included not just wild turkey but also waterfowl, venison and fish -- served with a dozen or more vegetables.

Of course, back in 1621, the first settlers and the natives partied for three days to celebrate the Pilgrims' landing in Plymouth.

If you are chief cook in charge of the monster meal this year, start planning now.

Start thawing the bird (directions follow). Read through your recipes. Assemble ingredients.

Consider preparing a few things ahead -- sauces, chutneys, pies, cakes.

Think about the stuffing. How about trying a new recipe?

Update a classic vegetable dressing with the addition of chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Or add sparkle to a fruit-and-nut stuffing with some dried cherries in place of raisins.

When planning the meal, allow for a full pound of whole turkey per person. You can expect a 50- to 60-percent meat yield from turkey. If your family loves leftovers, allow at least 1 1/2 pounds per person.

For turkey breasts, figure on 3/4 pound per person; for thboneless meat, 1/2 pound per person.

Plan ahead, too, for thawing the bird. The safest thawing method takes the longest time. The bird should remain cold, preferably refrigerated, while thawing.

Never thaw a turkey at room temperature or leave it unwrapped and exposed to the air, because this will promote growth of bacteria on the surface of the bird. Always leave the bird in its sealed wrapper until it is thawed and ready for final preparations and roasting.

Do not thaw pre-stuffed birds before roasting, not even a little.

The safest way to thaw the bird is to place the wrapped bird, breast up, on a tray in the refrigerator. Thawing will take from two to five days.

Thawing time needed for turkeys refrigerated at 40 degrees:

*9 to 12 pounds -- 1 1/2 to two days.

*12 to 16 pounds -- two to three days.

*16 to 20 pounds -- three to four days.

*20 to 24 pounds -- four to five days.

If necessary, thawing time can be reduced by submerging the bird, in its sealed wrapper, breast down in cold water. Change the water every half-hour during the prescribed time for thawing.

L Thawing time needed for turkeys using the cold-water method:

*9 to 12 pounds -- four to six hours.

*12 to 16 pounds -- six to nine hours.

*16 to 20 pounds -- nine to 11 hours.

*20 to 24 pounds -- 11 to 12 hours.

For a non-traditional stuffing or dressing, use brown rice. The recipe that follows can be used both as a stuffing for turkey or chicken and as a casserole entree for lighter meals.

Brown rice dressing

1 pound brown rice (or mixed brown and wild rice)

1 1/2 pounds ground pork or lean pork sausage

1 large onion, chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

4 ounces mushrooms, chopped

2 large apples, peeled, cored and sliced

3 cups cubed bread, white or whole wheat

1/2 teaspoon sage or to taste

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cook rice according to directions on the package. In large skillet, brown pork. Add chopped onion, celery and mushrooms. Cook until tender. Stir in apples and heat through. Combine cooked rice with pork mixture. Stir in bread cubes. Add sage, salt and pepper, to taste. Use to stuff a large turkey or place in an ovenproof casserole and bake, covered, at 325 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes until done.

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