Welcome to Blooper Week, where we'll be polling various cooks and food writers -- as well as the Food52 staff -- about their biggest Thanksgiving bloopers and their essential tips to avoid future disasters.
Today: Bon Appetit's Editor-in-Chief, Adam Rapoport, shares a story of turkey negligence, and outlines his tips for perfecting your bird.
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Don't tell my brother, but I think I'm finally ready to take the blame. Two years ago, my wife and I were hosting our first Thanksgiving, and my brother Andy stepped up to handle turkey-roasting duties. He brought over a hulking 24-pound bird, and we did the math, mapping out how long it would need in the oven before the various casseroles could squeeze in for baking and reheating. Everything was going well -- cocktails were served, potatoes were passed through the food mill -- until it wasn't going well. The turkey was stuck in neutral; it was taking forever. Everyone was getting tipsier and tipsier. A 6pm sit-down time stretched to 8pm (and by this point, to only use the word 'tipsy' would be generous).
Turns out I might have accidentally turned the electric oven off when I was trying to activate the clock function on the display. All I know is we finally sat down, the turkey was juicy and beautifully burnished, and I had learned my lesson: When hosting Thanksgiving, run your operations with military precision to avoid any time-consuming mishaps. Or at least buy another bottle of bourbon -- it could be a long night.
Here are my tips for avoiding turkey disasters:
I always think that Thanksgiving in general is more about planning and execution than it is about cooking. There are so many dishes you're trying to get to the table, and they're all competing for room in the oven. If you have a big bird, it takes a long time to cook, and it has first dibs on oven space. Plan for dishes that you can make on the stovetop or serve at room temperature. So sit down with a piece of paper, and decide on a menu, a game plan, and timing.
Listen: America loves turkey. It's the most popular bid in america, but it ain't ham, it ain't a ribeye, it's not pork chops. It needs help. No one loves turkey. They love gravy, crispy skin, stuffing. So what can you do to enhance white meat turkey and make it more fun?
Brining: As much as people love wet brining, it is a project -- you need a big enough cooler, et cetera. With a dry rub, you just coat the bird, so it's much easier. However you decide to do it, you do need to do something to enhance the bird's flavor. I really like the cider-brined turkey with star anise and cinnamon, which you can find in the Bon Appétit's free Thanksgiving app.
Cooking white meat and dark meat separately: Think about the dark meat and white meat differently, and cook it in parts. You can braise the legs and thighs the ways you would short ribs -- with wine, aromatics, and vegetables. That meat tastes much better when it's braised.
Make a really good gravy: If you make a good gravy, you have such a broader margin of error on everything. Make turkey stock ahead of time, and then make the gravy once the turkey is roasted, with the pan drippings and roux.
Do not be the guy (or woman) who tries to carve the turkey at the table. It gets messy; there's performance anxiety. People like to bring the whole bird to the table -- but the best way to present it is not the best way to eat it. You want to take off the legs and thighs, take the breasts off the bone, then slice them against the grain into medallions. Knowing how to carve your bird makes a huge difference.