Monday, November 24, 2008

Turkey Tactics for the Holidays

Each year the holiday season seems to arrives sooner than in the past. It seems like it was only yesterday that we were celebrating The 4th of July, and now holiday decorations are going up in malls and shopping plazas. With Thanksgiving less than a week away, now is the time to put plans into action for roasting the perfect turkey for your family feast. There are many things to consider when it comes to selecting, thawing, roasting and saving leftover holiday turkey. The majority of grocery stores in our region offer either fresh or frozen turkeys. Frozen turkeys can be selected months in advance. They can be kept frozen indefinitely. But it is recommended that you cook it within one year for best quality. There are three ways to thaw your turkey safely. You can thaw it in the refrigerator, in cold running water, or in the microwave oven. Thawing the turkey in the refrigerator is probably the most efficient way for most home cooks. This thawing method does take some planning. The average time for thawing a whole turkey is 3 to 5 days, depending on the size of the bird. Follow these two simple steps for thawing a turkey in the refrigerator. First, keep the turkey in the original wrapper. Next, place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak. Once thawed, a turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. A fresh turkey works well when you don’t have several days to thaw a whole turkey in the refrigerator. Purchase it 1 to 2 days before you plan to cook it. Store your fresh turkey in the refrigerator in a pan to catch any juices that may leak from the packaging. Fresh or frozen, always allow 1 pound of turkey per person. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not recommend buying fresh pre-stuffed turkeys. If not handled properly, harmful bacteria can grow in the stuffing. Frozen pre-stuffed turkeys, on the other hand, can be safe if the turkey has a USDA or State mark of inspection on the packaging. Frozen, pre-stuffed turkeys should not be thawed before cooking. These turkeys have to be cooked from the frozen state. You should closely follow the package directions for handling and cooking. To roast your holiday bird, you need a few basic pieces of equipment, some simple ingredients and an oven set at 325°F. A shallow roasting pan with a rack works well for turkeys. Don’t be tempted to stuff the turkey. Cook the stuffing outside of the turkey in a casserole dish. This works better because it allows the turkey to cook evenly and it is safer. Remember to remove the giblets from the turkey cavities before you roast the turkey. There are several ways to season the turkey. Most seasonings will have little effect on the safety of the turkey. Generally, simply rubbing the skin with olive or vegetable oil and sprinkling the turkey with salt and pepper works well. Tuck the wing tips under the shoulders of the bird for more even cooking. Add ½ cup of water to the bottom of the roasting pan. Cover the turkey during the first 1 to 1 ½ hours. You can cover with the lid of the roaster or place a heavy-duty aluminum foil tent over the turkey. This allows for even cooking and browning. Checking the temperature of the turkey is a key step to making sure it is safe to serve. The USDA recommends roasting the turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F. Even if your turkey has a “pop-up” temperature indicator, it is still recommended that you check the temperature in the innermost thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer. You can also use an oven-proof food thermometer. Place the oven-proof thermometer in the turkey at the start of the cooking cycle. For a whole turkey, place the thermometer in the thickest part of the inner thigh. Once the thigh has reached 165°F, check the wing and the thickest part of the breast to ensure the entire turkey has reached the 165°F mark. For best quality, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily. Once the meal is over, do not allow the turkey to remain at room temperature for longer than two hours. Divide leftovers into smaller portions and refrigerate. It is better to refrigerate leftover turkey in shallow containers because they allow the meat to cool down to a safe temperature faster. Leftover turkey must be used within 3 to 4 days. Plan to use or freeze leftover gravy within 1 to 2 days.

No comments: