Thanksgiving answers – turkey, stuffing, and more.

Answers to your questions about turkey, stuffing, and all other Thanksgiving-related questions.

From S.A., 24 November 2009, Brining:  Does longer equal better?

Q:  Can you/should you brine more than 4 hours? We could brine the turkey overnight if more = better.

A:  Thanks for your question.  More is not necessarily better.  Brining is a function of the strength of the solution (i.e.., its saltiness), the thickness of the meat, and the density of the meat, so it’s hard to say exactly how long you should brine.  I’m writing to you from LA so I don’t have a kitchen scale handy to measure the salt percentage in the brine recipe I supplied.  Generally, though, even with a fairly light brine, I don’t recommend brining even a large whole bird more than 8 hours – at that point, the meat becomes too salty.

Even if you want to brine in advance but are not ready to cook, you can remove the meat from the brine and then store it in the refrigerator, out of the brine, until you’re ready to cook.


From C.B., 21 November 2009, Meatless stuffings – favorites from the kitchen.

Q: I need a good stuffing recipe, preferably without sausage or pancetta or the like. Got a favorite?

A: I love meatless stuffings, since Thanksgiving already is a meatfest. I would make a fennel and chestnut stuffing. These days, you can buy vacuum packed shelled chestnuts for cheap in the grocery store – Whole Foods carries them for about $3 for a 5 ounce bag, Trader Joe’s stocks them for about $6/8 oz box, and we can buy them for even less at the local Korean supermarket.

1 1/2 loaves (1 lb each, or 2 loaves 3/4 lb each) of a rustic white bread, crusts removed and 1″ dice
3/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp fennel seeds
1 medium onion, small dice
2 stalks celery, peeled, small dice
1 medium fennel bulb, small dice
8-10 thyme sprigs, leaves only, minced or about 1 tsp dried thyme
[optional – 1/4 tsp minced fresh rosemary – don’t use dried here]
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
zest of 2 lemons, minced (no need to mince if you use a fine microplane)
1c dry white wine
2 1/2 c chicken stock
6 tbsp (about 3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 5 oz packs or 3 3 oz packs of chestnuts, coarsely crumbled.
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 c flat leaf (Italian) parsley, chopped

Oven 400F

Toss the bread cubes with 1/2c oil, spread on a sheet pan and bake, stirring once, until golden brown. Transfer to a large bowl.

Toast the fennel seeds in a dry skillet/frying pan over medium heat until fragrant – do not burn or brown. This only takes a minute or two. Transfer to a spice grinder or small food prep processor. Grind coarsely. (You also can use half the volume of preground fennel if you have it).

Place a large skillet/frying pan over medium heat and add some olive oil. Add the vegetables, ground fennel, and herbs. Saute until the vegetables are lightly golden brown. Stir in the lemon zest and add to the bread cubes.

Return the pan to high heat. Add the wine and deglaze the pan; reduce by half. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Pour the hot stock mixture over the bread cubes and toss well.

Wipe out the skillet. Add half the butter and the chestnuts and cook over medium heat, until the chestnuts are lightly browned – add to the bread/vegetable mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cool (you may want to spread back on the sheet pan but return to the bowl before the next step). Combine the beaten eggs and parsley, add to the stuffing, and toss well. You can do this in advance and refrigerate, tightly covered.

An hour before serving the turkey (really when you take the turkey out of the oven), turn the heat up to 400F. Transfer the stuffing to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and place shards of the remaining butter over the top. Bake another 15-20 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown on top.

From L., 21 November 2009, Turkey and bacon – is it really the answer?

Q: Let’s talk turkey. So, for the last many years I’ve cooked my turkey in a buttered paper bag. It works awesome and is so simple. (Got the idea from Saveuer in 1995 But bags these days taste more baggish (likely the paper is less refined) and I don’t like that flavor. Have you ever tried covering your turkey with bacon strips and roasting it that way. It seems geniuos to me, but… thoughts?

A: Ah, the old barding trick. I really should let my husband guest-respond to this question, because this is his favorite method of roasting turkey. And where did he pick up the tip? As the kid in that old public service ad said, “I learned it from you, dad.”

As a matter of fact, he did it a couple of weeks ago, as part of an early Thanksgiving feast. Behold the glory!

Barding the turkey.

The finished product (with a chestnut and sausage stuffing).

I failed to get a picture of the finished product but I ate it and can assure you it was delicious. Golden brown skin and juicy meat.

Barding is a classic technique for protecting lean meat while roasting and basting the skin in the process. It means simply placing strips of bacon or occasionally another fatty meat (like blanched salt pork) over a lean meat, usually a game bird, before roasting. The fat renders from the bacon and flavors the meat. The one concern with barding is that, if you plan to use pan drippings for gravy, they will taste distinctly of bacon and may be somewhat salty (especially if you brine the bird – more on that below). They also will be pretty fatty so you may need to spoon some fat off the drippings before making gravy.

Simply brush the turkey with a little oil or melted butter and lay strips of bacon on the turkey breast and place in a 350F oven for 15 mins/lb. You need to remove the bacon once it turns crisp to avoid the risk of burning – that is why I recommend you brush with oil or butter first. Otherwise the bacon may meld with the skin and become impossible to remove. Once you remove the bacon, you should baste with drippings from time to time. There is a decent chance your bacon will never turn dark brown enough to require removal but my husband usually does to ensure that the skin has browned nicely.

You also may consider brining the turkey first. See the instructions for “Brining a turkey,” below. If you use this double brine/bard method, though, your pan drippings will be salty so do not use a canned broth to make the gravy or you’ll be sorry. Instead, use the neck, wings, and gizzards to make a stock with some onion, carrot, celery, bay, and thyme while the turkey roasts. Strain the stock – you want about 6-8 cups or so – and use it for gravy.

From S., 2 November, 2009, Brining a turkey – how do I get started?

A: I recommend making a brine, since turkey, to me, is sort of a blandish meat, especially the white meat of the breast. The brining step is optional but it helps a lot, believe me. If you don’t want to brine be sure to rub the turkey inside and out with salt and pepper.

This is for a 14-16 lb bird. For a breast or a smaller (10-12 lb bird), you can reduce amounts proportionally.

In a small saucepan, combine 4 c apple juice with 5 bay leaves, 4-6 springs of thyme (if you have it), 2/3 c kosher salt or 1/2c table salt, 1/4c sugar, about 4 cloves, and 6-8 black peppercorns. Bring that to a simmer and allow it to simmer, covered, for an hour (add more juice if necessary). Transfer to the biggest pot you have (like a stockpot or a clean bucket that you only would use for food – a 5 gal bucket from Home Depot works perfectly and is inexpensive) and fill it with 8 qt very cold water and about 1 qt ice cubes. Stir well and add the turkey. Return to the refrigerator and brine for 4 hours (you can get away with as few as 2 hrs).

1h before roasting, preheat the oven to 400F, 30 mins before roasting, remove the turkey from the brine, pat the skin dry, place a halved onion, a stalk of celery, and a halved lemon in the cavity, and rub the skin with butter. Roast bone-in turkey for 15 mins/lb, or boneless breast for about 12 mins/lb. After the first 20 mins turn down to 350F. Baste every 25 mins. Put a little water (1/2 c) in the bottom of the pan to prevent the drippings from burning.

Rest the turkey for 1/2 hour-45 mins before carving (shorter for a smaller turkey or a breast, longer for a larger turkey).

[I actually received this question a couple of weeks ago but am reprinting it because it seems appropriate for the season.]

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