Turkey Toys, Tools and Tips
By Deborah Salomon
Little is known, much surmised about the al fresco meal eaten by Pilgrims and their 90 Wampanoag guests in October 1621 at Plymouth Plantation.
This was a harvest feast with strong religious overtones. The menu probably included wild fowl, venison, seafood, cornmeal, root vegetables and perhaps a pumpkin pudding sweetened with maple.
Cranberries grew in the Massachusetts bogs but Ocean Spray did not exist to sweeten them.
Sinewy game birds roasted on a spit while lobsters boiled in a pot.
At least there was plenty. After a horrendous year, the 53 surviving (of 110 who left England) Pilgrims ate hearty.
Oh what a difference a few centuries make. Man has walked on that harvest moon, and turkeys have been bred so big-breasted that artificial insemination is necessary because males can no longer assume the mating position.
Now, with plentiful food and an established holiday, entrepreneurs have created not only a turkey industry, but an industry of turkey tools.
Some gadgets are great, others comical. Let the buyer be sensible:
The pan: No newfangled option performs better than granny's jumbo covered enamel roaster with its ridged bottom and sturdy handles. Don't fall for a featherweight version. Aluminum and stainless steel are good, too, but more expensive. Foil single-use pans can be outright dangerous (splat!) if not supported by a cookie sheet at all times. Besides, covering the turkey for the first hour allows it to steam, with a juicier result. But before covering the turkey with anything, place several carrots or celery stalks between the bird and the cover, to prevent sticking and tearing of breast skin.
The cradle: Impressive invention. Get a big nonstick one with handles so turkey can go from pan to platter. Some roasters include a cradle.
Cellophane roasting bags: Thumbs up here, too. Roasting time decreases, bird browns evenly. Do not attempt to lift turkey while still in bag; open and drain juices. Cut away the bag, then lift with rack or cradle.
Stuffing socks: Why? No harm is done by stuffing the bag with stuffing, then stuffing it into the turkey. But spooning stuffing out of an unlined cavity is just as easy. Or make your own cheesecloth sack.
Stuffing cages: Worse than socks. One size does not fit all turkeys.
Lifters: They look cool but you won't need one with a cradle. Mitt-enclosed hands work, too.
Basters: Glass shaft only. Plastic gets cloudy, difficult to clean.
Long-handled silicone basters: Very pretty, but a bulb baster suffices.
Flavor injectors: Now we're talking. Create your own basting liquid with chicken broth, ground seasonings (sage, onion powder, celery salt), white wine, apple cider, melted butter or margarine. Inject deep into breast, legs and thighs before and once during roasting.
Poultry shears: Essential for severing and disjointing wings and legs. Don't buy cheap ones. Poultry shears make a nice Thanksgiving hostess gift.
Trussing kits: Tightly trussing a turkey wastes a lot of space. Instead, pack cavity with stuffing allowing it to mound out. Cover the mound with onion slices. Tie legs together with kitchen twine or wire. Fill neck cavity with a whole peeled onion which can be mashed into the gravy.
Gravy separators: Absolutely. Turkey drippings are about 25 percent fat. Who needs that?
Knives: A properly roasted and rested (see below) turkey will slice cleanly with a sharp, non-serrated knife. In lieu of an electric sharpener, copy the Pilgrims: Get a sharpening stone.
Meat thermometer: Novices might need one. Most turkeys have charts and pop-ups. Turkey and stuffing must reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees to kill bacteria. Experienced Thanksgiving cooks add 30 minutes to suggested roasting time. Leg should move very easily with no resistance.
Storage: Break down turkey immediately after dinner. Shallow rectangular containers with tight-fitting lids are best for chilling leftovers quickly and keeping them cold. Or, used large heavy-duty plastic zipper bags. Suck out air with a straw.
Footnote: Stuffing tastes better than dressing because it absorbs turkey juices. But you may need more stuffing than fits in the turkey. Put the extra in a casserole, moisten with chicken broth and cover with turkey neck, wing tips, giblets and poopick (part that goes over the fence last). Cover and bake an hour.
Blanket proposal: Revolutionize your Thanksgiving bird with this simple trick. Calculate roasting time so that turkey is done one hour before dinner. Raise oven temperature to 450 degrees for final 10 minutes. Remove from oven, quickly cover with heavy-duty foil, tightly sealing edges around pan. Cover the pan with a clean quilt or blanket, folded double. Tuck blanket edges under pan. Set aside. The oven is now free for side dishes. Uncover the turkey at serving time. Meat will slice without shredding, and the turkey will be steaming hot and the juiciest ever.
Lagniappe: Many families postpone dessert until after the after-dinner walk. That way, you'll at least feel virtuous.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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