Turkey Talk From Expert Cookbook Author Terry Thompson

Terry Thompson is a famous Texas chef and cookbook  author. I had the honor of meeting her several years ago on a visit to Austin.   I found this in my files a while back and thought it would be a timely post to refresh everyone’s memory…

• When selecting your turkey, allow 1 pound per person if buying a turkey weighing 12 pounds or less.  If buying a larger turkey, allow ½ to ¾ pound per pound.

• Should you buy a hen or a tom?  There is virtually n9 difference in today’s market.  Modern processed turkeys reach a ready market weight quite young, which means both sexes are juicy and tender.  A hen will weight up 14 pounds, a tom from 12 and up.

• Whether you buy a hen or a tom, the larger bird is best buy for your money.  The skeletal structure is the same in a 12-pound turkey as it is in a 16-pound turkey.  The difference in weight is all meat, so think big when you buy.

• Fresh or frozen?  With today’s modern processing and flash-freezing methods, there is a very thin line of difference.  If there is very little difference in price, opt for a fresh turkey.  But don’t pay a premium price for a “fresh” turkey expecting a miraculous difference in quality and taste.  You’ll be sadly disappointed and dollars poorer.

• When thawing the frozen turkey, thaw it slowly in the refrigerator to prevent bacterial growth.  Allow one to three days for thawing, depending on the size of the bird.  When in a pinch form time and the bird is still frozen quite solidly, you may place the bird, still securely sealed in its wrappings, in a large bowl under trickling COLD water for two to six hours, depending on size.  Keep the water trickling.  NEVER thaw the bird at room temperature.

• Natural or “Self-basting”?  Here’s where we draw the bold red line.  Buy a natural bird and baste it yourself, using its own wonderful drippings.  You’ll have a better tasting turkey – at a much lower price.  My local HEB Pantry Store runs a special on turkeys each Thanksgiving. They are fat and wonderful!  “Self-basting” or “butter”-basted turkeys command a premium price at the market, a nasty Thanksgiving hoax on the unsuspecting consumer.  These turkeys are packed under the breast meat with a mixture consisting of water, hydrogenated vegetable oil and sodium phosphates. (No, it’s really not butter.)  The phosphates are added to hold the water as the bird cooks.  At about 180 degrees, the phosphates lose their ability to hold the water, promptly releasing the “basting juices” just about the time you’re testing for doneness, or when the little red “doneness” button pops out.  You say “My, my, what a nice juicy, butter-basted turkey I’ve got!”  But in essence, all you’ve got is a wet one!

• Never cook the turkey at temperatures lower than 325 degrees.  Lower temperatures do not get the inside of the bird hot enough, quickly enough, to avoid the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.  The often popular method of putting the bird in the oven to roast the night before at 200 degrees could result in the proud hostess carrying a ptomaine turkey to her holiday table.

• Roast the turkey at 325 degrees until a meat thermometer inserted in the center of the inner thigh muscle registers 180-185 degrees.  To help test for doneness, move the leg.  The fowl is done if the leg joints move easily.  Softness of the flesh on drumstick and thigh are additional indicators of doneness.

• Time the roasting so that the turkey is done 20 to 30 minutes before you wish to carve it.  Cover turkey loosely with foil and allow it to “rest” for 20 to 30 minutes before carving.  The resting period allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. • To stuff or not to stuff?  Your choice, but if you do stuff, never put hot dressing inside the raw bird.  In doing so, you create the perfect environment for the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.  Always chill the dressing before stuffing the turkey.  To be on the safe side, stuff the bird as close to the roasting time a possible and always keep the stuffed bird refrigerated until it goes into the preheated oven.  Remove stuffing from cavity of turkey after roasting.  Allow ½ cup of stuffing per pound to stuff the bird.  Stuff loosely.

• Finally, after the feast is over, refrigerate leftover turkey and dressing, covered loosely, as soon as possible.  Don’t be tempted to leave it on the table for late-afternoon snacking, lest you risk sponsoring those prolific little bacteria again.  Make the evening turkey sandwiches chilled ones and zap the dressing in microwave for that apres-feast snack.

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