These tips can help make turkey terrific

Sweet potatoes may be stars; cornbread dressing a contender. Dinner rolls are divine and green bean casserole a go-to. But Thanksgiving dinner isn’t complete without turkey.

Given the emphasis placed on the main course each Thanksgiving, cooking a turkey can be intimidating. These turkey-cooking tips can calm anyone’s nerves and result in a mouth-watering main course.

• Allow ample time for thawing. Some people may not be able to buy a fresh turkey, and millions of individuals purchase frozen turkeys each year. The Food Network says it can take 24 hours per every five pounds to thaw a turkey. Therefore, if you have a 15-pounder, allow for three days for thawing. Always thaw a turkey in a refrigerator.

• Get the right size bird. The general rule of thumb is 1 pound (uncooked) to 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person if you’re buying a whole turkey. Rather than purchasing the largest turkey you can find for a large crowd, consider two smaller turkeys or one turkey and one breast to make cooking more even. Smaller birds are more tender as well.

• Adjust the temperature. The food and cooking resource TheKitchn advises preheating an oven to 450 F, then dropping the temperature to 350 F after putting the turkey into the oven. Cook, on average, 13 minutes per each pound of turkey. The turkey is done when it registers a minimum temperature of 165 F in the thickest part of the thigh.

• To brine or not to brine? Many food fanatics swear by brining turkey to achieve more moist and flavorful meat. However, a wet brine may not lead to the crispiest skin possible. Good Housekeeping suggests trying a dry brine instead. This involves rubbing salt all over the raw turkey, placing the bird into a large plastic bag, and refrigerating overnight or up to two days before cooking; otherwise, purchase a kosher turkey, which already has been salted from the inside out.

• Avoid stuffing the bird. Rather than stuffing the turkey and cooking everything en masse, prepare the stuffing mixture separate from the turkey. This reduces the risk of contamination from the turkey’s raw juices and helps to achieve a crispy coating on the stuffing guests will enjoy.

• Make an aromatic roasting rack. Turkeys typically are placed on a metal rack for cooking so the juices do not cause the turkey to stick to the pan. However, you also can cut onions and lay them with a bed of whole celery stalks and carrots to elevate the roast. This creates extra flavor in the bird and the vegetables also can be served or mixed into the stuffing.

Some turkey-roasting techniques can ensure a moist and flavorful main course this Thanksgiving.

Irresistible Basil Mashed Potatoes

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds floury, baking-type potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks


2 to 3 cups fresh basil leaves of any type (2 to 3 ounces — a nice big bunch)

2 cups heavy (whipping) cream or half-and-half

4 tablespoons butter

Black pepper

1. Place the potatoes in a saucepan and fill with water to cover. Add a big pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and cook, covered, for about 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are just tender. Drain, return to the heat and shake for a few minutes to dry them out; turn off the heat, cover the pan and keep warm.

2. Meanwhile, blanch the basil. Plunge it into a saucepan of boiling water, cook a moment or two until the leaves wilt and slightly change color and lift out of the pot using a slotted spoon, then plunge into a bowl of ice water. Leave for about five minutes or until it turns brightly colored, then lift from the ice water.

3. Heat the cream in a saucepan until bubbles form around the edge of the pan.

4. Squeeze the basil in your hands gently to rid it of excess water from cooking. Place in a food processor and whirl to purée. Slowly pour the hot cream into this puréed basil and whirl until it forms a fragrant, pale green cream.

5. Coarsely mash the potatoes with a masher, then add the basil cream and mash it in; work in the butter, and season to taste with salt and pepper. If you’re serving duck or lamb, serve the potatoes with a drizzle of the port reduction around the edge.

From Marlena Spieler’s “Yummy Potatoes” (Chronicle Books).


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