Easy ways to avoid the most common Turkey Day disasters
Thomas J. Story; styling by Joni Noe
Luckily, almost everyone makes too much food on Thanksgiving. For most feasts, there would have to be a half-dozen unexpected guests to seriously impact the meal. But here are our 3 top tips: 1) Make more mashed potatoes, or rice or pasta—it’ll take 30 minutes or less; 2) Slice the turkey ve-e-e-ry thinly; 3) make a quick soup from chicken broth, a pureed cooked vegetable or two, and maybe some fresh herbs or a pinch of chile.
If you run out of room at the table, set up an auxiliary eating area (kitchen counters work in a pinch, but living room coffee tables and den game tables are good options). Who sits there? It can be done by age, by birthday month, by favorite color, or simply grab the couple of people you were most looking forward to seeing and sit there with them. In any case, Thanksgiving is all about spending time together―if you keep that in mind, everything else will follow.
There isn't a gravy that can't be fixed. Lumps may need a lot of elbow grease and a good whisk, but they can be banished. For particularly stubborn ones, try adding a bit more hot liquid to ease them out while you whisk. If they persist, reach for a strainer (medium weave). Set it over a bowl, pour in the gravy and stir. Voilà: Smooth gravy flows through, nasty lumps stay behind. And, for next time, be sure you whisk your flour and/or cornstarch constantly while you’re adding the broth or turkey juices. This will keep lumps from forming.
Thomas J. Story
Thick gravy is a breeze to fix: It can be thinned with hot broth or even hot water in a pinch. Drizzle in the broth while whisking, and heat until piping hot.
Just put it in a wide pan and boil it, stirring, until it’s as thick as you like; as the water evaporates, it will get thicker. However, if you’ve already salted it, this will make your gravy very salty. Another approach: Brown about 1 tbsp. flour for every cup of gravy (stir it in a dry frying pan over medium heat until it turns a nice deep golden brown). Then whisk in your gravy, and cook, whisking constantly, until it thickens.
Many Thanksgiving favorites are perfectly yummy at room temperature. Avoid too-cool food by keeping dishes covered with foil or lids until ready to eat. Anything that has an actual chill on it can be placed back in the oven―try to spread in a thin layer in a larger pan to speed things up.
You've called everyone to come and eat. Everything is on the table. You start to carve the turkey and realize it is not fully cooked. This is many a first-timer’s greatest fear. But fear not! Carve off any parts that are cooked (the breast meat probably is), serve those, and put the remaining carved pieces back in a pan, cover with foil, and cook until done while everyone enjoys a bit of turkey and gets to work on the sides.
Next time, consider carving the turkey first and THEN cooking it. Every piece will be done perfectly.
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Plunge that sucker into a pot, then run water over it for about an hour. Then butterfly it so it cooks faster (it will take 1 ½ hours at 400°). You can then either grill or roast the bird.
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Oh well. At least you have other food on the table! The best fix: immediately drizzle those dried-out pieces with gravy…and serve lots of gravy and cranberry sauce on the side.
Next time, be sure to insert a meat thermometer into your raw turkey through the thickest part of the breast until it touches the breastbone, and follow our foolproof turkey roasting guide. When the thermometer says 160°, the turkey is done.
Just scoop it out of the baking dish, spread it out on a sheet pan, and bake at 350° until it has the texture you’re aiming for. Scoop it back into its dish and serve.
Suggested recipe: Pancetta, Sourdough, and Apple Stuffing
Whether it be turkey, potatoes, vegetables, or stuffing, if something is fully cooked but hasn't acquired that appetizing brown surface, put it under a hot broiler (at least 4 inches away from the heating elements), turning as needed, until it browns. Watch very carefully (you don't want to go from pallid to burnt!), always erring on placing the item too far from the element rather than too close. Then you’ll get a gorgeous golden crust.
You can spot an over-baked pumpkin pie by the tell-tale cracks in the top, but no one needs to know if you goof. Simply dollop on some whipped cream and carry it to the table with a smile.
Relax—we have some great recipes for you. And don’t forget to put out big bowls of nuts before dinner.