Back by popular demand, a post from last year’s holiday season.
Every year a debate rages on as to whether to stuff the Thanksgiving bird or not. There’s really no good reason to do it (except that it looks cool) and many reasons not to, the most important of which is that it’s not necessarily a safe practice. If the stuffing itself is not cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, bacteria can grow. Stuffing cooked in the turkey will be moist from turkey juices, but that can also translate into it being soggy. If you cook the dressing separately and leave the lid off while baking (at least part of the time), the top will crisp up, making it a more appealing dish. And to counter concerns about it drying out if it’s not cooked in the turkey, pour some white wine over the dressing before you bake it. I have done that for years and it works beautifully without imparting a strong flavor.
Many home cooks now have a convection oven in their kitchens, but don’t know what to do with them. The purpose of using the convection setting? It should produce a more moist bird in considerably less time. My mother always had to get up at the crack of dawn to prepare the turkey and get it in the oven for a mid-day feast. The newer convection ovens reduce cooking time by more than a third. Depending on weight, traditional ovens cook a turkey in 12-15 minutes a pound; in convection mode, it’s closer to 9 minutes a pound at 325 degrees (if it’s stuffed, that time will increase to approximately 11 minutes). You may not get it just right the first time around, that’s why it’s always advisable to have a good meat thermometer on hand. The instruction manual will undoubtedly advise cooking at a 25 degree lower temperature when using the convection setting than in a conventional oven.
Most recipes advise taking the turkey out when the thermometer reaches 165 degrees, once it sits for 20 minutes it will rise to 180. And depending on the model, there are often different settings–convection, convection bake, and convection roast. If you have a roast setting, use that for your turkey, if not, the simple convection setting will work just fine. Finally, another bonus of using a convection oven is that because the air circulates all around the turkey, the heat is more evenly distributed and basting is not as essential. Once you stick the bird in the oven, you shouldn’t need to baste it every 30 minutes as in the “old days”–just peek at the turkey once in a while and baste if it looks like it’s drying out. I use white wine and orange juice, it’s healthier and just as effective as oil or butter.
This Thanksgiving, why not up the celebration factor? How often do you get a chance to use your grandmother’s china (or your own, for that matter)? What about hauling out those wedding presents that have long since tarnished? And what better time to do so than when your family is gathered around the table, the best reason to give thanks during this holiday.