Chef Dez: Turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving

By Chef Dez | Nov 25, 2009

The Thanksgiving weekend is now on the horizon. Enjoying the aroma of a turkey roasting in the oven on a cool autumn day revives many warm and comforting childhood memories for me.

Although there are a growing number of vegetarians in our society, the majority of our Thanksgiving Day meals will include a turkey accompanied by a bread dressing of varying types. The problem that most frequently plagues people who attempt roasting this traditional fowl, stuffed or not, is overcooking.

Roasted turkey meat should be moist when cut into, not dry. The breast is always the victim of this predicament, as it has a far lower fat content than the dark meat sections. Fat always aids in keeping cuts of meat juicy. I have talked to many people, and it seems like everyone has a trick to achieve this.

Several claim that roasting the turkey upside down (breast side down) for the first half of the cooking time will produce a moist bird. The juices, following gravity's pull downward, collect in the breast section of the turkey justifying this method.

The top exposed dark meat is fatty enough to be able to supply excess juices while still retaining a sufficient amount of moisture. The second half of the cooking time will be ample to achieve the browning required for an attractive presentation. The only downfall to this method is that the breast will be left imbedded with lines from the roasting rack, thus blemishing the appearance somewhat.

I practice a different method in my home. Firstly, I rub the bird completely with butter and even trap some bacon slices between the skin and the breast meat. I keep the turkey breast side up, but completely seal the top of the roasting pan for the first of the cooking time. I usually use a wide sheet of aluminum foil or the roaster lid with aluminum foil around the seams. By doing this, it creates a steaming and self-basting environment, and thus keeping the meat moist. Many argue that this is not roasting, but steaming, and therefore refuse to accept it.

However, it browns beautifully during the last part of the uncovered cooking time providing a fantastic presentation, and most of all - the meat is moist!

Stuffing a turkey also contributes to overcooking if one is not careful in preserving moisture. In order to cook the inside stuffing to a safe temperature, the complete cooking time is obviously lengthened and jeopardizes the turkey itself. Many are in the practice of cooking stuffing separately in a casserole dish for this exact reason.

This will sacrifice the flavour however, that the stuffing would have derived from the natural juices of the turkey. I always stuff my turkey and cook it accordingly to the steaming method described above, and never have any problems.

A whole stuffed turkey must be cooked to a high enough internal temperature in order to kill bacteria and provide a safe meal. The stuffing must reach a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit and the innermost part of the thigh must be a minimum of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. This is why recipes are always vague when it comes to recommending a time period for cooking. I recommend using and oven proof thermometer that you leave in the turkey or at least an instant read thermometer.

Stuffing does not have to be made out of bread. Many are made with an abundance of different fillers and flavourings. There are countless delicious stuffing recipes available to us, but there is one simple rule to follow for all of them. Before stuffing the bird, taste and re-season the stuffing accordingly. This will prevent it from a bland entrance at the dinner table, when it is too late to turn back.

Dear Chef Dez:

I have got a great recipe for Cornish game hens with bulgur stuffing (I finally found out that bulgur is cracked wheat). What I was wondering is, if I could use cooked rice instead of the bulgur.

Marj B.
Abbotsford, BC

Dear Marj:

Yes, by all means. I often use cooked rice in a number of different stuffings. To ensure a flavourful finished product keep in mind that rice is obviously more bland than the nutty flavour of bulgur and season appropriately. This way you know it will be fantastic! Also consider trying brown rice or wild rice or a mixture of the two.

Send your food/cooking questions to dez@chefdez.com or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC V2T 6R4
Chef Dez is a food columnist, culinary instructor and cooking show performer. Visit him at www.chefdez.com

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