The easiest way to relieve the stress of cooking a holiday dinner is to do it ahead of time. OK, there is virtually no way to do it all ahead of time, but you can definitely get the majority of the cooking done in advance. The other challenge comes with limited oven space.
The real stress of cooking comes from putting things off to the last minute and not knowing how the meal will turn out. Below is my favorite tip and recipe of all to really ensure stress-free turkey anxiety – the “Day Ahead Turkey”. This recipe makes a superb, moist turkey that is ready to eat when people arrive and a “fool-proof” gravy.
- Buy an “External Read Thermometer” which you can get fairly easily at any store that sells home goods. The beauty of this device is that you stick it into a roast and you can watch the progress of the cooking without having to open the oven, which is key as each time you open the oven, you lose heat and change cooking time. They are also digital so there is no confusion on what the temperature is. One big benefit is that you will know where you are. So if the roast is cooking too fast you can turn down the oven temperature. If it is going too slow, turn the oven up.
- The day before the dinner prepare the turkey as recommended with your seasoning of choice and the place it in a roasting pan breast side up. I like to melt a half stick of butter (1/4 cup) and then rub the outside of the bird with the melted butter. Then sprinkle the outside of the bird with a teaspoon of kosher salt ½ teaspoon of black pepper and a ½ teaspoon of poultry seasoning. Next I give the inside of the bird a liberal sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper.
- Insert your external read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh trying to have the end of the probe in the middle of the thickest part being careful to not have it touch the bone
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
- Cook the turkey to 75% doneness. A fully cooked turkey is cooked to 165 degrees so your goal is 125 degrees. A fully cooked turkey takes 2 hours and 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Correspondingly, your cook time to 75% doneness is 1 hour and 50 minutes. Your external read thermometer trumps the time method.
- Take the turkey out of the pan and let it cool on the carving board.
- Drain off the drippings from the pan reserving a cup of the good drippings (without fat) to make gravy, saving the rest of the drippings for later.
- Cut the turkey into quarters using a sharp knife. The result will be 4 pieces. Two breast with bones and two thigh/leg quarters
- Place the quarters back in the roasting pan laying them flat with the bone side down.
- Add back the remaining drippings to the bottom of the roasting pan getting liquid to a little less than a half an inch. You made need to add some chicken stock to get the liquid close to the half inch level
- Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place it in the refrigerator over night.
- Three hours before dinner pull the turkey out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temp
- Place your external read thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh.
- Preheat the oven to 250 degrees
- Two and a half hours before serving place the turkey in.
- Here is where your external read thermometer makes it work. Your goal is 165 degrees. A half hour before serving you should be getting close.
- Thirty minutes before serving I bring the oven temp up to 365 degrees and insert my stuffing.
- Watching where you are with the turkey temp and stuffing doneness you can bring the temp up or down or pull the turkey out altogether if you are up to 165 degrees.
- When it is time to serve take the turkey out and let it rest for at least 10 minutes.
- When carving the turkey, A “chef trick” I learned was to take the whole breast off the bone. This makes it easier to cut the turkey following the grain of the meat into uniform slice sizes.
- Another benefit of this approach is that you can make the gravy well ahead using the cup of drippings reserved from day one and chicken stock, butter and flour following traditional recipes.
1 cup of drippings reserved from day one
1 cup chicken stock,
¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
- Melt butter in a large saucepan
- Whisk in the flour to create a roux being careful not to brown
- Add turkey dripping and whisk together
- Add chicken stock bit by bit to get to the desired consistency
- Simmer for 5 minutes
- All to cool and the refrigerate over night
- Take out of the refrigerator and allow to warm-up to room temperature (1 hour more or less)
- Reheat in a sauce pan under a low temp adding chicken stock as needed to thin it out.
- Under the rare chance that it isn’t thick enough you can use the old chef trick of using cornstarch to thicken. Mix 2 teaspoons of corn starch and a ½ cup of water, stir together. Add to gravy under high heat whisking to thicken
Another tip to really enforce is to delegate. Cut back your workload by delegating to others. They can make the items in advance and bring them to the party to be reheated.
Also let the items warm up to room temperature well in advance. If your dinner is being served at 3 pm, taking out the turkey and sides out of the refrigerator at 10 and 10:30. This significantly reduces the amount of time it takes to reheat.
We have used these approach for years and really love it because each time you get a moist turkey that is already prepped and ready to go. You get to use the oven for other side dishes because the star of the event is already done and takes up less room.
Now you can really enjoy sitting with your beloved guests reveling in good conversation, food and drink – what the day is meant to be!
Paul J. Kenny worked at Kraft foods for 35 years and was VP of Marketing for Kraft Food Ingredients where he was lucky enough to work with an amazing group of chefs and food scientists. His experience honed an appreciation of the “art and science” of a great meal. The strategy of doing a lot of the cooking in advance so that you can enjoy your dinner party is a central theme of Impromptu Friday Nights- A Guide to Supper Clubs his first book. The book provides strategies and tools to make organizing a supper club and hosting a dinner party easy.
Impromptu Friday Nights will be available for pre-order on Amazon and wherever books are sold on January 30, 2018.