The turkey on Angela May’s Thanksgiving table isn’t just delicious; it’s filled with memories. Two years ago was the last Thanksgiving May spent with her father before he passed away that following spring. At Thanksgiving, his turkey tradition lives on.
“My dad always took huge pride in his Thanksgiving turkey,” May said. “And he mastered it. Several years ago, he taught me how to make it. I wrote down the recipe and even had a chance to make it for him.”
This year, May will prepare her dad’s turkey recipe – which is all about the temperature, the butter basting and lots of fresh garlic. It will take center stage on the table, surrounded by mashed potatoes, stuffing and her grandmother’s butternut squash casserole recipe. May’s mom, who was born in South Korea, adds several Korean dishes to the table, such as glass noodles with vegetables and homemade kimchi.
“We enjoy it so much,” May said, “It’s a colorful feast on our table.”
Infusing her Thanksgiving celebration with her family’s roots makes the day extra special.
“For me, Thanksgiving has such strong, important family memories,” said May, who lives in Mount Pleasant with her husband and two sons. “I love that all Thanksgiving is about is gathering together with loved ones and sharing a meal. I love the simplicity of it. It feels pure. There’s something really powerful in my heart and mind and the memories when it comes to Thanksgiving. In the long run, I hope that is instilled in my children.”
Keep it simple and start early
While the side dishes may vary from family to family and region to region, the turkey is a staple on most Thanksgiving tables – 46 million of them, in fact. That’s a lot of Thanksgiving turkeys and a lot of opportunities for a cooking mishap.
Professional chefs recommend advance preparation and keeping it simple to ensure a juicy turkey.
The first step is selecting a high-quality bird. Chef Tyler Vorce is Chief Operations Officer for Truffle Shuffle, which sells truffle products and consciously sourced fresh truffles. He recommends choosing a turkey from a farm that raises the birds responsibly. A good butcher shop can help guide your decision.
“We prefer free-range turkeys that are given plenty of space to roam because they have much better flavor and texture than birds that are too cooped up,” Vorce said. He also suggests choosing a relatively young bird from a heritage breed such as Bourbon Red or Narragansett.
Once you’ve selected a quality bird, it’s time to prep it for optimum flavor. Vorce prefers letting the turkey sit in a citrus brine for three days, which helps with the moisture content of the cooked turkey and the flavor and browning, he said.
Most turkey brine recipes include a mix of herbs and seasonings and maybe even ingredients like apple cider, brown sugar, garlic or citrus fruits. Truffle Shuffle even has a new Black Truffle Turkey Brine. The brine recipe options can accommodate any family’s flavor preferences.
After removing the turkey from the brine, Vorce pats it dry and lets the turkey dry out in the refrigerator for a full day and a half to ensure the crispiest skin possible.
Truffle Shuffle’s Culinary Director Chef Ian Rosenstrauch said simply brining and air drying the bird makes a world of difference when it comes to successfully cooking a turkey. Don’t skip removing the bird from the brine and air drying it for one or two days.
Rosenstrauch said the drying process allows for any excess moisture to evaporate and will result in an incredibly golden brown and crispy skin.
Don’t overcook your bird
After you’ve spent days selecting just the right turkey and brined it to perfection, the last thing you want is to overcook your turkey. But it’s one of the most common mistakes.
Anthony DiBernardo is the owner and pitmaster at Swig & Swine, which sells Thanksgiving bundles for those who prefer eating over cooking. If you’re roasting the turkey yourself, he recommends investing in a good meat thermometer so you can be confident the turkey is thoroughly cooked but not overdone.
“I insert the thermometer into the thigh to get a good read,” he said. “Once the thigh gets to about 160 degrees, I will check a couple of other parts to be safe. Remember, when you pull it out of the oven, it will continue to cook. It will get to 165 degrees, no problem.”
People forget about carryover cooking, DiBernardo said. They cook the turkey to 170 or 175 degrees, pull it out of the oven, and it continues to cook. Now, they run the risk of having a dry turkey.
One of the other mistakes DiBernardo cautions against is not thawing the turkey completely. A 16- to 20-pound turkey can’t go from frozen to fully thawed overnight. It will need at least four or five days to thaw fully, he said.
A family affair
Libby Williams, photographer and food blogger at PlateSouth.com, doesn’t stop at one turkey. Her family puts a bird in the oven and another in the deep fryer. Williams and her sister go all out for Thanksgiving. They set the table with the good china, tiny pumpkins and other festive décor.
“We really celebrate the food part,” she said. “It’s the one holiday you can really focus on that part of it.”
Her family always did a big Thanksgiving when she was growing up. When Williams’ parents passed away, she and her sister picked right up and carried on the family tradition since. They pull out their mother’s recipe for sausage stuffing – a true fan favorite. The table is loaded with mashed potatoes, corn pudding, roasted root vegetables and an oyster pie (a nod to living in the Lowcountry).
Their celebration starts in the afternoon with a meat and cheese platter and some crab-stuffed mushrooms or crab cakes. Snacks, a glass of wine, and good conversation are all part of the meal preparations. At dinnertime, they gather around the outdoor table and raise a glass to the feast before them.
“We’re hoping the kids remember it,” said Williams, who has one grown son. “Our kids are now starting to get into the cooking process with us. The boys deep fry the turkey, and that’s a whole outdoor situation while my sister and I are saucing, stirring and mincing.”
This year’s Thanksgiving celebrations may look a little different. The gatherings maybe a little smaller. But in a year when the term “comfort food” has even more meaning, it’s a good bet the time-honored family recipes will show up on the table, along with an extra helping of gratitude.
“This year more than any, just be thankful,” DiBernardo said. “No matter how the dinner turns out, be thankful you have food on the table, and loved ones surround you.”
For additional tips on preparing and cooking your turkey, visit the National Turkey Federation’s Thanksgiving 101 resource at https://www.eatturkey.org/traditional-thanksgiving-turkey/
Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate good food, spend time with family and count your blessin…