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Chat Leftovers: Talking turkey

Thanksgiving is coming fast; we can’t stop it. Not that we’d want to. But there’s no denying it’s one of those holidays that produce a lot of anxiety in a lot of folks. Every year, thousands of new cooks fret their way through their first Thanksgiving spread ever. And even veterans run into questions about what to put on the table (and how to put it there).

That’s where we come in. During our next few Free Range chats, you can toss us your holiday conundrums, and we’ll do our best to help. And here in this space on chat mornings, we’ll answer some of the leftovers we couldn’t get to the week before.

For today’s chat, meanwhile, beer columnist Greg Kitsock will be on hand to discuss beer in general and cask ale in particular. See you there at 1 p.m.

And now to the questions at hand. Here we go:

Is it okay to defrost our turkey in a cooler on the back porch, provided we keep up with making sure there is ice in there? I don’t think I’ll have room for it the fridge. I have one cooler set aside for all the vegetables we’ll be picking up at the market the weekend before, but I’ll still need to store dairy in the fridge, and enough food for us and our houseguests for the week.

Are you talking about defrosting, or about long-term storage? If it’s defrosting, that’s not a problem, and you don’t need to mess with ice. The best way to defrost in the cooler is to submerge the bird in very cold water, figuring you’ll need 30 minutes of thawing time for every pound of turkey. You can start the process the night before Thanksgiving and keep the bird chilled all morning until you’re ready to start cooking. But to keep the process safe, you must make sure the temperature in the cooler remains below 40 degrees at all times. I repeat, all times!

Alice Coffey, one of the turkey experts at Butterball, advises placing the turkey in the water still inside its wrapping and breast side down, which will almost always mean label side down, assuming your bird comes with a label on it. “Turkeys float,” she reminded me, “but you don’t have to weight it down”; it will defrost just fine. She also recommended changing the water a few times to make sure it stays very cold.

If you’re thinking about trying to leave a bird in a cooler for several days, I think that could be risky. You’d have to really stay on top of the temperature, which would most certainly be fluctuating. If you don’t feel that you can wait until Wednesday evening to buy the bird, or if your grocer won’t keep it for you at the store until then, why not prevail on a neighbor to store it until the night before, then do the cold-water thing? Better safe than sorry. And by sorry I mean a tableful of sick houseguests. Ugh.

We ordered a fresh turkey from a local farm this year. Is there a difference in how we need to prepare it from normal frozen turkeys?

No. It's still the same bird, just not hard as a rock. However, if you've got any doubt, the best thing to do is to call the farm that's selling it to you and ask for advice. If you've bought an unusual heritage breed, for example, they might have special tips for you. But in general, your usual roasting technique will work as well for fresh as for frozen.

-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  |  November 11, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags: Free Range, Jane Touzalin, Thanksgiving, turkey  
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