Thanksgiving Chat Hotline

This week, and for the next two, this kitchen will be open late to lend an extra hand for Thanksgiving prep and planning. In addition to the regular Tuesday edition of What's Cooking, I'll offer two additional chats devoted to the holiday: tomorrow, Nov. 13 (Veggie Thanksgiving) and Thursday, Nov., 20, for the turkey and giblets crowd. Here in the blog space, I'll devote one day a week to your Thanksgiving-specific questions, to make darn sure that your issues are tackled, dilemmas solved and nerves calmed. The doctor is in.

Brining Kosher Turkey: I'm Jewish so all my turkeys are kosher by default. I know brining with a regular solution would make the turkey way too salty, but I'd still like to get some flavors in. What options do I have? Do I need the salt to carry the flavors or is there something else to try?

You’re correct; no brining for that kosher turkey, which has already been salted. I’m going to assume that you are having a kosher Thanksgiving, which means using something other than butter (or other dairy products) for fattening the bird.

Think spice rubs, lathered up with either olive oil or Earth Balance buttery sticks or shortening sticks, which are dairy free (and certified kosher) -- and unlike margarine, made without those ghastly hydrogenated oils.

Here’s one I’ve long wanted to try -- Cuban stuffed turkey -- from “Giving Thanks” by Kathleen Curtin, Sandra Oliver and Plimoth Plantation, one of my favorite Thanksgiving cookbooks:

Make a marinade of the following:
8 cloves garlic mashed with one teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup sour orange juice or 1/3 cup sweet orange juice plus 1 tablespoon white vinegar (or lime juice)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped

Mix together and rub all over turkey, both inside and out. Place turkey in a shallow roasting pan, cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight (Alternatively, use one of those oversized Ziploc bags.)

The stuffing called for in the recipe is black beans and rice (aka moros), which could be fun, but if you’ve got your heart set on bread stuffing, no worries.

Roast at 350 degrees. The recipe suggests using ½ cup of your favorite white wine for basting, but remember, you’ll have nice juices dripping into the pan from the marinade.


(AP/Butterball)

Here’s another idea, adapted from a dry brine rub in Rick Rogers’s new book, “Autumn Gatherings.” In the original recipe, he adds several tablespoons of salt, which I’ve omitted for your purposes.

For a 16-18 pounder, he suggests:
1 ¼ teaspoons each dried thyme, sage, rosemary and marjoram
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 bay leaves, well crumbled

To this, I would add one non-dairy shortening stick, softened, and make into a compound “butter,” to be inserted under breast skin and all over the outside of the turkey. When it’s time to cook, stick a few whole cloves of garlic and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary in the cavity.

Alexandria, Va.: Any suggestions for a pumpkin cheesecake recipe. My baking skills are average, so the less complicated, the better (like, if there's a way to use store-bought crust, I'm definitely more in my comfort zone).

I’ve made only one pumpkin cheesecake over the past several years, but I remember it well and am now considering this as an option at Casa Appetite this year. Borrowed from the November 2002 issue of Food & Wine, this cheesecake has a chocolate swirl and a brownie crust that is worth the few extra steps over the store-bought option. It’s like a dry brownie that cushions the cheese-y filling, yet doesn't feel too sweet.

Early bird: Turkey stuffing -- do you have a fail-proof yum recipe and can I incorporate sausage in it and also oysters, but I don't know if the oysters need to be precooked and then put in the stuffing or put in raw. Also, is cornbread a better stuffing than white bread? My first.

I don’t have any tested recipes up my sleeve for oyster stuffing, but I do know that whatever you do, use that precious oyster liquor (the natural briny liquids released from shucked oysters) to season your stuffing! Oyster stuffing is more of a thing down south, where it’s called “dressing”; the bread used varies depending on the cook and the region. Oyster dressing in New Orleans, for example, is likely to be made with French bread, but in South Carolina you might see cornbread instead. I’ve seen recipes with sausage and without, and with regards to the preparation of the oysters, keep them raw and add them to cooked celery, onion, etc, being careful not to let them break. Slowly incorporate oysters and aromatics into bread cubes, tossing ever so gently.

If you plan to stuff your bird, the stuffing must be completely cooled before going into the cavity. Cool bird – cool stuffing. That’s a food safety tip from your pal KOD. Personally, I think stuffing is less of a hassle cooked outside of the bird and it eliminates the worry about whether it’s cool enough to be stuffed.

Saltless brining cont'd
.: I brine more than turkey -- I've been brining everything, which may be why I now need to cut out salt. As to the Thanksgiving turkey, it will be small (8-10 lbs is the smallest I ever find).

The reader is referring to concerns about lowering salt intake but still enjoying a roast turkey. Have you been using more than one cup of salt for your brines? That is a lot.

For your eight to 10-pounder, consider reducing the salt to eight teaspoons (that’s about 1 teaspoon per 1.25 pounds) and adding that to a spice rub (as mentioned earlier with the kosher turkey) and marinating in the rub overnight before cooking. You can also try your hand at a compound butter: Soften a stick of unsalted butter so that it becomes pliable. Season with a few chopped shallots and rosemary, even a little lemon zest, which is a great salt-free seasoning. Roll back into a log, wrap in parchment paper and freeze until solid. Before roasting, slice butter into rounds and stick under the breast skin and in the cavity. With regards to salting, you can pre-salt with the eight teaspoons overnight.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 12, 2008; 8:30 AM ET Chat Leftovers , Thanksgiving
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For the question about the oyster dressing: I grew up on the stuff(ing--always called dressing), and never saw it inside the bird! The traditional Virginia way is to cook the dressing separately as a casserole. The turkey takes less time to cook and the leftovers are easier to deal with that way also. Ours always used pre-shucked oysters that come in the jar and were placed as a layer (uncooked) of the casserole, which could be made from whatever bread or stuffing mix was preferred. The bread mixture with stock and other ingrediants like celery and onions was moistened on the stove and then put into the casserole and heated until the oysters were cooked and the dish was brown on top.

Posted by: dthrift | November 13, 2008 3:17 PM

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