Thanksgiving Fear Factor

November 12, 2018

Fear. That’s what November means to some people, and it’s not the first crippling snowstorm of the season that has them worried, it’s Thanksgiving. Now just the thought of having to perform culinary greatness for the relatives on national turkey day can cause many cooks to break a sweat even before they get near the kitchen. One could fill a book on how a turkey ruined Thanksgiving.

Here are a few examples that have come across my desk on what has been done with the bird. Some have cooked the bird with the bag of giblets, liver and neck still in the cavity. Always be sure to remove the bag, You can cook the giblets separately for use with gravy; the neck is good in soup. Save the liver for pate. DON’T rinse the bird. The new thinking is that rinsing causes bacteria splatter, so pat it dry with paper towels instead. Some forget to defrost the bird and cook it frozen only to find out that they have missed Thanksgiving when the timer goes off on Friday. If you are defrosting a turkey, take it out of the freezer and place it in the refrigerator until it thaws. Some opt to deep fry the bird in a tub of oil on the lawn in the back yard. Be sure you know someone at the fire department. Some have tried the chic brining technique but forget to rid the bird of excess salt before roasting. One mouthful of overly salted meat can ruin your whole holiday.

Suffice it to say that the best way to have a stress free and fearless Thanksgiving is to adopt some old fashioned rules. 1) Plan ahead and purchase a fresh turkey if possible, and eliminate the worry of the frozen bird. 2) Don’t stuff the bird; this used to be the practice but recent studies suggest that bacteria could form in the cavity if you stuff and hold the uncooked bird in the refrigerator until ready to cook and it will slow down the cooking time. Instead, make and cook the stuffing separately. 3) Use an instant read thermometer to gauge when the bird is done. Inserted into the thighs, a thermometer should register 170F. 4) Allow the bird to rest with a loose piece of aluminum foil over it after it has cooked. This will redistribute the juices in the meat so the bird will not be dry. 5) Forget all those gimmicky ways to cook a turkey. Grandma knew best; a roasted bird is a toasted bird, so if you want yours to look like an evenly bronzed trophy, lather it with melted butter while it roasts but don’t keep opening the oven door; this slows down the cooking time and the temperature. 6) Use a shallow pan, not one with high sides that will cause the bird to steam more than brown.

Not everyone is a fan of dark meat so on our table, this year, the traditional turkey has given way to a butterflied and stuffed turkey breast, prepared the way Italians like to have it in Perugia, the capital of the region of Umbria. This recipe is no hassle, no bones, no mess. A cook can enjoy the day too!

Just following a few simple rules will result in a fun filled holiday instead of a fear filled one.

Rolled and Roasted Turkey Breast with Chestnut Stuffing
Serves 8

2/3 pound chestnuts
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1/4 pound prosciutto, diced
1/4 cup fresh rosemary leaves
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
One 4-pound turkey breast, butter flied
Fine sea salt to taste
Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
Kitchen string

Preheat the oven to 450ºF.

With a small knife, make an X in the top of each chestnut and place them on a baking sheet. Roast for about 25 minutes, or until the skins split. Remove and let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 400ºF.

Crack the chestnuts open with a nutcracker and remove the nutmeats. Coarsely chop the nutmeats and place in a large bowl.

In a skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Add the breadcrumbs and brown them. Stir in the chestnuts. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.

Add 1 more tablespoon of the oil to the skillet, and sauté the prosciutto until crispy. Add to the breadcrumb mixture along with the rosemary, parsley, garlic, cheese, and 1 tablespoon of the oil and mix well. (The stuffing can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

To butterfly the turkey breast, use a sharp knife to cut horizontally through the breast but not all the way so that the meat opens to lie flat like a book. Or ask your butcher to do this for you.

Lay the turkey breast out flat on a cutting board. Place a large piece of wax paper over the turkey and pound it with a meat pounder to flatten it to a 1/2 inch even thickness. Rub the turkey with salt and pepper. Spread the stuffing mixture evenly over the turkey breast to within 1 inch of the edges. Do not worry if all of the stuffing does not fit; save any excess for topping the breast after it is rolled.

Starting at one long side, roll the turkey up like a jelly-roll and tie it with kitchen string in four or five places.

Lower the oven temperature to 350F.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Brown the turkey roll on all sides. Place the roll on a meat rack in a roasting pan, and add the pan juices from the skillet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and pat any remaining stuffing over the top.

Add 1/2 cup of wine to the pan. Roast about 2 hours or until the internal temperature registers165 F. on a meat thermometer. Baste the meat occasionally with the pan juices, adding the remaining 1cup wine to the pan halfway through the cooking time.

Let the meat rest for 15 minutes before slicing it. Then cut the roll into 1-inch thick slices. Arrange them on a platter, and pour any pan juices over the meat. Serve hot or warm.

Tip: Italian chestnuts appear in stores just in time for Thanksgiving; look for plump, shiny ones that feel heavy in your hand. Avoid buying those that are split or appear wrinkled.

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