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Thanksgiving cooking: We’re here to help

Sag Harbor writer Lauren Chattman's recipe for brined

Sag Harbor writer Lauren Chattman's recipe for brined turkey with southwestern spice rub is best served with cranberry sauce. (Nov. 7, 2011) Credit: Doug Young

The day before Thanksgiving, and the cooking begins in earnest. I'm here to answer any and all cooking questions. You can leave a comment below, email me at or tweet to @FeedMeLI. I’ll post the answers here on the blog.


newyork2011 left this comment on the blog “I would like to serve a hot hors d’oeuvre on Thanksgiving; however, I only have one oven. Would there be any problem if I remove my turkey from the oven after cooking for an hour to cook my hors d’oeuvre and then afterward replace the turkey for the remaining time? Would it be easier to go with a cold hors d’oeuvre?”

It would certainly be easier to go with a cold hors d’oeuvre. On Thanksgiving, I’m often inclined to go with no hors d’oeuvre at all: there is so much food to come, why encourage your guests to fill up on canapes? A couple of bowls of nuts and / or olives is really all you need.

However, if you want to serve hot hors d’oeuvre, do not remove the turkey from the oven in the middle of its cooking time. Sitting on the counter, your par-cooked turkey is a perfect breeding ground for microorganisms. Here’s a better idea: A cooked 14-pound bird needs to rest for a good 45 minutes after it comes out of the oven before being carved; covered loosely with foil it will stay hot for twice that amount of time. A larger bird will stay hot even longer. As soon as your turkey comes out of the oven, insert your hors d’oeuvre. They will cook even quicker if they start out at room temperature.

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Ana Cruz emailed this question: How many days may I safely keep a fresh turkey before cooking it?

All the sources I consulted, including the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, advised one to two days tops for keeping a fresh turkey in a home refrigerator. Initially this didn’t make sense to me since pretty much every raw turkey in America is waiting to be cooked on Thursday and I didn’t understand why the turkey cared whether it sat in your refrigerator or in the store’s.

So I called the USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline and learned this: Most home refrigerators are set to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit; in the market fresh turkeys are kept in refrigerators set at 26 degrees. Doesn’t 26 degrees freeze the turkey? I asked the USDA rep? No, she told me. Turkey is not water; at 26 degrees the meat does not freeze.

So, Ana. Try to pick up your turkey no earlier than Tuesday evening.

Selina Eve Borrero-Taranto posted to Newsday’s Facebook page: “How can I make a good gravy from the turkey .?.?. Mine always is terrible!”

Selina, there are three elements of gravy: fat, flour and stock. To make gravy, you cook flour in fat, then you whisk in stock. The flour-fat mixture thickens the stock and you’ve got gravy. Check out this recipe for gravy; it should serve you well. Make sure you cook the flour and fat for a few minutes, otherwise your gravy will taste like raw flour. Make sure you season the gravy with salt and pepper. If it has lumps in it, simply pass it through a strainer. If your gravy is terrible for some other reason, comment below or email me!

NewsDay3 tweeted “What size turkey do I need for 20 people?”

The short answer is 20 pounds. But I found a great little calculator on the Butterball Turkey website. “Plan Perfect Portions” allows you to enter the number of adults and children, whether your guests are light or heavy eaters, and if you want leftovers. Then it tells you how big a bird you’ll need, and also how much stuffing, in both cups and ounces.

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Newsday’s website also offers a wealth of helpful information. Columnist Lauren Chattman has written a great story about introducing exotic flavors to Thanksgiving favorites; recipes include a turkey rub with chili and cumin, sweet potatoes with mustard seeds, cranberry sauce with Chinese five-spice powder.

We’ve also posted dozens of recipes and tips from years past. See them here.

And if you’re looking for a restaurant to relieve you of the burden of cooking, here are suggestions from Peter Gianotti.


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