For foodies of all ages, Thanksgiving may be the most wonderful time of year. While we look forward to a delicious meal and time spent with our loved ones, many of us do not look forward to the long hours of preparation that goes behind pulling off a successful Thanksgiving meal. Hosting the feast is no small feat!
Whether you’re in hot pursuit of new Thanksgiving recipes to please every palate at the table or focused on making old classics to absolute perfection, a lot can go wrong when you’re cooking for a special holiday. Since no one is immune to Thanksgiving disasters, my team and I have put together a list of 12 foolproof culinary tips and hacks that will help you avoid, but most importantly overcome cooking pitfalls that may come your way when preparing your bountiful feast.
Read on for solutions for everything from grummy mashed potatoes to dry, overcooked turkey, these 12 hacks will ensure that your holiday goes off without a glitch and ensure you will host a stress-free feast that the whole family will joyfully gobble up.
Turkey trouble hacks and tips:
- Forgot to thaw your bird? It happens. Simply seal your turkey in a plastic bag and submerge it in cold water. Refresh the water every 30 minutes. Thawing should take 30 minutes per pound of turkey. Alternately, you can thaw your turkey in the microwave (on the defrost setting), this could take an hour or more depending on you appliance. Voilà!
- No roasting rack? No problem! Simply use nature’s roasting rack: potatoes. Slice potatoes into ¼ inch rounds and lay down two layers at the bottom of a roasting pan. With this method, you may not have many drippings leftover to make a sauce, but you will end-up with insanely delicious potatoes and save your turkey from stewing in its own juices. That sounds pretty good to us.
- Cooking: The problem with cooking turkey or poultry in general is that the lean breast meat is always done before the legs and thighs. We have a solution: instead of cooking the entire turkey at once, cook the breast (which needs to be cooked to 145°) separately from the legs (which need to be cooked to 165°). Cook the bone-in breast separately. Serve it up pre-sliced in a beautiful plate, nobody will know your secret! To make the meat moist and the skin crispy, brush butter under and over the skin. Note that you should plan to serve 3/4 to 1 pound of turkey per person. Pick your bird wisely – you probably want leftovers!
- Overcooked the bird? Don’t stress. To help moisten the turkey, drizzle a little warm chicken broth on the top of your poultry – either on the full bird or on the slices. For big damages, soak each slice into warm broth before plating.
The tip: Print this cooking chart and never stress over your turkey math again. If you decide to use a thermometer to cook your bird, don't place your thermometer too close to the bone—it won’t read correctly. Instead, slide it into the thigh horizontally until it taps the bone and look for the magic number: 165° F.
SUGGESTED RECIPE: For a delicious turkey recipe, visit our recipe section here.
The secret to great gravy is to include all the taste of the pan drippings without all the grease. Pour your drippings into a large heatproof measuring cup and pop it in the freezer for a few minutes. As the drippings cool down, the fat will rise to the top and solidify, making it easier to skim off the fat with a spoon.
- Two cures for lumpy gravy: My first (and most easy) hack is to use an emerging or regular blender to take out the lumps. If you have little lumps, this method should suffice. Simply re-warm your gravy before serving. If the problem requires major fixing, grab a few cubes of butter and a couple tablespoons of flour. Mix these two together until a paste is formed. Then, drop bits of the butter/flour mixture into a pot of boiling, low-sodium chicken stock and whisk vigorously until the gravy thickens. After about five minutes, you'll have perfect, lump-free gravy. Don't forget to add salt and pepper to taste.
SUGGESTED RECIPE: Try Maille’s signature gravy here .
Sad stuffing got you down?
- Too dry or too wet – one can never win… If your stuffing is too dry, toss your concoction with some warm broth or melted butter until lightly moistened. Add a little bit at a time and taste as you go along. Cover with foil and heat in the oven until steaming. If the stuffing is too wet, spread it on a cooking sheet and heat in the oven to dry out.
- Making mashed potatoes last minute makes a whole lot of sense in theory but in practice, not so much. Whipping air into the spuds makes them cold (dah). Save yourself the pain and prepare your potatoes ahead of time! Once you’re done mashing, cover and chill a few hours or overnight. When you’re about ready to serve your meal, either put the mashed potatoes into the oven covered tightly with foil until they are heated through or place the pot of mashed potatoes into a water bath – ie. a larger pot of boiling water. Stir until warm. Alternatively, you can also keep the ready-to-eat mash in a slow-cooker at a low temperature until everything is on the table. Right before serving, mix in a little melted butter.
- LUMPY OR SALTY POTATOES: If your potatoes are too salty, add a tad more milk. Though this will make them slightly thinner, it's certainly better than peeling potatoes all over again. If your spuds are lumpy, use a stand or hand mixer (no blender) for guaranteed perfect consistency.
Some of my favourite kitchen tricks:
- No fresh herbs, no problem. If you just realized you don’t have fresh sprigs of basil or thyme that your recipe requests, don’t fret—and don’t run to the store. Instead, use 1 teaspoon of dried herbs for one tablespoon of fresh herbs. Easy breezy.
- If guests arrive early (or you just need a glass of wine pronto) wrap a bottle of wine in a damp dishtowel or paper towel and stick it in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes for a perfectly chilled glass of white wine. This method works wonders!
- Need more oven space? Use square and rectangular pans instead of round ones. This way, you’ll be able to fit more dishes in the oven—whether you’re cooking or just keeping things warm.
- 12. Fresh looking salads: Green lettuce tends to look unappealing when it’s been out for a while. Go for a salad that doesn’t require too much attention, and one that will look and taste great when served at room temperature. Start with a vegetable base—such as shaved Brussels sprouts or beets—then add nuts and sharp cheese for flavour and texture – check this month’s beets and Burrata Salad with Honey Dijon dressing in our October featured recipe section. Make our Maille signature dressing to intensify flavours.
Hungry yet? Don’t forget to tag @MailleCanada or use #AskMaille while cooking your Thanksgiving feast. Cook using #Maillechef and get a chance to win great prizes from Ricardo Cuisine each month! Visit our contest section for more details. For tips and tricks, #AskMaille on Twitter or Instagram and we will get back to you!