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Published: 11/18/2013

COMMENTARY

How to avoid a ‘Bridget Jones’ moment

Kitchen mishaps seem prone to happen during holidays

BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Call it a Bridget Jones moment.

In the delightful first (and, regrettably, not last) book and movie of Bridget Jones’s Diary, our plucky heroine prepares a big birthday feast for her friends. She makes the occasion particularly memorable by preparing a leek soup and using blue twine to tie the leeks together.

The soup, of course, turns a bright and decidedly unappetizing shade of blue.

Everyone has had a Bridget Jones moment or two, and to hear people talk, most of them seem to happen around the holidays, especially Thanksgiving.

“You’ll never guess what happened the first time my husband cooked a turkey,” the conversation usually begins.

Um, did he forget to remove the plastic bag of giblets first?

The answer is almost always yes. Apparently, melting plastic bags inside a turkey’s cavity is quite a common way to create a Thanksgiving disaster (so if it happened to you, you can take heart in knowing you are far from alone). But it is not the only one.

Dropping the fully cooked and ready turkey on the floor is also quite popular. Well, turkeys are heavy and awkward, you know, and the pan is hot, and the next thing you know, someone is trying to rinse off a turkey in the kitchen sink without letting anyone else see it.

But of all the biggest Thanksgiving disasters, perhaps the biggest one is this: failure to allow enough time for the turkey to thaw.

To thaw a frozen turkey safely, you have to allow it to sit in the refrigerator for a full 24-hour day for every four or five pounds that it weighs. A 15-pound turkey needs to be taken out of the freezer no later than Monday morning, while a 20-pound bird has to come out at least by early Sunday.

Attempting to defrost it faster by leaving the bird out on the kitchen counter would lead to the worst Bridget Jones moment of all, a trip to the hospital for all your guests. Of course, it would give them something to talk about for every year thereafter, but that is an awfully high price to pay for the sake of good conversation.

If you do find yourself with less than the optimal amount of time to defrost your bird, do not despair. You can still defrost it by submerging it in cold water. Make sure it is wrapped tightly in plastic, so no water gets inside, and be careful to change the water every 30 minutes. Defrosting it this way takes just 30 minutes per pound, but that is still 10 hours for a 20-pound turkey. And be certain to cook it immediately after defrosting it in this way.

One all-too-common problem (but not big enough to qualify as a Bridget Jones moment) is overcooking the turkey, yielding white meat that is bland, dry, and tasteless. One good way to avoid that is to set the oven to 325° — but no lower than that, and cook it for 16 minutes per pound if it is less than 16 pounds, and 13 minutes per pound if it is more than that.

If you plan to cook the turkey with stuffing inside, plan on doubling those times by at least 50 percent.

Some people like to crank the oven up to 400° for the first hour before dropping it down to 325°, but I look at that idea only as tempting fate. Even at the lower temperature, you can burn the top of the bird before it is fully cooked. So it is prudent to keep an eye on the oven and, if the turkey is turning too brown, cover it loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil.

Cook the turkey until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, without touching the bone, registers 165°. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, cook it until the leg first begins to jiggle freely in its socket. And once it is cooked, don’t serve it immediately. Allow it to rest at least 20-30 minutes to make it as juicy as possible.

And if you do have one of those bad Bridget Jones moments, those really, really bad ones, remember this: You can always go to a restaurant.

Contact Daniel Neman at 
dneman@theblade.com 
or 419-724-6155.



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