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Thanksgiving For Beginners

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Health department guidelines in Michigan mean many families have decided not to get together for Thanksgiving this year. Maybe you want a traditional meal, but you’ve never done it yourself. For first-timers, WKAR’s Scott Pohl talks via Zoom with MSU executive chef for residential dining Kurt Kwiatkowski.

SCOTT POHL: What's the first thing I need to know about going out, buying a turkey and making a turkey for Thanksgiving?

KURT KWIATKOWSKI: I think, try and buy it as close to when you're going to cook it as possible, as long as it's fresh. If it's frozen, you're going to want at least three days, maybe even four, to let that thaw out in your fridge, and if you're going to thaw it out in your fridge, make sure that it's in another bag or in a bag that has a pan underneath it, because it will purge some liquid and we don't want any of those raw turkey juices getting on anything else in the refrigerator.

Fresh to me is always better than frozen, because then you don't have to worry about the thaw process or anything like that in the refrigerator.

POHL: What about baking, what sorts of temperature, what sorts of time should I be thinking about?

KWIATKOWSKI: What I always try is, like rule of thumb, 20 minutes for every pound, and use that as a loose reference because every oven is different, right? I always like to make sure the bird is seasoned on the outside and the inside because the aromatics and what you put on the inside will help permeate the inside of the bird and help flavor some of the meat as it's cooking too. Don't stuff it's so full that you can't get airflow, but it's really important to make sure that you got some nice aromatics, some citrus, maybe part of a cinnamon stick, some bay leaves, some fresh herbs stuffed in there with your carrots, celery and onions, maybe even an apple works really well.

I usually run it about 325 (degrees). I run up maybe a little bit lower than most because I'd rather take my time with it. And for at least that first hour and a half, maybe two hours, I keep it covered. Then I'll uncover it and every 20 minutes, I'm basting that turkey and just letting it run right over more the breast meat, that white meat. Then for final doneness, make sure that you're temping the inside deep into the bird. The meat up on top, that breast meat is going to actually cook quicker, so if you temp that most likely, the dark meat will not be cooked all the way.

We're looking for a finished cooking temperature of 165 degrees and pull that bird out, it should be nice and golden brown on the top, and just let it rest. We never want to pull the bird out and start cutting it. You want to give that thing at least a half hour rest time because what's happening is, all the liquid that's in the protein is all at the center and you need that liquid to kind of redistribute throughout that bird, or as soon as you cut into it, all the liquids going to purge right out.

POHL: What about one of the other side dishes everyone's going to want: potatoes?

KWIATKOWSKI: One of the things that I always make at home, and I make them year round is, I call them oven fries. You're going to pour some yukons or just get them to maybe a two bite or one really big bite piece, and you're going to put them in some water with about a teaspoon of baking soda and let that cook on medium high heat for about 10 minutes, and it'll just start the cooking process. That baking soda actually acts as a reactant and will help brown the potato. So then, you strain it out, you throw some olive oil with, I usually use like dried oregano, some salt, some pepper and a little bit of granulated garlic. Toss those potatoes really well into the oven on the bottom rack. At like 425, 15-17 minutes, pull them out, turn them, you'll see a nice golden brown starting on the one side that was facedown. You turn them over back into the oven for another 20 minutes. You pull them out. Those things will be nice and crunchy brown on the outside, but on the center it'll be nice, light and fluffy, almost like a mashed potato.

POHL: Let's talk a little bit about timing. How do we make this all come out so that the meals ready at one time?

KWIATKOWSKI: Think about that extra half hour, 45 minutes that you're going to have after the turkey comes out of the oven. That's when you can adjust and play with the temperature of the oven. If you're at 325, as soon as you pull that bird out and it's good, it's resting, you can crank that oven to 425, put your potatoes in. You know it's always a juggling act, right? Especially when you have one oven.

One other idea from Chef Kurt: if you want to try baking a pie for the first time, it might be a good idea to do that on Wednesday rather than adding it to the tasks on Thanksgiving Day.


Turkey Brine Solution

1 gallon of water
½ c. honey
1½ c. kosher salt (if you are using regular salt only use about ¾ of a cup)
2 qt. vegetable of chicken stock
¼ c. whole black peppercorns
12 bay leaves
½ bunch of fresh thyme
½ bunch of fresh Italian parsley
3 lemons cut in half

Put all ingredients into a soup pot and bring up to a boil. Shut off and let cool down to room temperature or colder. *this can be made up to 3 days in advance.
Put your turkey in a brining bag or a 5 gallon bucket and pour the liquid over the bird, making sure the bird stays submerged in the liquid. Let the turkey brine for a minimum of 6 hours, up to 14 hours.
Remove the turkey from the solution, rinse off with cold water and pat dry with paper towel.

Turkey Gravy

8 cups turkey stock (chicken broth and pan drippings combined)
1 stick unsalted butter
¾ c. flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1 T. apple cider vinegar

Pour pan juices through a fine-mesh strainer into measuring cup (do not clean roasting pan), then skim off and discard fat.
Put the roasting pan across 2 burners, then add 1 c. chicken broth and deglaze roasting pan by boiling over high heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits, for 1 minute. Remove from the stove and pour through a strainer into the measuring cup containing pan juices. Add enough chicken broth to pan juices to bring total to 8 cups and reserve.
Melt butter in a 4-quart heavy sauce pot over medium heat then stir in flour. Cook over moderate heat, whisking, for 5-7 minutes or until the mixture has a bit of a nutty aroma. Add your reserved stock mixture in a stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps, then bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Season gravy with salt and pepper, then stir in cider vinegar.
Aromatics for the Turkey
1 apple cut in ¼’s
½ of an onion large dice
2 stalks of celery large dice
2 carrots large diced
1 cinnamon stick
1 c. of chicken broth
½ bunch of thyme
½ bunch of Italian parsley

Take all ingredients and mix together. Pouring the solution into the turkey cavity while it is the roasting pan. Some of this can and will come out and be just in the pan.

Cooking the Turkey
2 T. canola oil for rubbing the turkey down
1 t. black pepper
¾ # your favorite bacon

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Rub the oil over the turkey, season with pepper, and then lay strips of bacon on the white meat areas of the turkey (you may need to put toothpicks to hold the bacon in place).
Put the turkey in the oven for 1 ½ hrs. Remove briefly to put a piece of parchment paper and lightly wrap with tin foil. Baste the turkey with the liquid that is in the pan. Back into the oven for an additional 2 ½ to 3 hours, or until the temperature of the thigh/dark meat is at 165 degrees.
When the turkey is done, transfer it to a carving board and let it rest about 20-25 minutes before carving it up. Remove bacon strips and any toothpicks that you had holding the bacon in place. Serve up the crispy bacon on the side with the turkey.


1# of sour dough bread (one large loaf of bread)
12 .oz of sweet Italian sausage, ground
4 oz. bacon, sliced into ¼” thick strips
2T. + 3T. olive oil
2 c. red onion, diced
2 c. celery, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
2 cloves of garlic
2 eggs
¼ c. heavy cream
2½ c. chicken stock/broth
½ c. fresh parsley, chopped
2 T. fresh thyme, chopped
1 T. fresh sage, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 300 degrees

Cut and rip bread into small pieces and put them into a large mixing bowl. Toss the bread with 2 T. olive oil and place on a sheet tray, making sure not to over crowd, use 2 if you need to. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, shaking the tray once at the 20 minute mark. After done, put the bread back into the large mixing bowl.
In a large sauté pan, on medium heat, cook the bacon and olive oil until the bacon starts to crisp up. This will be about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon pieces, but leave the oil in the pan, and put into the large mixing bowl.

Cook the sausage in the pan, first pressing the sausage out into a thin large patty that will cover the bottom of the pan. Cook for 4 minutes and then flip, cook an additional 4-5 minutes and remove from the pan, leaving the oil in the pan. Let cool, and then rough cut up the sausage and put into the large mixing bowl.

Sauté the onions, celery, and jalapeno in the pan for 7 minutes over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté an additional minute. Remove from heat, and scrape everything into the big mixing bowl.
Mix the eggs with the cream, and then put the stock into the liquid. 
Mix bread, bacon, sausage, vegetables, liquid and fresh herbs together and season with salt and pepper.
Put into a pan and cook in an oven for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. The first 20 minutes covered, the second uncovered.

Scott Pohl has maintained an on-call schedule reporting for WKAR following his retirement after 36 years on the air at the station.
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