Thanksgiving 911: Answers to last-minute turkey day questions

You thought that you were well prepared for Thanksgiving, but suddenly you are not.

Either you don’t have a clue as to how to solve your problem or time snuck up on you or all those Google searches are providing contradicting answers. That means one thing — you are freaking out and just want an answer to your turkey, alt-meat, dessert and wine questions. All is not lost when there are experts who can not only guide you to prep for the big day but also enjoy it, along with your guests.

• Keith Fuller, chef and owner of Pork and Beans, Downtown

Q: What is the best way to thaw a turkey at the last minute?

A: Put the bird in the sink and run cold water in a slow run over it. The turkey will eventually get to room temperature. You also could place it in a cold water bath that is 40 degrees or below. Then change the water every so often. But the time it sits in the bath and the frequency of changing the water will all depend on the size of the bird.

Q: Just when you start carving the turkey, you realize the bird is not fully cooked. What do you do?

A: I would probably put it back in the oven. You are going to lose some moisture as you have let it rest, and so this means it is going to be drier. But a drier turkey is better than no turkey. You could place the turkey in a water bath so that it gets a little moist.

Q: If a first-time host doesn’t have a roasting rack, what’s a good alternative way to roast the turkey?

A: Place a baking rack of some kind in a pan and then roast the bird. It’s important because you want the turkey raised off the surface. If the turkey does not sit on a raised surface it will be braised and get overcooked and be mushy. Potatoes, carrots and other aromatics could also be placed under the turkey to raise it some.

Q: What’s a restaurant secret behind getting a crispy skin but at the same time having a moist and juicy meat?

A: You need to brine the turkey first overnight. Make a solution with ¾ cup salt, 1 gallon water, ½ cup sugar and aromatics, and let the turkey soak in it. This adds moisture and flavor. Then pat the turkey dry and rub it with salt and pepper. Let the salt do its work for about 20 minutes. Then rub the skin with an oil you prefer before roasting the bird in the oven.

Q: If the mashed potatoes turn out gummy, is there a way to fix the dish?

A: Not really as you have already pulled the starches out off the potatoes. You can add more milk to thin them out, but that is the best you can do.

Q: The guest list grows at the last-minute. Is there a way to stretch the cranberry sauce without having to run to the store?

A: I like to add in sauteed minced apples and re-hydrated raisins with orange zest to bulk up the cranberry sauce.

Q: The intention was to have a nice and crispy stuffing, but it turns out to be too dry. What can be done?

A: Pour some hot stock and butter gently over the stuffing, and fluff with a fork.

• Kate Carney, pastry chef at Superior Motors in Braddock

Q: How do you make a store-bought pie look and taste homemade?

A: The pie has already been baked, and so all you can really do at this point is to give a few touches that will make a difference. Make an egg wash and dab it on the crust before it goes into the oven to be warmed. The egg wash will give the pie a nice golden color when it is pulled out.

Make your own whipped cream by adding a little bit of powdered sugar, a pinch of salt and a dash of vanilla to the heavy cream. This will be cheaper and taste much better than a dollop of Cool Whip from a tub.

I cannot overstate how flowers can help. Get some marigolds or mums — whole flowers and petals — give them a rinse, and decorate the pie with them. The pie will look nice and classy.

If you are up for some work, make a caramel sauce with sugar and heavy cream in a 1 to 1 ratio and a couple of tablespoons of butter. In a saucepan, melt sugar until it turns to a dark amber color. Zap the cream in the micro until it is hot to touch. Turn the heat down for the sugar and whisk in the cream; it will bubble a lot. After it cools a bit, pour into a fresh bowl. Add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. It will start to emulsify into caramel. Add salt to taste. Then drizzle the caramel over the pie. Everybody will think you are a culinary genius.

Q: When you add sugar to a fruit filling, it makes it soupy. How do you avoid it?

A: Add the sugar earlier on to the fruit, and it will draw the liquid out of the fruit. Once it macerates, pour off the liquid and add a little more sugar to sweeten the fruit.

Q: What’s the best way to prevent a runny pumpkin pie filling?

A: Transfer the pumpkin filling from the can into a plastic container and place the container into the freezer the night before. On the following day, thaw it under cold running water. The pulp will separate from the liquid, and you will have thick pulp before you bake it. You could also pour the filling through a cheesecloth, and all of the liquid will separate.

Q: How do you slice a cake or pie without it collapsing or crumbling?

A: Use a sharp knife that is not serrated to make a clean cut. It’s also important to have a hot knife. So get a bowl of hot water and place the knife in it. Before each cut, dip it in the hot water and then wipe it.

Q: What are the steps to warm a pie that you froze three days ago?

A: It’s ideal to take it out of the freezer on Thanksgiving Eve and thaw it in the refrigerator. On the day of, you can move the pie from the refrigerator to the oven.

• Dominic Fiore, wine sommelier at Bar Marco in the Strip District

Q: How many bottles should I take for a Friendsgiving party of 10?

A: Take two or three. It can be sparkling, red or white.

Q: Is red or white wine better with the holiday meal?

A: It’s a personal preference. A slightly sweet, high acid riesling would work. I personally prefer a red because it goes well with the bird, stuffing and cranberry sauce. The fruity Beaujolais Nouveau is released every year just in time for Thanksgiving.

Q: What will happen if I overchill white wine?

A: If a white is too cold, it will lose its nuances and won’t pick up on its full aromas and flavors. I like to serve white wine at 55 degrees, and so I pop it in the fridge for an hour or so before I serve it. If you overchill the wine, let it sit at room temperature. Then be patient, and have a cocktail while it warms up.

Q: Can reds be served cold?

A: All reds should be served slightly under room temperature, and so leaving them in the garage even for half hour is encouraged. I love to serve gamay from Beaujolais with a chill on it. The same goes for montepulciano from Abruzzo, Italy, and trollinger from Germany.

Q: What dessert wines would go best with the pies?

A: The Italian Moscato D’Asti from Piedmont is fruity and a little fizzy and will go well with fruit pies. For pumpkin and pecan pies, I love to serve Madeira, the forgotten dessert wine. A 10-year Malmsey also will do the trick — it is nutty and sweet with notes of dried fruits and chocolate.

Q: What are some bar essentials I should stock up on without breaking the bank?

A: Get some bitters, vermouth and citrus for the holiday cocktails.

• Tom Friday, owner of Tom Friday’s Market in Brighton Heights

Q: What should a Thanksgiving Eve turkey shopper look for?

A: Obviously the person should get a fresh turkey as you don’t want to be thawing one at that point. The person should look for one that is not injected with basting solution. Some fresh turkeys are pumped with the sodium solution, and what you will have after it is roasted is shrinkage in the turkey. If you cannot find ones that are not injected with the solution, Butterballs are one of the best.

Q: What are the basic rules of roasting a turkey?

A: Preheat the oven to 325 to 350 degrees. Remove giblets and neck from turkey and rinse. Season with salt and pepper. If roasting in an open pan, loosely place an aluminum foil tent over the meat until the last hour of roasting. The turkey needs to rest 20 to 30 minutes before carving to let the juices redistribute. The cooking time is 3 to 3½ hours for 8 to 12 pounds; 3½ to 4 hours for 12 to 14 pounds; 4 to 4¾ hours for 14 to 18 pounds; and 4¾ to 5½ hours for 20 to 24 pounds.

Typically for adults, a 12- to 14-pound turkey can serve six to eight people; 15 to 16 pounds can serve nine to 10; 18 to 20 pound can serve 11 to 13; and 22 to 24 pound can serve 14 to 16.

Q: If ham is going to be the centerpiece, what can be done to it to make it special?

A: Start with a nice ham. A bone-in whole ham will make a nice centerpiece especially if it is cured and smoked in hickory wood so it gets a dark brown color.Then score the ham, first horizontally and then vertically. Stud it with cloves where the lines intersect.

A glaze is always nice; use half of it before it is baked and the other half after pulling the meat out of the oven. I make a glaze with brown sugar, juice from a can of sliced pineapples, honey and juice from a jar of maraschino cherries and brush it on top. You can decorate the ham with the sliced pineapples and place the cherries in the middle of the slices.

Q: Instead of turkey, what are some good alternate cuts of meat?

A: The most popular one is the bone-in prime rib roast. We cut it and then retie the bone onto the meat so that it is easy for carving. Whole fillets of certified Angus beef are good options as they have more marbling and so more flavor. Then there is always the rack of lamb.

Arthi Subramaniam:, 412-263-1494 or on Twitter @arthisub.

First Published November 20, 2017 6:19 AM


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