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All You Can Eat

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November 16, 2012 at 6:00 AM

A surprising tip for cooking that Thanksgiving turkey

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We’re running some last-minute Thanksgiving tips from caterer Lisa Dupar of Pomegranate Bistro on Wednesday, but one of her ideas was so interesting we had to give you advance notice. Dupar recommends that anyone planning on turkey for Thanksgiving cook it a day early. She says to put it in the oven Wednesday, cook it at your leisure, cool it down properly, and carve the meat.

“I know it sounds blasphemous,” she said. But giving yourself the extra day makes a big difference.

“It intensifies the flavor of the gravy because you have time to fuss over it,” she said. “You can strain it, you can reduce it… you can use all the little pan drippings and yummy veggies to chop up and put into your stuffing mix.” The carcass can be used for stock, which might also go in the gravy and stuffing on the big day.

Dupar lines up the sliced meat in a Pyrex or casserole dish, adds some jus from the roasting pan, covers and refrigerates it. On Thanksgiving, she reheats the dish, covered with foil, at 350 degrees until the meat is warmed through. “Believe me, it does not overcook, and it’s just yummy and juicy.”

The only drawback to the advance cooking, she said, is sacrificing the crunchy skin — it softens overnight. However, you can slice off some of the extra skin around the breast and roast it separately if that’s crucial to you.

You do miss out on the romance and imagery of the whole cooked bird. But the elephant-in-the-room advantage? People get a hot meal when you do it her way. “Even a chef going 90 miles an hour carving a whole turkey at the table, it’s going to be cold. People just don’t move that fast.”

You’ll also have time to pay closer attention to when the bird’s done if you aren’t simultaneously worrying about the rest of the meal, she notes. “I can be in my sweats, I can be comfortable, and I’m fussing over it with no pressure of people coming to the house and me having to look good and have the table set.”

All that, and, “your nice clothes won’t smell like turkey.”

A few other resources for advance planning:

1. Going gluten-free? Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef have a host of Thanksgiving recipes and videos, as well as a new Thanksgiving iPad app. (Check out this entry on how to shop for gluten-free ingredients.) Also, I’ve been meaning to write up some of the great new baking books that have been recently published, but don’t wait for that to grab Jeanne Sauvage’sGluten-Free Baking for the Holidays.” Sauvage is one of those cooks whose baked goods are just plain irresistible, whether you’re gluten-free or not, and she’s got everything here from biscuits to pumpkin pie.

2. Expecting vegetarian guests? Half of mine this year don’t eat meat, and I’m looking to make this pumpkin stuffed with panade to give them a special entree too. For a seasonal soup, I’m a fan of this butternut squash-pear soup, though I double the amount of squash in the recipe and use coconut milk in place of the half-and-half.

3. If you’re looking for a guidebook to Thanksgiving, Sam Sifton of The New York Times penned just that. Among his measured but opinionated advice: No cheese plate! (It’s too filling.) No salad. And, purchase low-protein instant Wondra flour, which “makes terrible pie crusts and bread, but as a thickening agent for gravies, it really cannot be beat.” He’s got recipes in the book for the whole meal.

Turkey photo by AP Photo / Matthew Mead.

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