Thanksgiving – Early Morning & Before

With my nearest relative more than 2,500 miles away, every year I celebrate Thanksgiving with my sons and invite all my friends. Some years we have 20 people, and other years, such as today, we are just the four of us. But the whole ritual of cooking changes very little no mater with whom we celebrate Thanksgiving; with more people we have more side dishes, and more stress. Our stress-free menu this year is a simple one: roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. I will provide updates as the day progresses.

Covered with foil, cheese cloth and salt pork. Still 6 hours until dinner.

  • 11:30 AM – I finally had a cup of coffee.
  • 11:10 AM – The turkey is in the oven. I can rest for the next 3 hours.
  • 10:45 AM – Finishing the kitchen cleanup, and noticed a problem with the recipe. I did some more checking and realized that I was looking at the wrong recipe. The correct one is here. The main difference is that the Cook’s Country recipe places the salt pork on the breast, and the Cook’s Illustrated puts the salt pork on on the non-breast side. I’d rather baste the breast side, which has the tendency to dry out.
  • 10:00 AM – I got back from the store, and removed the turkey from the bath. I patted it dry and put it in the refrigerator to dry the skin.
  • 9:00 AM – Went to the store to buy my final ingredients. I also decided to buy a “safety” pie crust just in case mine doesn’t turn out.
  • 8:30 AM – Got out of bed and changed the water in the turkey bath. Inside the cavity is still pretty frozen, but it should be ready about 10:30. Perfect, because I’m aiming for an oven-time of 11 AM.
  • 5:00 AM – Went back to bed for a few hours.
  • 4:45 AM – I start to make a shopping list of last minute items that I will need: Red onion, salt pork, russet potatoes, garlic. Also a pie crust.
  • 4:35 AM – I search the Cook’s Illustrated website to see which turkey recipe I wanted to follow this year. I decide of Old-Fashion Turkey, sans stuffing.
  • 4:30 AM – With the turkey in the sink defrosting for 30 minutes, I just changed the cold water. Chris Kimball recommends changing the water in which you are “speed defrosting” the turkey every 30-minutes.
  • 3:53 AM – I awake and take my 20-pound turkey out of the refrigerator. Every year I tell myself that I will buy the turkey earlier next year, so that I don’t need to wake up in the middle of the night to start defrosting in water. But every year I awaken early in the morning to find that it is still frozen. My refrigerator is on the recommended setting of 3 (out of 5), so I’m not sure why I have this problem every year.
  • T-Day minus 1: Yesterday. I stopped by the supermarket to buy some thyme. I wasn’t sure about potatoes, so didn’t buy any. I decided not to brine my turkey, because I don’t have a suitable bucket; they are all exceptionally dirty this year (even though I would have lined it with plastic bag).
  • T-Day minus 5: Friday. I bought all the usual ingredients for pumpkin pie, also whipping cream this year (rather than my usual heavy cream).
  • T-Day minus 7: Friday. I bought the turkey. A 20-pounder this year, and put it in the bottom shelf of my refrigerator. In theory 7 days is plenty to defrost a 20-pound turkey, but every year I find that it is still frozen.

One Response to Thanksgiving – Early Morning & Before

  1. Anonymous says:

    Just been reading your wonderful blog. We watch ATK every week and have bought the Cooks Illustrated mags here and there. I appreciate your attention to flavours ,textures ,level of messiness. I used to work in a professional kitchen and one of the things I learned about preparing for large groups was to do as much ahead of time as possible. I’m getting older and just can’t handle the stress of it like I used to. So when preparing a turkey dinner, I put the stuffing together the week before, and freeze it in a bag, to cook the day of. I make the scratch cranberry sauce 2-3 days ahead. I cook the fresh turkey the day before, ( I prefer the high heat method) rest it, slice it and put it into the baking pan,drizzling some drippings over,foil it. Sometimes I even make the gravy then. Then the day of, it’s basically the salad and veggies and reheat the turkey/gravy. If a veggie dish calls for toasted nuts, or croutons, do those a day or two ahead as well.Usually I give someone else the dessert to make. To me, using a fresh turkey makes all the difference in reheating but some have done this with frozen and enjoyed it just the same. And I’m not utterly exhausted by the time this all gets on the table. And there’s not a mountain of dirty pots and pans to deal with.

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