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Thanksgiving Answers From Chris Kimball

<strong>Man With A Plan</strong>: For moist, flavorful dressing, Chris Kimball recommends cooking the turkey over it, in a broiling pan.
William Plowman
Man With A Plan: For moist, flavorful dressing, Chris Kimball recommends cooking the turkey over it, in a broiling pan.

When it's time to make the Thanksgiving meal, most cooks rely on time-tested recipes and a bulletproof checklist — to make sure it's all done on time. In a brief pause from his duties at America's Test Kitchen, Chef Chris Kimball answered some of the questions our readers have sent in about how to make everything taste great for Thanksgiving.

If you don't see an answer to your question here, don't despair — Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne took advantage of a recent morning spent with Chris to ask him questions pulled from our Web site. The recipes Chris shares are at the bottom of this page — or you can visit our Recipe Share page.

Brine vs. Salt

lisa scherer (bogatr2284) wrote:

I was wondering about the process of salting (not brining). They used this to make the most amazing chicken at Zuni Cafe in California (I can vouch for this), and Bon Appetit is promoting it this year, but I am concerned as some comments say it is too salty. Any opinion would be helpful.

Chris Kimball: Yes, I actually got the idea for salting from Zuni, and we did a recipe for salted turkey back in 2006. Overall, I slightly prefer brining because I find the meat to be slightly juicier, and the recipe is also a bit fussier as well — we use ice packs to chill down the breast meat so it does not overcook. In any case, here is the recipe.

Bea Wilson (wilsonb) wrote:

Can I inject the brine liquid in the turkey?????

CPK: Yes, but it is less work to simply let the bird sit in the chilled, salted water overnight.

Robert Thomson (kPuffy) wrote:

My father recently had bypass surgery, and we're having to cut back on sodium. We really enjoy a brined turkey, but that's not an option for us now. What are our other options for a moist, flavorful turkey?

CPK: The best way to get a juicy bird without brining (be careful of many frozen turkeys at the supermarket — they are injected with a flavored saline solution, which raises the salt level — frozen Butterballs have been injected, for example) is to roast turkey parts at a lower oven temperature. Use a whole skin-on bone-in turkey breast and then 4 pounds of thighs and drumsticks. Roast at 275 degrees for 2 to 3 hours or until done. The breast meat can be taken out of the oven before the dark meat so it is not overcooked, and the lower oven temperature will keep the meat juicy.

David Schwartz (googolman) wrote:

I once read an article in praise of brining in the San Francisco Chronicle. The author said that if you cannot fit the turkey and brine solution in the bin at the bottom of refrigerator, you can put it in a garbage bag (or two). Problem is that every brand of garbage bag I could find said it was not to be used for food. I even called all the manufacturers and none made a single food-grade product. Do you have any suggestions on how to brine a turkey that doesn't fit in the fridge bin?

CPK: Yes. Put the turkey and the brine into a large beer or picnic cooler. Use frozen reusable ice packs to keep the liquid cold.

Vegetarian Options

Caty Kin (Catykin) wrote:

Hello, will you please consider including ideas/recipes for a great vegetarian Thanksgiving — not only for those of us who are vegetarians, but for those of us who have guests coming who are. And, of course, to save a bunch of turkeys! Thank you.

CPK: There are endless possibilities here for main courses other than turkeys, and I wouldn't try to replicate a turkey by using, for example, tofu. The best bet is probably a vegetable lasagna or similar casserole-style dish.

Ruth Stearns (Ruth and Greg) wrote:

Do you have any tips for a vegetarian Thanksgiving? I'm eating with the omnivores next month, and I'd like to bring some vegetarian dishes to share!

CPK: Most Thanksgiving side dishes are de facto vegetarian, but here is my favorite side dish — mashed sweet potatoes. It uses a stovetop method that delivers fabulous flavor, and it's easy to boot.

[Editor's note: Readers may also want to consult NPR's Kitchen Window special on vegetarian options.]

Getting The Timing Down

Amy R. Chicago (LaPoop) wrote:

I always struggle with the timing of dishes. Can you give a primer about making your menu arrive in a coordinated and timely manner?

CPK: Sure. Focus on the oven, since that is the limiting factor for a meal that includes roast turkey, casseroles and pies. But I would suggest starting even earlier on, even a week or more before Thanksgiving, to sort out purchasing pantry staples versus fresh ingredients that require last-minute purchases, defrosting the turkey (about 5 pounds per day), dealing with timing for homemade yeast bread, figuring out which recipes can be prepared all or in part the day before, etc.

I would also look at which recipes can be made on the stovetop versus the oven — this would be key in a kitchen with only one oven.

Walking The Talk

Patricia Yos (BanditQueen) wrote:

This question for Chris Kimball is posed with all respect (it's hard to capture tone in a brief comment box): Between the magazine, the television show and interviews on radio on Thanksgiving morning, would you honestly reveal the last time you cooked an entire Thanksgiving dinner for guests? And what did you choose to serve from all the options available to someone with your cooking experience?

CPK: I actually cook Thanksgiving every year for our family of six, and usually another six guests. I roast the turkey in a wood cookstove, make my own turkey stock with the neck and giblets, our own mashed potatoes, bake three pies (apple, pecan and pumpkin) and make an English trifle. My wife, Adrienne, prepares Brussels sprouts, homemade Parker House rolls, sweet potatoes Georgian (a local Vermont recipe — a baked casserole), creamed onions and a cornbread/sausage dressing.

Our 18-year-old daughter Caroline helps with some of the baking — she is working at a local Vermont bakery this year — but the rest of the kids are on cleanup duty. The next day, we get up early to go deer hunting, as the season always closes the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

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