In charge of dinner this year and determined to deliver a delicious, mistake-free family meal? Some problems are inevitable—no one’s perfect—but luckily, there are a lot of ways to prevent or fix common holiday dinner trip-ups. Here’s a primer to help you tackle the big meal successfully.
How to prep turkey
The big bird may be the main event, but don't let the pressure knock you off your game. Whether you buy fresh or frozen, the route to success follows a handful of simple steps. If you're new to the turkey-roasting game or find you get mixed results from year to year, here are some pitfalls you want to avoid.
How to avoid dry turkey
A juicy bird should be easy; just follow the cook temperature and time for the size of bird you bought, right? Usually. But some tricks to keeping the moisture where you want it—in the meat—go a long way.
Baste the turkey properly
If you want to baste the bird, great! It will help add flavour to the skin and get it golden-crisp. But watch out for over-basting; each time you open the oven, the temperature drops, which impacts the length of your cooking time and can lead to dry meat.
Smear soft butter under the skin as a built-in baster that will also add buttery flavour to the skin and meat.
Use an instant or in-oven meat thermometer
This is an easy way to cook the meat to the exact temperature you want, without the guesswork.
Brine the turkey
Brining a turkey can help tenderize the meat and add juiciness. The ratio for the brine is 1 L (4 cups) water to ¼ cup (60 mL) sea salt. Fully submerge an uncooked turkey in the brine for 6 to 24 hours; chicken takes about 3 to 6 hours. To be safe, both meat and water should be well chilled when you begin, and stored covered in either the fridge, a cooler filled with ice or a cold room—not at room temperature. Read more on how to roast, brine, prep, and cook poultry here.
How to thaw a frozen turkey properly
There's no quick fix for an unthawed turkey but time. Make sure you prioritize and get that bird out of the freezer early! Expect five hours of thaw time per pound of turkey in the fridge. Never thaw poultry at room temperature; once thawed, cook immediately.
How to avoid lumpy, thin gravy
Turkey gravy or pan gravy is one of the crown jewels on a full Christmas dinner plate. Here's how to avoid some common pitfalls.
How to fix lumpy gravy
Whisk—and put a little muscle into it. If that doesn't fix the gravy, it might be an issue with the thickener. Often, gravy recipes call for flour (or broth) and water added to the pan juices; if you mix the flour and water together first, you can prevent pockets of lumpiness showing up in the gravy. This is also known as a slurry (whisked flour and water).
How to fix thin gravy
Did you add a slurry? (See above.) If you did, you might need to add a little more. Just make sure to simmer the gravy a little longer to cook out the raw flour and give it time to thicken.
How to avoid soggy or lumpy potatoes
The first rule of holiday dinners: Don't forget the gravy. The second rule of holiday dinners? Don't wreck the potatoes. If you want to make sure you knock this side out of the park this year, here are three tips to keep top of mind.
No more soggy roasted potatoes
Are you Team Roast Potato? Then you know a perfectly golden-crisp coating is the stuff of legend. The key to achieving it is low water content, salt, and fat. Parboil the spuds in well-salted water, drain as much as possible (water becomes steam and prevents crisping in the oven) and toss in duck or goose fat before roasting for best results.
No more lumpy mashed potatoes
Are you in the mashed potatoes all day, baby" camp? Here's a hot tip: Russet potatoes make the lightest, fluffiest mash. Avoid lumps by adding the potatoes to the water before boiling; an even cook on potatoes will help them mash quickly and evenly.
No more gluey mashed potatoes
Know this: Adding cold dairy to mash will make them seize up and get gloopy. Lightly warm the cream or butter before adding to ensure smooth success.
How to avoid dry or soggy stuffing
Getting the moisture content just right results in tender, crisp-on-top, flavourful stuffing that everyone will want seconds of. Here's how to get the balance just right.
How to fix dry stuffing
Add moisture, but carefully. Slowly add chicken (or vegetable,if it’s vegetarian) broth and throw it back into the oven to bake a little longer. Continue until you get the texture you want.
How to fix soggy stuffing
Soggy stuffing = too much moisture. Without stirring (it will break down the bread even more and become mush), spoon stuffing onto a baking sheet and bake it until it has dried out enough to serve.
How to avoid soggy vegetables
To start, know your vegetables. Dense, starchy root vegetables take longer to roast than others. Next, don't overcrowd the veg; they'll steam rather than brown. Lastly, cook produce in the oven at a constant temperature; roasting veggies at a high temp (400°F to 450°F/200°C to 230°C) creates a crispy, brown exterior with a soft (but not mushy) middle.
*Stay safe. Please respect and follow all public health guidelines when celebrating the season.