What a great collection of Thanksgiving fare in Food today, starting with Bonnie S. Benwick’s story about Tarver King of the restaurant at Patowmack Farm. The chef has given us eight terrific holiday recipes, grounded in Virginia’s history and his own.
Also, five Food staffers write about their Thanksgiving aha moments: sudden realizations about how to solve a persistent holiday dilemma. Joe Yonan presents two vegan dishes worthy of being the centerpiece of a holiday meal, plus a vegan pumpkin pie for dessert. And Dave McIntyre has a suggestion for a different type of holiday tipple: hard cider from artisan makers here and abroad, a lower-alcohol drink whose popularity has been growing.
And there’s more, so you’d better start reading. But leave time for today’s Free Range chat. It always gets really busy — and really interesting — as a food-centric holiday draws nigh, and this week should be no exception. Special guest-wise, we’re lucky to have chef Tarver King with us to help answer any and all culinary questions. You’re invited to show up at noon for what promises to be a lively and informative hour.
To get the ball rolling, here’s a leftover question from last week’s chat:
I read the article about what size turkey to buy and was intrigued by the recommendation to cook two smaller birds for a larger crowd. How does that work: same roasting pan or side-by-side pans? Would there be adjustments to the cooking time? I’m having visions of being able to offer guests two different “flavors” of turkey now. Any suggestions there?
How does it work? Well, it works beautifully, according to cooks who’ve tried it.
A decade-old article in Food laid out the advantages of the two-turkey idea: If you buy them frozen, two smaller birds will defrost faster than one big one. Two smaller birds will cook faster and so spend less time in the oven, giving the meat less chance to dry out. Smaller turkeys are younger and generally have moister, more tender meat. (By smaller, we mean turkeys weighing 12 pounds or less.)
Oh, but you meant cooking specifics. The consensus is that separate roasting racks in separate roasting pans is the way to go. Not everyone insists on that — Rachael Ray roasts two 10-pounders in the same pan — but it seems to be the majority opinion. The key, regardless of whether you cozy them up together, is to make sure there’s enough space between the birds — and also over, under and around them — to allow good heat circulation in the oven. About halfway through roasting, or more frequently if you like, it wouldn’t hurt to rotate each pan 180 degrees for more-even cooking.
Fortunately, two small turkeys will take about the same time to roast as one large turkey. Start checking for doneness around the time you’d start for just one bird. If one bird is heavier than the other, you can give it a head start in the oven if you want a photo finish. Or, if you need to free up oven space for another dish, start one bird a half-hour or 45 minutes sooner than the other; when it’s done, you’ll have room for something else that needs to bake. But not too many something elses: Don’t fill the oven with cold food, or the second bird’s cooking time will suffer.
As to serving two different “flavors,” my first suggestion would be to ignore everything I just said about roasting two birds, and do one of them on the grill. Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin’s recipe for Bourbon-Brined Smoked Turkey would be a nice change of pace from the usual. (If you don’t like bourbon, use more apple juice instead.) Or think about California Turkey, spiced with Mediterranean flavor.
Otherwise, consult the turkey recipes in our Recipe Finder, and you’re sure to find a pair that are different enough to intrigue the crowd. For example: the buttermilk-brined bird we featured in today’s paper; the thyme-roasted turkey from the White House feast of 2012; a bird brined in saltwater sweetened with maple syrup; a turkey kissed by sage.
I’d be remiss here if I didn’t point out our Thanksgiving Central, a font of techniques, recipes and general info about the holiday. And, for in-person advice, you just can’t beat the weekly chat. See you there!