For a lot of people this is a stressful time of year. Not for me. My mom will have dinner for 5 people, and it will taste great. Before I go to mom’s house for dinner I will have nearly 300 people for Thanksgiving Dinner (lunch, actually) at work. The quantities of food we get out will be nothing short of staggering for most people! As an example, our cranberry sauce starts with 24 pounds of cranberries!
I guess you might be wondering what my point is. My point is this, plan ahead. You know what you plan on having for your menu by now, I would hope! Take a little time to think about what you can do ahead. For instance, at work, I made the cranberry sauce yesterday. Potatoes for mashed potatoes can be cut in advance. You had better have your turkey thawing in the fridge already.
Obviously I don’t know what you are planning on having for dinner on Thanksgiving so I can’t give you a plan, but the general principal holds true whether you have 300 or 3 for dinner. Figure out what you can safely do ahead of time without compromising the quality of the product, and do it. Have a plan written down if needed so that you can essentially walk into the kitchen and without even giving it a second thought, KNOW exactly what you need to accomplish how long it should take, when you need to get the turkey in so that it has time to rest before you start trying to carve it. Obviously, a little planning will go a long way. I mean chances are you only have one oven, four burners, a microwave, and several dishes to get done all at the same time. Planning this out shouldn’t be that hard to do, because you already know fairly well how long it will take to do each item. You’ve done them all before. Now you have to put them together, and make it all work so you can get dinner on the table.
At work, we have an extensive prep list. Each item on the menu is assigned to a person. Each of us has several items that we need to get done, and as long as all of those things get done, there will be no problem, and none of us will have to kill ourselves to make sure it gets done. Thursday morning, everything will be as ready as it can be. Essentially, we will go through a process of plating cold items, and heating everything that needs to be hot. We get huge turkeys (30-ish pounds each!), and they get started early so that they can be out, and rested, before we break them down to give to the carver.
You should always rest meat. How long depends on how large of a piece of meat you are dealing with. After you take a piece of meat out of the oven or off of whatever heat the temperature will continue to increase. Perhaps by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. You don’t have to worry about it getting cold. However, if you pull it out of the oven, and just start carving into your turkey, you will end up with dry turkey. I can’t say that I know why exactly, but all of the juices in your meat will run out if you don’t let it rest. Almost as if the meat will hold more moisture when it is cooler!
Turkey is rested? Now you want to know what I mean by break down the turkey to give to the carver? Well, most people like breast meat, but don’t really care for the dark meat of the legs and thighs. Remove the wings, almost like you would if it was raw, but because it is cooked it will be easier. Cut around the wing, and pull against the joint, and sever the tendons. Next, do the thighs. Cut the skin between the breast and legs. Then break the joint, and cut through the tendons. Now for the gruesome part! With the breast up, lift up by the sternum, and cut down through the side of the rib cage on both sides. This will cut the back away from the breast, and leave you with a perfect turkey breast. The advantage of this is that the breast will be more stable, and make it easier to carve without all of the meat that nobody wants. We do send a few legs out to the carvers, just for the rare bird(sorry) that does like dark meat. This method of breaking down a turkey does take some practice, but it works very well. After the next three Thanksgivings you should have it down. The sad fact is that for most of us, a whole roasted turkey is a once a year treat, or is it an ordeal? A big part of that is the amount of work that goes into Thanksgiving dinner. Work all day, spend 30 minutes eating, and then the rest of the night cleaning.
So, to wrap up. Work ahead as much as you can, so that Thursday is as simple as possible, and have a plan that is as detailed as you need. The more detail the better, to a point. Don’t try to have everything planned to the minute, otherwise, you’ll fall behind, and panic. Write down all of the dishes you are making, and when you want to start them. Good luck, and have a great Thanksgiving everyone!