Thanksgiving Turkey Smackdown

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Does the thought of cooking a turkey make you groan? With Thanksgiving coming up, many people are in the throes of planning gut-busting meals featuring the difficult-to-cook bird in the leading role.

But cooking a moist, flavorful turkey doesn’t have to ruffle your feathers. We asked the chefs at Williamsburg’s brand-new Australian restaurant, The Wombat, for some advice and some recipes. Executive chef Anders Goldkuhl and sous-chef Jerry Simonetti were happy to oblige.

Although there’s no magic trick to making sure the turkey isn’t drier than the Sahara, Goldkuhl and Simonetti offered up some helpful insights throughout the cooking process, which starts before the turkey goes anywhere near the oven. (Their recipes appear at right.)

Letting the turkey sit overnight in a pot of brine is essential. “Brining helps plump up the bird and keeps it moist,” says Goldkuhl. The brine is also what is used to baste the turkey while it is roasting.

Basting is also essential to a good turkey, according to the chefs. The best way to do it is to baste every 15 minutes or so, but it has to be done quickly. Opening the oven for long periods of time wastes essential heat and humidity.

If the recipe calls for a marinade, injecting some of the marinade under the turkey’s skin can also infuse the bird with flavor and juices.

But the most important thing, according to Goldkuhl, is “Don’t overcook it — and when done, to let it rest.”

Letting the bird sit for a half-hour or so after it comes out of the oven gives the juices that migrated to the middle of the bird during roasting a chance to redistribute to the entire turkey.

Once it’s time to eat, even the way a turkey is carved can affect the texture of the meat.

“Carving is a nightmare,” says Goldkuhl, who prefers to simply cut out the breast whole and then cut it into smaller pieces. Carving a bird the traditional way can toughen it. Goldkuhl’s method also wastes less meat.

Besides these useful tidbits, Goldkuhl and Simonetti also gave us two turkey-and-stuffing recipes for our turkey smackdown — one traditional, and one (for adventurous cooks) with an Australian twist.

Here’s how they came out:

The traditional turkey was both easy to make and easy to eat. The flavor was homey and comforting, and the stuffing was melt-in-your-mouth soft. The only disadvantage to this recipe is that the skin doesn’t crisp.

The Australian bird — although a little harder to make — was well-worth the effort. The unique Australian spices, “akudjura” (desert raisins colloquially known as “bush tomatoes”) and lemon myrtle, along with a comfit of wild limes, gives this turkey a citrus-sweet, peppery tang.

“The lemon myrtle gives it that sort of sherbet shock flavor,” says Goldkuhl.

And the skin of the Aussie bird crisped nicely as well; the marinade that Goldkuhl had spread over the skin and injected into the bird caramelized on top of the bird and spread the flavor of the spices deep into the breast.

Some of the ingredients for the Aussie bird might be a bit difficult to locate, however, making it a more ambitious project, but Goldkuhl said that more and more supermarkets are carrying the spices now.

Many of the ingredients, like the Marmite and the crumpets — a cousin to the fabled Vegemite — can also be found on the stretch of Queens Boulevard known as the Butcher’s Block, in Sunnyside, where there are English and Irish specialty food stores.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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