Roasted, fried, smoked or deconstructed there is an abundance of ways to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving. Or is a turkey even necessary? Read on for a number of ways to change things up at the dinner table this holiday season.
Everything's better deep-fried
Adam Karon was inspired to try his hand at cooking a turkey after he attended a Thanksgiving dinner where the star of the meal the bird "just wasn't good," he said. After hearing the hype around deep-fried turkey from many of his Southern-raised clients, Karon, a sports agent living in Atherton, took to the Internet last year to find the necessary cooking equipment: 7 gallons of peanut oil, a large colander, an oil thermometer, a propane tank and a stand with a burner.
The initial plan for Thanksgiving, Karon said, was to deep-fry one turkey and oven roast the second, but after a successful dry run, Karon ended up deep-frying both birds.
"It's not a crazy amount of prep (work), and it just cooks so fast," he said. "It cooks from the outside in, and the hot oil seals all the moisture inside."
Karon recommends brining the turkey which not only hydrates the meat, but uniformly seasons it for a few hours or overnight to lock in moisture, and then basting it with a large syringe. The turkey should be patted dry with a paper towel to avoid dangerous splattering and then lowered into the heated oil, which should be at 365 degrees for optimal frying. The oil itself, Karon said, takes longer to heat than the turkey takes to cook approximately an hour and a half.
The turkey takes about 45 minutes to cook through, Karon said, which is about three and a half minutes per pound, he added.
"You pull it out and it looks like you totally ruined Thanksgiving," he said.
But don't be deceived by the dark outer layer, he said. After pulling out the internal frying basket holding the turkey, let it rest for about 30 minutes before carving and then serving.
The best part, according to Karon, is the turkey's fried skin, which he likens to "eating the best potato chip you've ever had."
Karon's brother Eli, often celebrates Thanksgiving with his in-laws in Texas, where he smokes the bird in The Big Green Egg, a ceramic charcoal barbecue cooker, using pecan smoking wood.
"Everything that comes out of The Big Green Egg just tastes better," Eli said.
After dinner, Karon was left with a large vat of oil, which he used to deep-fry more food. The oil can be reused for up to two months, he said.
"We just started frying things. I cut up some onions and threw them in there," Karon said. "This year, we're actually going to do fried Snickers."
Frying should be done outside, Karon added, away from any buildings. He said it is important to set up a circular barrier of chairs or cones around the frying apparatus so dinner guests don't trip over the burner's hose which extends to the propane tank.
"You read every year about people burning their houses down," he said. "I didn't want to be that guy."
Back to basics
Marc Drucker's interest in cooking began when he married his wife, Robin, 18 years ago.
"She doesn't cook at all," Drucker said, so he started learning how to cook, specifically experimenting with baked dessert and turkey recipes.
Years and various turkey dishes later, Drucker of Menlo Park said he always goes back to the classic brined and roasted bird.
Drucker prefers a salt-and-sugar-based brine with an aromatic of rosemary, juniper berries, garlic, thyme and pepper to ensure the turkey is moist and flavorful.
He puts the turkey in a plastic garbage bag and pours the brine into the bag until the turkey is completely submerged. Then the bag is stored in the refrigerator (Drucker uses a cooler in the garage) for 24 to 48 hours, he said.
Then he rinses the turkey, pats it dry with paper towels and roasts it in the oven.
Lately, Drucker has been getting into more "interesting" ways to cook turkey, he said.
"I've got a smoker or I deconstruct the turkey," he said.
Drucker has even experimented with a PolyScience immersion circulator, which uses hot water to cook the turkey.
For a deconstructed holiday turkey, Drucker cuts off the breasts, wings and drumsticks parts of the bird which often go to waste, he said and marinates them in the brine before tossing them in the oven or smoker.
Smoking a turkey results in a very flavorful dish, Drucker said.
"It's really incredible. It comes out really good with flavor from the smoke that is imparted to it," he said.
I can't believe it's not turkey
Thanksgiving dinner doesn't have to be disappointing for vegans and vegetarians.
Gary Alinder, a professional chef with 30 years of experience under his belt and a knack for vegan and vegetarian cooking, whips up gourmet meatless meals for himself and guests at Monday night dinners for the Peninsula Macrobiotic Community in Palo Alto.
Alinder, who isn't a vegan or vegetarian, previously worked for a natural foods restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he drew inspiration for his wild rice croquettes, which can be transformed into a "turkey" dish.
The croquettes are made with two cups of short-grain brown rice, a half cup of wild rice, minced vegetables (including mushrooms, onions, carrots and celery), 1 teaspoon of dried herbs (sage, thyme or rosemary are recommended), salt black pepper, umeboshi vinegar and soy sauce to taste, and a cup of diced tempeh for added richness and protein. Tempeh, which has a nutty or earthy taste, is made from slightly fermented soybeans.
Alinder washes the rices and combines them in a pot with five cups of water or vegetable stock and a pinch of salt, before covering and bringing the pot to a boil. He reduces it to a simmer then cooks it for about an hour or until the rice is tender.
In a heated pan, he sautes the minced vegetables and adds in the dried herbs. After the rice is cooked, he adds the sauteed vegetables and tempeh to the pot and seasons to taste. He will also add three-quarters of a cup of toasted pecans, stir the mixture until it's completely combined and then let it cool before forming burger-sized croquettes.
To cook the croquettes, he heats olive oil in a pan over medium heat and will fry the croquettes for about five to 10 minutes a side, or until golden and crisp.
Top the croquettes with roasted mushroom gravy, Alinder said, for a suitable turkey replacement for vegetarian dinner guests.
"(It) leaves you feeling satisfied, (and) you can have all the things you normally have on the side like mashed potatoes and green beans," he said.
Alinder explained that the recipe can also be transformed into a loaf or stuffing by opting not to mold them into individual patties and placing the loose mixture into a turkey or baking it in a loaf pan.
Add cranberries, a common feature of Thanksgiving cooking, to either dish, he recommended.
The best part about a vegetarian Thanksgiving? "No turkey to get rid of," Alinder said.
Read more holiday stories in the Holiday Guide for Everything