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Thanksgiving 911: How to Survive Kitchen Disasters on Turkey Day

Turkey. Stuffing. Havoc! The countdown has begun. In no time at all, you’ll have a home full of family and friends. Finding a place for everyone to sit on Thanksgiving is hard enough. Finding enough time for all of the prep and cooking? Well, that can be a turkey of a problem. For help, we consulted professional chef and Essex County resident Jeff Butler.

As former Chef de Cuisine at New York City’s Dani, Chef Butler has got some experience in getting beautiful and delicious food out to a table of hungry people in a timely manner. And as a lead instructor at the International Culinary Center’s Soho campus, he also knows how to teach others to do the same. Long story short, the tips below can help save time (and your sanity) this holiday season.

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Expert Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving Emergencies

Problem: People are arriving, but the turkey’s not done yet.
Solution: If you are running out of time, carve the breasts away from the turkey, like a giant chicken. Roast the breasts, and gently poach the turkey legs in gravy. The smaller pieces will cook faster away from the carcass, and the gravy will be made richer and more intense with the addition of the turkey legs.

Problem: People arrived … a long time ago. But the turkey’s still not done yet.
Solution: Ditch the roasted whole bird. Slice thin medallions of turkey breast, and sear them with a bit of olive oil until brown. Finish the medallions in an oven set to 350°F. Deglaze the roasting with gravy and finish with cranberry sauce.

Chef Jeff Butler
Photo of Chef Jeff Butler courtesy the International Culinary Center

Problem: You forgot to defrost the turkey.
Solution: First off, don’t fret. It’s happened to most of us. And never fear, you can cook it anyway. It can take up to 50% longer to roast a frozen turkey, but it’s a lot safer than trying to quickly defrost the bird in your sink, according to the USDA. Bacteria can grow rapidly in a sink filled with warm water — even if it’s changed regularly. In the oven, however, the turkey will defrost and cook in a safer environment. Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness: thigh meat should be about 180°F and the juices should run clear, not pink.
(Please note: It is not safe to grill, smoke, or fry a frozen turkey.)

Problem: You forgot the stuffing.
Solution: Doctor store-bought stuffing mix with bacon or cooked sausage, frozen chopped spinach or other greens. Adding extra ingredients will make it your own and intensify the flavors.

Mo’ Problems, Mo’ Solutions

Problem: You won’t have enough time to clean and prep all these vegetables.
Tip: Buy frozen, prepped veggies or fresh-cut vegetables. The last few decades have seen massive improvements to the technology of the frozen food industry. In many cases, vegetables are frozen just hours after harvest, and both freshness and nutrients are better preserved than ever.

Problem: There’s not enough dessert for everyone. Also, you’re not a baker.
Tip: Buy a pie and finish it off with a topping. For example, melt together milk chocolate and heavy cream to make a simple ganache and pour over pumpkin pie. Or, whip together egg whites and sugar to make a fluffy meringue. Cover the pie with meringue and lightly torch the top or sprinkle on chopped nuts.

And when all else fails … get your guests drunk.

Looking to step up your kitchen game? Click Here to see Best of NJ’s Top Recipes & Kitchen Tips!

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