How to fix dry turkey, rubbery crackling, soggy potatoes and the most common cooking failures

How to fix dry turkey, rubbery crackling, soggy potatoes and the most common cooking failures

Rest the turkey before serving, parboil the potatoes, and blast the ham with a hair dryer if you have to – just don’t panic, Christmas dinner help is at hand.

Brine the turkey for moist, juicy meat.
Brine the turkey for moist, juicy meat. William Mebem

How do I fix a dry turkey?

be ready: Raising the bird will give you tender, moist and flavorful meat. Prepare the brine — a mixture of salt and sugar dissolved in water, flavored with aromatics — then soak the turkey for 24 hours or so. The hard part about this is a) finding a container large enough to fit the bird b) putting it in your refrigerator. It’s definitely worth the effort. A vegetable cutting compartment can do the job, or use the largest storage container you have and remove the rack from the refrigerator. No time to brine birds? Cook the turkey in an oven bag. These stylish plastic bags available at the supermarket completely lock in moisture. Another quick tip for extra flavor is to use an herb and butter filling under the skin over the brisket area.

Christmas Day SOS: Most importantly, remember to let the meat rest for 30-60 minutes (yes, really!), wrapped well in aluminum foil. If you’re still concerned that the brisket will dry out, flip the bird over and rest upside down, so the meat juices are distributed throughout the bird.

Finally, while the bird is resting, deglaze the pan with some juice, white wine, or broth. Stir until combined, check the flavour, then strain through a sieve. Slice the meat and serve it on a plate drizzled with plenty of pan juices. This will help moisten the meat.

Make sure the turkey is thawed properly before starting.
Make sure the turkey is thawed properly before starting. supplied

Türkiye takes a long time to cook

be ready: Make sure the turkey is thawed properly and let it come to room temperature before starting (30-60 minutes loosely covered on the kitchen counter). I suggest not stuffing the turkey, as this will increase the cooking time. Alternatively, prepare the filling in a separate dish. It’s easier to serve food at the table, too. Do not tie (bind) your legs, as this will help heat reach all areas. Despite the visual glory of a huge roasted turkey, cooking a smaller bird, as well as turkey breast rolls, takes less time, is easier to carve and yields more valuable brisket.

Christmas Day SOS: If the clock is ticking and your turkey isn’t done, fear not. Separate the bird using poultry shears or a sharp knife, then return the smaller pieces to the oven to continue cooking.

Tin Cracker Roast Pork Recipe.
Tin Cracker Roast Pork Recipe.William Mebem

My pork crackling is chewy!

be ready: Dry the pork skin in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. Remove any packaging and rinse the pork with cold water, then pat it dry. Place bacon, uncovered, on a wire rack to raise. Rub in a generous amount of sea salt, as this will help dry it out as well. Place it on a full shelf in the refrigerator and let the cold air circulate around it.

When you’re ready to cook, take the pork out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature for 30 minutes or so. You can now use a hair dryer or heat gun (paint remover) to apply more heat to the leather. Trust me. Dry skin = crackling, brittleness. After the pork is dry, place it in the hot oven to start crackling, before lowering the temperature to allow the pork to cook completely.

Christmas Day SOS: If your pork is rubbery after cooking, you can still use the hair dryer or heat gun trick. So, take the roast out of the oven and apply heat to the skin until it blisters and cracks. If you don’t have any of these tools, turn on the oven broiler and place the skin underneath. You can remove the crackling from one piece of meat, let the meat rest, and cover it slightly on the kitchen counter, while you finish the crackling under the broiler. But my personal preference is the heat gun. We hope it’s on your Christmas list.

Andrew McConnell's Roast Duck Potatoes
Andrew McConnell’s Roast Duck PotatoesWilliam Mebem

Baked potatoes will not cook

be ready: For crispy, crunchy baked potatoes with a fluffy, soft interior, peel the potatoes and cut them into equal sizes. Rinse it well, then put it in a bowl of cold water (do not add salt). Cook carefully until it almost collapses. Drain it in a colander and shake it slightly until the edges become rough. Place the strainer back in the pot (away from the heat), close the lid and let the potatoes cook and dry further. Heat the oil or duck fat in a roasting tray, then add the potatoes and cook, turning gently after 20 minutes, until crisp and golden on all sides. Allow plenty of room to spread in one layer.

Christmas Day SOS: My emergency trick is to deep fry the potatoes for a guaranteed crispy crust. Or pour some rice bran oil or vegetable oil into the pan and fry it in batches, until it turns brown on all sides. Serve with plenty of sea salt.

Nobody wants lumpy gravy.
Nobody wants lumpy gravy.Chris Hopkins

Gravy is bland or lumpy

be ready: To avoid the stress of last-minute cooking, I suggest making the broth the day before and reheating it when needed. To avoid getting a lumpy or bland gravy, dissolve the cornflour in 2-3 tablespoons of cold water first, before adding it to smoothies. Heat gently and stir constantly to keep the gravy smooth and lump-free.

Christmas Day SOS: Lumpy gravy can be pureed using a stick blender or food processor. If your stock tastes bland, you can add stock stock, stock cubes, or some Worcestershire sauce.

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