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Alton Brown FN Chat 2000-11-19

The following is the Transcript from Food Network's Alton Brown Chat [dead link]

Alton Brown Chat Transcript

Date: Sunday, November 19, 2000
Time: 8:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. ET

Food Network: Welcome to FoodTV.Com's Thanksgiving chat with Alton Brown, host of Food Network's "Good Eats", airing Wednesdays at 9:00 p.m. ET.

Food Network: Does your bird always burn in the oven? Don't know why your stuffing never gets fully cooked? Ask Alton to help you out! Send him your questions, and he'll offer his humorous help.

Food Network: Welcome to the chat, Alton!
Alton: Good evening WWW. Let's talk vittles!

Chris: I am making a breast this year instead of a whole bird, any suggestions for keeping it moist?
Alton: Brine it exactly as I do whole birds on the show. You're basically dealing with the potentially driest piece of the bird, so I'd suggest the brine recipe from our show "Romancing the Bird" but keep the brine period down to about 4 hours. Cook as you would a whole bird, but keep an eye on the temperature--you don't want the breast to go over 150 degrees before you pull it. Since a breast is smaller, there won't be as much carryover heat as there would be for a full-size bird so you have to let it get a little closer to target temperature than you would with a whole bird.

Dwyer: What is brining, and how do I do it? Should I try this with my turkey?
Alton: Brine is essentially salt water. Yes, you should do it with your turkey, as you should chicken or shrimp or fresh ham. It changes the cellular structure of the meat, allowing it to hold on to more moisture as it cooks. It also pulls seasoning deep into the meat. My general rule of thumb is to use one cup to one and a half cups of kosher salt per two quarts (half a gallon) of water. I also add about 3/4 cup of sugar. Dissolve the salt and sugar in a small amount of hot water. Then add to the rest of the water, which should be cold. You can add various seasonings, such as crushed peppercorns, cloves, juniper berries, garlic, or other green herbs. For a whole turkey, I like to let it soak in a cool place for 8-10 hours. A breast should soak for at least 4. Once the brining period is over, pat the meat dry and cook it immediately.

JoAnn: Can I go ahead and peel and boil the potatoes without mashing a couple of days ahead of time? Or maybe finish them and reheat in the microwave right before serving without compromising the texture or flavor?
Alton: Yes, if you microwave the potatoes, they'll probably get a little mushy and yes, "mushy" is a technical term. I'd suggest making the batch of mashed potatoes a little on the dry side, then I'd add to a saucepan along with some hot dairy, e.g. buttermilk with a little butter. Stir in the cold potatoes, and bring back up to serving temperature over medium high heat. Don't let them burn!

Herbie: Should I use fresh or dried herbs when making my stuffing?
Alton: Stuffing is evil. But, if you insist on making stuffing, I would suggest dry. But, they should be fresh dry, meaning that they should not have been sitting on your kitchen shelf for the last five years. If they're older than six months, they're confetti.

Itcom: What beverage (wine, wassail, etc) do you suggest for Romancing the Bird?
Alton: It depends on how many in-laws are over for the meal! I tend towards red wine with Thanksgiving meals, especially Merlots. However, if you were to say grill your turkey or serve smoked ham, I would go with a slightly sweet white wine, perhaps a late harvest Riesling.

Bryon: What do you think of using neck and other internal stuff for making gravy?
Alton: Internal stuff! Internal stuff is fine for making gravy, as long as you exclude the liver which is basically a filtering device, and it has a tendency to turn whatever liquid it comes into contact with bitter. The neck and the heart and any other internal stuff should be well seared in a heavy fry pan or skillet. The liquid in question should then be added to deglaze the pan, and then simmered until the meat pulls away easily from the bones. Of course, hearts don't have bones, but you get the idea.

Denise: Using a rotisserie, how can you get the skin nice and crispy?
Alton: I thought crispy was what rotisseries were made for. The secret is having enough heat. Cold rotisserie is not better than a cold oven. Generally what happens in residential size rotisseries is that the turkey is so large that its beginning temperature pulls down the temperature in the rotisserie so severely that there isn't enough heat left in the machine to brown the skin. Regardless of what your instructions say, start with your rotisserie on full blast and reduce the temperature only after the skin has turned golden brown. If your rotisserie is incapable of turning the skin golden brown, return to the retailer for a full cash refund.

Sparky Mark: Can you give any tips on removing the wishbone before roasting the bird? I've heard that it makes carving much easier. Thanks!
Alton: Yes, I can. It's a little tough without showing you, but here goes. If you're right handed, (and if you're not, just reverse my instructions), take a paring or boning knife in your right hand. Turn the turkey so the neck cavity faces right. Take your left hand and pull back the neck skin, exposing the meat of the neck cavity. Once you are sure that your left hand fingers are out of the way, insert the knife, edge side up, halfway into the neck cavity. Then move the knife away and down, so you scrape the meat off the inside of the wishbone. The wishbone is like the mouth of the cave, but it has about a centimeter of meat on top of it. Once you've got that side scraped away, turn and repeat on the other side. You will hear strange scraping noises. This is good. Set the knife down. Reach into the neck opening with your right hand, and using your index finger and thumb, feel up inside the incisions you just made. Voila! That's the wishbone. Work your thumb and forefinger upwards until they come together. Ignore the nasty squishing sounds. When they come together, you're at the top of the wishbone, which is joined to the keel bone of the breast by some rather gnarly connective tissue. Work your index finger behind the top of the wishbone, get a good grip, or as good a grip as you can in all that greasiness, and pull out the wishbone. Having accomplished this, you will not have to pay high medical bills for the removal of an appendix. The instructions are very similar.

Yoshi of the wire: What tips would you have to us poor kids who are stuck at college over Thanksgiving, and only have access to a microwave?
Alton: Go home with friends.

Zerlina: When I slice the turkey, it gets cold sitting on the platter. But if I put it in the oven to keep warm, it dries out. What's the solution?
Alton: Carve at the table. Directly onto the guests' plates. Not only will the meat taste better, but it looks very impressive. If you doubt your carving skills, buy an electric knife at your local hardware store. It's the only thing I carve turkey with.

Heat hope: First of all I'm a huge "Good Eats" fan, literally. I'm having a small Thanksgiving dinner, only a 10-pound bird; how do I make all the stuffing taste like it was baked in the bird?
Alton: Cheat! When you pull the turkey out to rest, spoon the fully cooked dressing into the bird, cover with foil, and let the bird rest for 15 minutes. The stuffing will act as a sponge, soaking up whatever juices are in the cavity of the bird.

Pork chop: The filling in my lemon and lime meringue pies tends to weep or get liquidy. What causes that and can I prevent it?
Alton: Change your thickening agent and use tapioca instead of cornstarch, which is probably what you're using. Cornstarch contains certain chemicals which can break down the bonds created by starch. A pie that's cooked with cornstarch may look great for the first six hours, but when you pull it out of the fridge the next day, it's all weepy. Also, don't overcook the meringue.

Honeybee: Hi Alton! I love your show! I'm making my own cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving. My family insists that canned is fine (they like the "canned" look), however I beg to differ. Who's right? Isn't fresher always better?
Alton: There is right or wrong in food. If your family likes canned, use canned. However, if you want to introduce them to some new concepts, buy one bag of Ocean Spray cranberries from your produce section. Cook them in a saucepan with about one cup of ginger ale over medium heat. Then add the canned goop and stir over low heat until it melts. Remove from the heat, for about ten minutes, and serve topped with a little grated orange zest. Behold their joy.

Alfa Eric: Alton, great technical show. I've had one problem working with the brine, although I think it's my oven--for some reason when I roast a bird (turkey or chicken), the bottom of it doesn't cook very well even though the thermometer says that the breast meat is done. I'm using a rather high-sided aluminum roasting pan with a flat rack. What am I doing wrong?
Alton: Odds are you're not doing anything wrong. For the sake of argument, let's blame your oven. It never liked you much anyway! If you find yourself with a gooey bottom, I suggest buying a V-rack, which is a simple, $10-20 pan shaped like a V that will hold your bird off the bottom of the pan. In the last few minutes of cooking, turn the bird over so it's breast side down in the V-rack, then if the thermometer is telling you the meat is finished, turn the broiler on low, just enough to brown the skin on the bottom of the turkey. Odds are this won't be necessary, though, if you use the rack, since the rack elevates the bird by several inches, do your roasting with the oven rack one level lower than usual.

Superbbw: I want to make crme brl for Thanksgiving dessert. When I've used my blowtorch to caramelize the sugar in the past, it caused the sugar to bubble up and not leave a smooth, flat sugar surface. What am I doing wrong?
Alton: I'm going to assume that you're doing your torch work with the brl sitting on a counter. If you watch a good restaurant dessert maker, you'll notice than when they flame the top of the brl, they're holding the cup in one hand and spinning it so when the sugar melts, it starts to swirl across the surface of the custard. That motion prevents bubbles from forming in the sugar, and creates a glassy smooth surface.

Susananne: Hi Alton, Happy Thanksgiving! I was wondering how long do I roast garlic so that I can make garlic mashed potatoes? Last time I tried to roast garlic it was nasty! Thank you.
Alton: a Assuming that you want to roast, as opposed to poach the garlic, work with whole heads and remove as much of the outer paper as you can without separating the cloves. Coat your hands-yes, your hands--washed please!--with olive oil and rub the garlic head as if you were getting ready to throw a spitball, meaning thoroughly. You don't want it gooey, but you want it coated. Wrap the head loosely in aluminum foil, leaving a little opening at the top like a chimney. Bake at 350 until soft. Then, let it cool down enough that you can handle the cloves, which will now separate very easily. Snip off the end of the cloves with kitchen shears, and squeeze out the garlic like toothpaste. No more nastiness.

Jackie: I saw your show and I'm wondering how precise the brining process must be, i.e. how exact is the 6 hour requirement? Also, we were thinking of using our large crawfish pot to brine the turkey--if so, do you still have to turn the turkey?
Alton: Brining is not a precise science. It depends a great deal on the mass of the bird. For instance, brining Big Bird from Sesame Street would take a lot longer than brining the Road Runner. But if we were talking salt concentrations, this wouldn't necessarily be true. My general rule is to stick to 1 to 1 1/2 cups of salt per half quart of water. But if you have a strange shaped bird, you could rub it with as much kosher salt as possible, put it in a bucket, and add water to cover. Time is flexible. Since I don't like to add salt at the table and I like to brine overnight, I put the bird in at night when I go to bed, and I take it out when I get up in the morning. Your question about the crawfish pot--this depends on what the pot is made of. I'll assume it's like an enameled canning kettle, and that's okay. What's not okay is bare aluminum, iron, or an old paint bucket that still has paint in it. My preference is food grade plastic.

St Nick: Is there a way to tell if some cranberries are less tart than others just by looking at them? Does color give any indication?
Alton: Yes, the redder they are, the sweeter they will be. Like any other berry, sugar content increases with ripeness, and in the case of cranberries, pigment goes along with that. However, I've seen very few cranberries come to market that were not of uniform color. Moral of the story--don't buy yellow cranberries.

Mark: On your turkey show, you roasted your turkey in an oven. Would you make any modifications to the brine recipe to roast it on a charcoal grill?
Alton: No. The brine does not change. However, temperature control is crucial. If you're going to grill a turkey (and I usually do for myself), be sure to use a digital probe thermometer so you can check on the temperature without opening the grill. Also, keep charcoal standing by and a chimney starter so you can make quick additions without having to wait for the charcoal to come up to speed. Also, use a heavy-duty drip pan. Also, be certain to have a lovely beverage with you.

Hucfas: If we rub sage butter under the skin of the turkey, can we still cook it at 500 degrees for the first half hour, or will the butter burn?
Alton: Depends on the butter. I would be inclined to drop that temperature to 450, and check it every ten minutes. I don't like this option, because even when you drop the temperature in the oven to lower, there's still the potential for the butter to burn.

Pork chop: I used your turkey brine recipe and the breasts came out perfect; but the legs seemed overcooked. Any advice?
Alton: That's not something I've encountered before. Usually the leg meat can tolerate a good 15 degrees more than the breast, which means that either your turkey was a mutant, or you were trying to fool me. If you're not trying to fool me, wrap the legs in foil for the last half hour of cooking.

Gilana: For the turkey brine, is a basic homemade vegetable broth (well-salted) sufficient? And is it a gallon of water, heavily iced, or ice and water together equaling 1 gallon?
Alton: No, homemade vegetable broth is not sufficient. You really need to be able to control the amount of salt, and I don't care how salty your broth is, it won't be salty enough. For control's sake, I'd work with vegetable broth with no salt added. That way, you can control the sodium. As for the water question, ice and water together equaling one gallon.

Help: I have a turkey in the freezer, which has been frozen for three years in the original packaging, is it still worth cooking?
Alton: As for your question, your turkey is history. Three years (unless you have access to liquid oxygen) is just too long.

Cyndy: Hi Alton. Love your show. Do you have an easy recipe using squash (delicata, acorn, etc.)? Also, is there any safe ways to cut the little buggers? Thanks! Cyndy in NJ
Alton: Delicata squash is one of my favorites. I slice them thin with a very sharp knife, and pan-fry them. The only safe way to cut a delicata or any other squash is with a very sharp knife. The sharper the knife, the safer the cut.

Mark: There is a lot of salt in your turkey brine. How salty will the turkey end up after cooking? Is the salt flavor strong? Thank you. My wife and I love your show!
Alton: As long as you keep the brining time to 6-10 hours, the salt level will be ideal for the turkey. It will taste more turkey-ish, but it will not taste salty. However, I don't suggest that you try to make gravy from the drippings unless you're getting ready to run a marathon and need the salt.

Sunflower Terry: I don't have a thermometer for my turkey. Can I get away without one?
Alton: No. And don't trust the popup one either. They generally go off at 180-195, which is a good 15 degrees too high for my taste. Spend the $20 and get a thermometer. The turkey gave his life; the least you can do is spend twenty bucks.

Blazer: What is your opinion of using cooking bags for turkeys? Is the quality better or worse?
Alton: A couple of years ago, I scoffed at roasting bags. But I've kind of come around to liking them. I can honestly say that I haven't used one for a turkey yet, but I've had good luck with hams. Generally, since a bag is essentially a closed container, it will trap moisture. That will prevent the skin of the bird from reaching its crisp potential. Since a brined bird contains plenty of moisture already, I prefer the dry heat of the open oven. But that's just me. I know plenty of home cooks who swear by the bag.

Shari: Hi Alton! I am making ham instead of turkey this year, any ideas for a good glaze?
Alton: Yes! I like to use equal portions of brown sugar and finely crushed ginger snap cookies. Add a couple of spoonfuls of finely ground black pepper, score the outside of the ham in the usual diamond-shaped configuration, rub on the glaze for the last half hour of cooking, and you'll be rewarded with a candy-like crust. It works for me.

Cc Tc: Pumpkin pies--some recipes call for evaporated milk; some don't. What's the difference, and do you have a canonical recipe, particularly one using fresh pumpkin? The Alton at our house (6 months old) awaits the answer.
Alton: First, let me say that I hope you named your child after me! I really like canned pumpkin for pumpkin pie. I find that it's not as stringy, and it's easier to integrate with the other ingredients. A lot of traditional pumpkin pie recipes call for evaporated milk, while others call for condensed milk. Their cooking characteristics are similar, but they have slightly different flavors. I prefer condensed milk because it has a slightly caramel flavor to it. I try out a lot of different pumpkin pie recipes, and my favorite is probably the one found in "The Joy of Cooking" which is the 1975 edition. I don't know if last year's edition has changed the recipe or not. It's a very simple recipe that uses canned pumpkin and evaporated milk (I use condensed, but that's personal taste.) And yes, I add the bourbon.

Beth: I keep hearing about "roux." How does that make my gravy better than the one I make from pan drippings?
Alton: It's very easy to make a roux from pan drippings. Pan drippings by themselves do not contain any starch, unless for some reason you rolled your turkey in flour before putting it in the oven. A roux is a combination of equal parts by weight of flour and fat. When cooked over medium heat, the fat envelops the individual grains of flour so when liquid is added, be it chicken broth, wine, milk, nitroglycerine, whatever, the starch granules don't clump together to form lumps. As this liquid is brought to a simmer, the starch gelatinizes, thus thickening the liquid. Pan drippings by themselves can't do that. Some cooks prefer to deglaze their cooking pan with a flavorful liquid like broth or wine, and then add a slurry, which is a cold combination of flour and water shaken together. I don't think a slurry-based gravy produces as stable a gravy as roux. Also, because you're cooking the roux, it has a deeper, almost nutty flavor, which I happen to dig.

Tom: What basic flavors would you suggest for a southern style dressing? (On the side, not in the bird.)
Alton: I don't think you can call a dressing "southern" without sage. My wife, who is about as southern as a bag of grits, will not eat a dressing that doesn't have celery in it. Although celery is not technically an herb, adding it to the aromatic mixture (onions, carrots, whatever) is a must for a southern dressing. Besides that, definitely sage.

Brittany: Should you baste your turkey?
Alton: Basting is evil. Anything that requires you opening that oven door is evil. Basting is cosmetic. It does nothing for the meat; it does nothing for the flavor. It is--repeat after me--evil. Go enjoy a lovely beverage and let the turkey cook.

Steve Piper: Should I keep the turkey in the package when thawing it or unwrap it and put it in a pan?
Alton: I suggest leaving all raw poultry in its original packaging through thawing. Taking it out of the wrapper will not speed the process, and it could result in cross-contamination within the refrigerator.

Steve Piper: Do you think flavor injectors are good or do you think the poking of the holes would let the juices out during cooking?
Alton: Needle goes in the meat; heat goes in the meat. Juice comes out of hole. Turkey dries up. End of story. Injectors are for large animal veterinarians.

Jason: The bird is traveling this year from house to house. What is the best way to transport it and keep it fresh?
Alton: Alive! But seriously folks, this is a first for me! I've never encountered this question before. Hold on, I must consult something! Assuming you only have 2 households you have to move from, carve one side of the turkey, leaving one side intact. Wrap the uncut side in a layer of aluminum foil, and then a hot wet kitchen towel. Followed by a heavy plastic bag. Now, barring travel to another time zone, you should be able to warm the turkey briefly in a 200-300 degree oven and carve the other side. Which means you'll have the second side to carve when you get to the second household. Two sides to the turkey, two households. Now, that is assuming that you're eating the turkey in both households. If you're just going to cook it one place and carry it to another, I'd suggest pulling it from the oven at 145 degrees, wrapping it firmly in several layers of aluminum foil, and make sure you have a hot oven (350 degrees) ready in the second house and finish roasting it uncovered there. Unless of course, the two houses are right next door to each other, in which case, cover the turkey with foil and make a run for it!

Van Halen: Any tips on "smoking" a turkey? Hickory, cherry or apple chips?
Alton: Smoke is smoke. In order to taste the difference between one hardwood and another would require an exposure of at least six hours. As long as you're using a hard wood, i.e. not pine or cedar, you'll be okay. Use what's available. Here in my house, we have a big pile of hickory in the back yard, so that's what I use. If I had a big pile of maple, I'd use maple.

Rob: I have made the best, juiciest turkey by cooking in a slow oven overnight. Is it safe to cook at very low temps for about 12-15 hours?
Alton: Even at very low temperatures, you're going to dry the meat. I prefer higher temperatures, because the faster you cook, the less moisture loss you'll suffer. That is a generalization, but during a 12-15 hour roast, you're going to lose a lot more than you're going to gain.

Ann: Even with preparing several dishes ahead of time, how does one have the room in the oven along with the turkey to properly heat everything to serve all at once, get them heated properly to serve all at once?
Alton: Ah, the eternal question. First, let's assume your oven is still hot from the turkey. A 20-pound turkey will need at least a 20-minute rest before being carved. This can easily be stretched to half an hour, as long as the turkey is securely wrapped with foil. That should be enough time to do any reheating that needs to be done in the oven. If not, I suggest that casseroles and dressing be reheated in the microwave. Crock pots are also great for reheating vegetables. Of course, if the heat in your car works really well, you can set your Parker House rolls on the dashboard and keep them toasty using the defroster.

Zerlina: Hey Alton--what's the funniest Thanksgiving kitchen disaster you ever had? Come on, there must be one...
Alton: The first turkey I ever cooked (and I was quite young, although I won't say exactly how young.) I did not thaw before cooking. Enough said...

Food Network: Alton, this has been great! Thanks for all your Thanksgiving insights and advice. Do you have any final thoughts for us, before we have to say good night?
Alton: It's a meal, not an invasion. Enjoy yourself, relax, let other people do some of the work, and be a gracious host. Oh, and put new batteries in the remote control.

Food Network: Thank you for chatting with Food Network's Alton Brown. To watch Alton in his own kitchen, tune in to "Good Eats" airing Wednesdays at 1:00 PM, 9:00 PM. and 12 AM, Saturdays at 9:00 PM and 12 AM and Sundays at 6:30 PM. All times ET.

Food Network: Thanks again, and come back tomorrow night at 8:00 PM. for a wine chat with "In Food Today" host David Rosengarten! Check out FoodTV.Com for details about upcoming Thanksgiving chats.

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010