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Bag Your Bird

Turkey Dinner snapshot By Beverly Burmeier

Aunt Minnie's marshmallow-sticky sweet potatoes. Grandma June's congealed glob of cranberry salad. Sister Sue's hard-as-rock quickie rolls browned at 10 o'clock in the morning. Is this what you look forward to at Thanksgiving dinner? Help is just a recipe away for the best, juiciest, easiest holiday bird that will have the entire family raving. Go ahead and offer to roast the turkey this year, because I'm going to tell you how to arrive for the traditional dinner calm, relaxed and waiting for compliments.

I really can't take credit for the recipe, although I have been using it for many years. That honor belongs to Ann Valentine, former food editor of the now-defunct Houston Post. My yellowed newspaper copy of the recipe has gone through several incarnations as I've introduced many people to this no-fail method of baking a turkey.

First of all, you need a double-strength, paper grocery sack from the supermarket and a fully thawed turkey. Oil the inside of the sack so the turkey won't stick. Set your oven at 325F degrees, and rub or brush the bird with oil, butter or any shortening (your favorite cholesterol-free variety is fine), taking care to brush under the wings well. Stuffing is generally better baked separately, but some cooks claim that it works with this method, so decide for yourself whether to stuff or not.

Slide the turkey into the prepared bag. If the turkey is very large, a second sack may be used on the uncovered part. Twist the sack shut and tie with string or staple it closed. If two bags have been used on opposite ends, there should be enough overlap to prevent gaps. Place the bird on a rack in your biggest broiler pan. Note the exact weight of your bird and calculate your cooking time according to this chart.

For birds 13 pounds or under, figure a total baking time of 20 to 22 minutes per pound. For bigger birds (14 pounds and more), calculate cooking time at 16 to 18 minutes per pound. Double check to be sure you have not punctured the sack (simply resack if that happens). Put the turkey in the oven and close the door.

Now comes the only hard part. Don't peek.You absolutely must not peek inside the sack at any time until your timetable says the turkey is done. I often leave the house for the four or five hours required baking time in order to resist temptation. The paper sack will not burn in a 325-degree oven, and steam is essential to maintaining moistness of the bird. Nutrients are retained well with this method. Be assured that the turkey will be wonderfully moist and browned to perfection when it comes out of the oven.

When the roasting time is up, lift the turkey -- rack and all -- and put it in another large pan on top of the stove or counter. Carefully poke a few holes in the sack to let juices run out into the roaster pan and to allow steam to escape. When it has cooled, tear the rest of the paper sack away and put your bird on a platter or carving board. Lift the rack out of the pan. The drippings for gravy will be ready in the roaster pan. Let your turkey cool for at least 30 minutes before carving.

More Holiday Food:
My main secret to a stressless Thanksgiving dinner is to bake the turkey the day before and carve it at your convenience. When it's time for the big meal, place slices on a microwave safe platter, and reheat before serving. It is really wonderful, and no flavor is lost during preparation. Gravy can also be made ahead (as can dressing), which greatly simplifies tasks to be performed later with extra bodies roaming the kitchen.

Once you have tried this method, you will never go back to old-fashioned baking again. It's easy, foolproof, and delicious. What more could you ask for a holiday dinner-except some soft dinner rolls.

Beverly Burmeier is a writer living in Austin, TX
Online Since 1997
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