When holiday stress and expectations for a perfect Thanksgiving meal are riding high, cooking blunders are bound to happen. Yet this doesn’t mean that anyone needs to know about them. Cooking experts weigh in on common Thanksgiving mistakes and the steps to fix them. Pour yourself a glass of wine — you’ve got this.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a miracle thawing technique for poultry, according to Susan Harrell, founder of catering service Endurance Zone. But use a strategy for thawing that restaurants chefs rely on: “Make sure the meats are tightly wrapped in plastic and a plastic bag. Then put in a large bowl and place under running cold water,” she says. Although this technique is easy for smaller frozen foods, you need to get creative when employing it for a massive turkey. Use a bucket or cooler to hold the turkey and cold running water from a bathtub or even an outside hose. The only mandatory requirement here is the water temperature. “The water must stay cold,” says Harrell, who lives in Asheville, N.C. “Do not turn the running water to hot thinking it will thaw more quickly. Well, it will, but now you’ve got a big piece of poultry well in the danger temperature zone for bacterial growth, and you’re going to give everyone food poisoning.”
James Briscione, director of culinary development at the Institute of Culinary Education, says a partially frozen turkey can still go in the oven — just note that the cooking time will be extended up to 1 ½ times the original cooking time, depending on how frozen the poultry is.
Gluey Mashed Potatoes
Despite our best efforts, the starches in potatoes sometimes get overworked on their way to becoming mashed potatoes, providing a gluelike consistency. There’s no direct fix for this problem, which is why Harrell says to turn those mashed potatoes into a casserole. “Mix a couple of eggs into the potato mixture, place in a casserole dish, and pour some melted butter over the top,” she says. Consider adding toppings that could already be on hand from other dishes: cheddar cheese and crumbled bacon; Parmesan cheese and french-fried onions; or caramelized onions and Parmesan cheese. Bake in 350°F to 375°F oven for 30 minutes and serve. No one will ever be the wiser, and they’ll love your new take on a classic.
Too Much Salt in a Dish
“If you’ve oversalted a recipe such as a soup, stew, or sauce, a long-standing tip is to add a touch of vinegar,” says Sheila Miller, project manager at Campbell’s Consumer Test Kitchen. “Depending on the type of recipe, other tricks include adding a bit of sugar to temper the saltiness or adding sour cream.” If there are any leftover raw potatoes around, she says, add half of a raw peeled potato and let the dish simmer for a few minutes for the spud to soak up the saltiness. Remove the potato before serving.
Roasted Veggies Turned Soggy
Sometimes that tray of roasted vegetables gets limp while waiting to be served. Harrell says that like the gluey mashed potatoes, the damage has already been done, and it’s time to focus on masking the mistake. “Something I would do would to be to sprinkle some breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese over the veggies and place under the broiler for five to seven minutes. You want a slight char,” she says.
Gravy is the key to masking the dryness of an overcooked turkey. “Pour lots of gravy onto the platter and layer the sliced turkey over the gravy,” says Briscione. Don’t have gravy? See the next tip about whipping it up in an instant.
All is not lost if there’s no gravy plan for the holiday feast — because the drippings from the turkey provide a flavorful gravy base. This is the easiest fix ever. “Add a splash of wine to the bottom of the turkey roasting pan and bring to a boil,” says Briscione. “Add chicken stock and reduce until it thickens. Strain it and you have gravy.”
Lumps in the Gravy
Wakefield Research for Swanson shows that 74 percent of Americans say they’d never serve lumpy gravy as part of a Thanksgiving meal. So what’s to be done when that happens? There are a couple options, fortunately: Put the gravy through the blender to instantly smooth those lumps or put the warm gravy through a fine-mesh strainer. Goodbye, lumps!
Burnt Pie Crust
If part of the pie crust goes black, as opposed to a golden brown, try scraping off the burned bits. And if that quick fix doesn’t work, switch gears to turn the pie into another dessert, according to Jillian Simms, founder of Connecticut-based Gráinne Baking Co. “If you’ve made a fruit pie, you can spoon the filling into another pie plate and top it with a simple crumble made of butter, sugar, flour, and oats,” she says. “Pumpkin or fruit filling can be layered with crushed cookies or cake cubes and whipped cream for a tasty trifle.” Or, she says, trim and remove the worst-burned parts and, with the help of ice cream from your freezer, concoct pie milkshakes. Your friends and family will marvel at your dessert creativity.
An Overdressed Salad
Marcy Ragan, chef and owner of Relish Your Chef, says to act quickly once you’ve realized a salad is too saturated from the dressing: Drain it in a colander as soon as possible. Add more lettuce, if that’s an option. “If you don’t have more lettuce, place in a salad spinner to try and spin the excess off,” she says.
Too Many Dishes Competing for Oven Space
Miller says that when the oven is at full capacity, bring out the slow cooker to keep dishes like mashed potatoes or stuffing warm. Also, Harrell notes that a cooler’s job isn’t just to keep dishes chilled but can be used for the opposite effect. Wrap the inside in aluminum foil to keep foods warm, and obviously don’t add ice.