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Culinary Waves: More than one way to cook a holiday turkey

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Culinary Waves: by Chef Mary Beth Lawton Johnson

Nothing says holidays like fresh baked or roasted turkey, cranberry, dressing and stuffing. Wait, didn’t we just have that for Thanksgiving? Please say that you are not going to fix that dried-out bird again for Christmas.

Have no fear. If you are on board for the holidays, as I always am, the best answer is to come up with an alternative to the monster in the galley oven.

How about a spatchcocked turkey? If you have never done a spatchcocked turkey, you’re in for a treat. It is basically a whole turkey with the backbone taken out and the breast bone split down the middle so that the turkey lies flat on a roasting pan. The beauty is that it cooks faster and is easier to baste.

Simply remove the backbone by making two long incisions along it and cut it out. Next, crack the breast bone and flatten it. This will allow the turkey to lay flat. Not only is it easier to work with, lots of fresh herbs and potatoes can be placed under the bird. And the sides can be cooked separately.

Baste as you normally would. The cooking time for a 13-pound bird is close to an hour and a half. For a turkey that is not spatchcocked, it is closer to two and a half hours.

If you aren’t ready to try this method, another option is deep-fried turkey. Simply take a 10- to 12-pound turkey and rinse it off. Pat it dry, then rub it all over with oil and smother it with Tony Chachere’s Cajun seasoning inside and out. Keep it refrigerated in the walk-in until it’s time to cook it. Be sure to use a deep fryer outside for this. Typically, we do this on the beach. If you have never used one, please read the instructions. Use the turkey lifter once it has fried to the desired temperature and crispness.

Another idea is smoked turkey. You can either buy it this way or smoke your own if you have wood chips and a barbecue grill or smoker on board. Again, read the directions and make sure that the area is well-ventilated. Have someone watch it if you are caught up doing something else, such as preparing the sides.

If you simply don’t want a repeat of Thanksgiving turkey, the alternative options are limitless – fish, ham, a crown roast of pork or prime rib. I’ve served all of the above for the holidays and created new traditions that way, even roasting a pig on the beach with the Kuna Indians in San Blas. Wherever you are, there are resources.

If you are more traditional and want to prepare the most moist turkey you will ever eat, try my foolproof recipe for cooking a whole roasted turkey. You can stuff the cavity if you want to with apples, onions, spices and herbs, or stuffing. I don’t. I cook these separately because they cannot be eaten by everyone – those who are on a gluten-free diet, for example.

I simply take a bottle of dry Chardonnay, six cups of chicken stock (More Than Gourmet, or another high-quality brand), and two sticks of butter  and heat them all together for basting.

Get your turkey ready by removing the gizzard sack inside, rinse the entire bird, pat dry and tie the legs. Dip one large piece of cheesecloth in the basting liquid and drape over the breast of the turkey. Think of it as a turkey “bra.”

Place the turkey in a preheated oven and baste liberally with the basting liquid every thirty minutes or so. This keeps the breast meat moist, and the browning is incredible once the turkey is cooked, which takes about two hours.

Whatever meal plan you decide to go with for the holidays, be sure to include people who might not have the means or resources to do this for themselves. It really is about sharing with family and friends.

Happy holidays.

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine, and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome below.

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About Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years.

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