Thanksgiving may be about spending time with family and gratitude, but it is the food that most people look forward to year-round.
Unfortunately, that means that any cooking errors, such as a burnt pie or a soggy turkey, seem especially disastrous.
Thankfully, there are methods for improving even the most hopeless dishes, according to experts, who have tips for all of the most common Thanksgiving cooking fails.
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Easily the hardest Thanksgiving menu item to perfect, roasting a turkey can seem like a daunting task – as there are numerous things that can go wrong, from not thawing in time to being undercooked.
Fortunately, there are methods for ensuring your bird doesn’t turn out dry.
One such method entails brining the turkey ahead of time, which will keep the meat moist.
“Use water with some salt and leave the turkey sitting for a few hours,” David Deshaies of Shaw’s Unconventional Diner told The Washington Post. For flavour, he recommends adding spices such as thyme, garlic, rosemary and peppercorns.
If you do happen to over-roast your turkey, that doesn’t necessarily mean the meat is unsalvageable.
According to Epicurious, you can still serve dried-out turkey by turning your attention to “making a stellar stock and gravy”.
One fix includes ladling warm broth over the platter of sliced turkey to make it look and taste moist. Or you can do as restaurant owner Andrew Carmellini suggests and “add some butter to the gravy and brush that mixture over the top”.
Soggy turkey skin
Although not as bad as an overcooked turkey, soggy skin is nearly as unappetising, as most agree that the crispy skin is one of the best parts of the bird.
If your turkey isn’t crisping up like it should be, it is likely due to excess moisture in the skin, according to Food and Wine magazine.
For “extra-crispy turkey skin,” the magazine recommends patting your turkey dry with paper towels before it goes in the oven – a preparation step that is “especially important if you’re wet-brining your turkey”.
Running out of time
With numerous sides and mains that are all equally integral to the meal, it can seem overwhelming prepping and preparing the feast the day of.
Fortunately, you don’t have to do everything on Thanksgiving Day, as it is possible to make some dishes beforehand.
According to April Bloomfield, chef at The Spotted Pig and The Breslin in New York City, you should try to make all of your side dishes in advance.
“Prep what you can before the day, so that you can spend time with family,” she told Time.
Kathy Fang, the chef and owner of Fang Restaurant in San Francisco, California, suggests starting even sooner and making certain baked items such as candied yams or pies “a few days in advance,” according to CNET.
The two-days-before rule can also apply to sauces, dressings, compotes, marinades, gravy and cranberry sauce.
Bland, flavourless gravy
It may seem like just a supporting act of the Thanksgiving feast, but gravy flavour has the ability to make or break the meal.
If you find that yours is lacking flavour the day of, it is relatively easy to turn the sauce around.
For store-bought gravy, you can simply add turkey drippings for some added flavour.
Or, you can make a gravy entirely out of the drippings, according to Amy Brandwein, the chef and owner at Centrolina in Washington, DC, who told The Post that she makes a gravy of stock and pan drippings.
“I usually make a brown turkey or chicken stock, reduce it, and put that into my pan drippings,” she said, explaining that once the mixture is brought to a boil, you should add cornstarch until it thickens, and then add a piece of butter.
If your pie crusts are stiff
No matter what filling is in the centre, a pie is nothing without a flaky crust.
To ensure that your crust is perfectly flaky, Food and Wine advises making it with ingredients that are “extra-cold”.
“When you roll out your crust, you should be able to see pea-size pieces of butter studding your dough,” the magazine states. “It’s these bits that release steam and cause your dough to puff and create all of those amazing layers.”
In addition to using very cold butter, the magazine also recommends that those with warm hands stick their dough in the freezer every few minutes to keep it cool.
Burnt pie crusts
If your problem is not that your pie crusts aren’t flaky but rather that they are burnt, there’s also a solution.
“If it is a fruit pie and the top is just slightly burnt you can try using a microplane to carefully shave off really dark spots,” chef and Top Chef judge Gail Simmons told Today. “If the whole top is burnt, you can cut it off and remove the top completely, then top with whipped cream instead.
Another solution is simply trying again with a new crust, according to Simmons, who said you can “place a thawed piece of puff pastry over it, cut to shape and crimped, and rebake it for 25 minutes or so, assuming the bottom is not burnt”.