Chat with California Cook columnist Russ Parsons

Times Staff Writer

2007-11-15 13:05:56.0 Russ Parsons: Hey everybody, a couple of things before we get started. First and foremost, we've put up a real treasure trove of Thanksgiving articles and recipes on the website: There are features and videos from this year as well as past holidays that will cover everything from carving the turkey to choosing a wine. Check it out. Also, on an unrelated note, I'll be moderating a panel discussion on farmers markets this evening at the main branch of the Santa Monica Public Library. With me will be farmers Phil McGrath and Alex Weiser and chef Rich Mead from Sage restaurant in Newport Beach. It's free and Rich is bringing some vittles for afterward. So come on by! Now, let's talk turkey.

2007-11-15 13:06:12.0 jeaner: Hi russ!!

2007-11-15 13:06:13.0 sarahb10: What's the best temperature to cook an 11-pound turkey?

2007-11-15 13:06:51.0 jeaner: And what's a good substantial main dish for a vegetarian, without resorting to tofurkey?

2007-11-15 13:07:25.0 Russ Parsons: Hiya jeaner. Sarah, I'd roast an 11-pound turkey pretty much the same way I would a bigger one--obviously not as long. I like to start at 450 degrees, then turn it down to 325 after 10-15 minutes. Cook until a thermometer inserted in the deepest part of the interior thigh comes to 160. That'll take about 2 hours.

2007-11-15 13:08:14.0 Administrator2: Hey now! Tofurkey is surprisingly delicious!

2007-11-15 13:08:46.0 Russ Parsons: Tofurky? oh does that bring back bad memories. If I was hosting vegetarians Jeaner, I think I'd serve an especially hearty stuffing. That way it's filling enough for a main course and it also adheres somewhat to tradition, which even vegetarians will like! There's a nice vegetarian stuffing on our website that is made with mushrooms and walnuts. I think that would be great.

2007-11-15 13:09:04.0 jeaner: I'm sure it is, but I already eat so much Tofu in my asian household, and I want to do something more... American (?) without the turkey part of Thanksgiving.

2007-11-15 13:09:21.0 Russ Parsons: admin: it is only surprisingly delicious if you have exceedingly low expectations. which i admit i do. now soyrizo is another matter!

2007-11-15 13:09:42.0 Administrator2: Haha, I guess I'll have to defer to the master there, Russ. Soyrizo IS amazing, you're right.

2007-11-15 13:09:50.0 jeaner: soyrizo.... somehow just doesn't sound very appealing..!

2007-11-15 13:09:58.0 Michael: Hi Russ. Have you tried any low heat first/high heat cooking recipes for turkey?

2007-11-15 13:10:15.0 Russ Parsons: That's what I thought. but it really does taste like good chorizo.

2007-11-15 13:10:26.0 jeaner: Russ, may I ask a non-thanksgiving question about pretzels?

2007-11-15 13:11:08.0 Russ Parsons: michael, do you mean all low, all-high, or high followed by low? I haven't tried any all-low roasting. I have tried all high and I found that it really did dry out the breast too much before the dark meat cooked through.

2007-11-15 13:11:45.0 Russ Parsons: ask away jeaner, though i'm not sure i can help. i'm not much of an expert on pretzels, but i'll be happy to give it a shot. and maybe one of our other chatters will know the answer.

2007-11-15 13:11:52.0 Michael: Sorry for the vague explanation Russ. Low followed by high to finish. I've read some recipes that start around 300-325 and then finish above 400.

2007-11-15 13:12:28.0 Russ Parsons: funny you should bring that up. The test kitchen did that this year with my dry-brined turkey recipe from last year and they reported that it worked fabulously. recipe is on the website.

2007-11-15 13:12:38.0 Arcata: Thinking about cooking the turkey on a gas grill, any suggestions?

2007-11-15 13:13:31.0 Michael: I knew I should have read all of the food articles from Wednesday before today! Thanks.

2007-11-15 13:14:35.0 Russ Parsons: how did you get the name Arcata if you don't mind my asking? i love that town. I have never done turkey on a gas grill, but that won't stop me from offering a couple of alternatives. First, if it's a two-burner grill, turn on only one side and roast the turkey on the cool side. Maintain the temperature at a steady 350 and it should work fine. The other alternative would be to "spatchcock" it, which means cutting out the backbone and flattening the turkey into a single layer. I cook chickens on the grill that way all the time and it works great. I'd still want to have a fairly low temperature. a turkey is a big bird.

2007-11-15 13:15:20.0 jeaner: I've been looking for a few recipes on making pretzels at home, but I'm specifically looking for replicating the kind of pretzel bread from Rockenwagner, dark "crust" with a soft chewy striated (?) middle bread portion. any advice?

2007-11-15 13:16:11.0 Russ Parsons: hmmm, drop me an e-mail at and let me check the vault and see if we've run anything like that.

2007-11-15 13:16:19.0 Administrator2: Russ, you wrote a story on stuffing, in which you mentioned one made with tamales! That sounds amazing, was it?

2007-11-15 13:16:57.0 Michael: Arcata: I've cooked whole chickens on a Weber grill. I've found that it's important to use indirect heat or you might char the underside of the turkey. Also, you may want to put it on a roasting rack as well. I agree with Russ about the temperature. Anything less than 300, and you'll end up with really gummy skin. Basting with olive oil or some kind of fat also helps crisp up the skin.

2007-11-15 13:17:34.0 Russ Parsons: Several years ago ... i believe this was when Ruth Reichl was still editing the section, we did a reader-write in thing where people contributed their favorite stuffing recipes and we tested them. It was really fascinating how people adapt their family traditions to an American holiday. There was also a really good one that was made with sticky rice.

2007-11-15 13:18:03.0 Administrator2: So do you have an all-time favorite stuffing recipe?

2007-11-15 13:19:31.0 Michael: Russ. That reminds me of a Chinese Turkey I had at a friend's place for Thanksgiving. They used an entire bottle of XO Cognac to marinate it. It was actually one of the best turkeys I've ever had.

2007-11-15 13:19:33.0 Russ Parsons: I have a standby that I've served for years. In my family we usually do multiple stuffings, but this is always one: it's made with smoked sausage, a "soffrito" of celery, onion and garlic, braised mustard greens and bread cubes. it really is good. i believe that one's on the website as well.

2007-11-15 13:20:05.0 sigloiv: brining a turkey is popular these days is this the best method?

2007-11-15 13:20:17.0 Russ Parsons: just don't tell me they stuffed it with dried abalone! hey, wait, that might be really good: dried abalone and sticky rice? maybe some dried mushrooms?

2007-11-15 13:21:08.0 Michael: The stuffing was made of sticky rice and dried shiitake mushrooms! I've looked for recipes, but there aren't many around. And the dried abalone sounds good!

2007-11-15 13:21:54.0 Russ Parsons: hey sigloiv. i admit that i was one of the first writers to start banging on teh brining drum. And it is a good method (as long as you don't put sugar in the brine--makes turkey taste like luncheon meat). But today I prefer a technique I call "dry-brining". Basically, you just sprinkle salt over the bird (about 1 tablespoon for 5 pounds of weight), and then put it in a plastic bag in teh fridge for several days. it's based on Judy Rodgers' technique for roast chickens at Zuni cafe. Details are on the website. That is one killer bird.

2007-11-15 13:22:05.0 jeaner: Russ, do you actually advise stuffing the bird or do you recommend that stuffing be made separate?

2007-11-15 13:22:33.0 jeaner: (and I just sent you the email re: pretzel bread. Thanks for your assistance!!)

2007-11-15 13:23:57.0 Russ Parsons: I'm going to be honest with you: i'm hypocritical. I stuff my bird, but when I'm writing, I usually recommend that you cook the stuffing separately. Here's the deal: in order to get the stuffing absolutely food safe, you need to heat the center to 160 degrees (bread soaked in turkey juice is an ideal medium for bacteria growth). But by the time you get it to 160, the breast meat is completely dried out. So I recommend baking it separately. On the other hand, in 25 years of making Thanksgiving with stuffed turkeys, nobody's gotten sick. So you choose.

2007-11-15 13:24:57.0 jeaner: ha! gotcha. It looks like I'll be making just the stuff, sans the bird this year anyhow, but I figure I should know for the future.

2007-11-15 13:25:52.0 Michael: I remember either a Cook's Illustrated or some other article saying the same thing Russ. I think they came to some kind of compromise where the stuffing was nearly fully cooked and warm when put inside the turkey to ensure complete cooking.

2007-11-15 13:27:01.0 Russ Parsons: That does sound like a Cook's Illustrated solution! I remember they also did a turkey one thanksgiving where tehey strapped ice packs to the breast to keep them from overcooking. I would have LOVED to have seen that. must have looked like it just had cosmetic surgery.

2007-11-15 13:27:51.0 steven99: Hi Russ, Can I serve a zinfandel with dinner or should I stick to Pinot Noir?

2007-11-15 13:28:46.0 Michael: I would have too!! I wonder if it would have looked something like a turkey bra filled with ice?

2007-11-15 13:29:17.0 Russ Parsons: Hey Steven, I love the idea of zinfandel with thanksgiving. I would stay away from the real high-alcohol ones. First, because it will overpower the food. secondly, because thanksgiving is uusally a family meal and family meals are volatile enough as it is! actually my favorite thanksgiving wine is beaujolais nouveau. very fruit-forward, very fresh, very light.

2007-11-15 13:29:43.0 Russ Parsons: a turkey bra, wasn't that a seinfeld episode?

2007-11-15 13:30:30.0 jeaner: As for dessert recommendations, is there a sweet potato dessert that you recommend that's more savory than sweet? I've been unimpressed by so many sweet potato dessert items that are just too sweet.

2007-11-15 13:32:07.0 Russ Parsons: man i've got a great one jeaner. check the website. i did a sweet potato puree with a little brown sugar and some orange zest and then topped it with beaten egg whites folded with hazelnuts. when you bake it, the top puffs and browns like a souffle (or like the marshmallows on top of sweetpotato puree). i did it as a side dish, but it would certainly work as a not-too-sweet dessert. and don't let the souffle part scare you. it's really, really easy.

2007-11-15 13:32:34.0 kim: I am thinking about making Pumpkin Souffle. The recipe that I have looked at range from 2-9 eggs for the same output. Is there a rule of thumb here?

2007-11-15 13:32:50.0 jeaner: Oh!! I did see that, but I also saw it as a side dish. I'll have to read the recipe: I only saw the picture and saved the entire food section yesterday. thanks

2007-11-15 13:32:53.0 su-kim: or is there such a thing as a pumpkin souffle cheesecake?

2007-11-15 13:33:25.0 Russ Parsons: it really depends more on how much puree you're using than how many people y ou're serving. a range like that sounds strange.

2007-11-15 13:33:29.0 steven99: Thanks Russ. As to alcohol, whats a good amount, a lot of my zins are 15 and 16% but its hard to find lower alcohol zins.

2007-11-15 13:33:48.0 Russ Parsons: su-kim, that's a great idea. you'd make it as a cold souffle--set with gelatin. i think it would be very delicate.

2007-11-15 13:34:43.0 Russ Parsons: yeah, those 15-16 percent zins are like serving port at dinner. Look for some in teh 13 range. I think Cline does a good job. And there's a winery in Sonoma called Hartford Court that makes a spectacular old-vine zin. I think Seghesio has some, too. Lay off the Larry Turley, though.

2007-11-15 13:34:59.0 Administrator2: Russ, in one of your Thanksgiving-themed stories this week you mention two things people often forget when cooking turkey-- "tempering" the bird pre-cooking and letting it rest at room temp afterward. Are there any other big-time dos and don'ts you can warn us about (before it's too late)?

2007-11-15 13:36:19.0 Russ Parsons: Hmmm, none that come to mind. The first, tempering, is to get the bird to close to a uniform temperature so it cooks evenly. The second, resting, let's the juices that have been forced to the surface by the roasting return to the center of the muscle. It's a real key for any kind of roasting or grilling.

2007-11-15 13:36:46.0 wolfkini: What's the best way to make mashed potatoes? I want them creamy, not lumpy.

2007-11-15 13:38:26.0 Russ Parsons: for creamy mashed potatoes, start with russets-baking potatoes. peel them and cube them and cook them at a bare simmer until they are tender. Drain off the water and then "dry" the potatoes in the pot over low heat for a couple of minutes. Either push them through a ricer or a food mill and then beat in the butter. Finish with just a little hot cream. And don't forget to season the potatoes generously with salt. It really takes more than you'd think to get to a good seasoning.

2007-11-15 13:38:45.0 Michael: Russ: have you found basting during roasting to help the turkey's skin and moisture of the meat?

2007-11-15 13:39:09.0 Russ Parsons: Also, for beating the potatoes, you can use a stand mixer on the lowest speed, but no other machine. it turns the potatoes to glue.

2007-11-15 13:39:57.0 kim: Can you use an immersion blender to make mashed potatoes?

2007-11-15 13:40:26.0 Russ Parsons: Michael, Actually, i've found more the opposite. Too often in basting, you're pulling up not only fat, but juices that have cooked out. And pouring those juices on the skin keeps it from crisping and browning. Last year I even tried an experiment where I brushed half a turkey with butter and didn't touch the other side and there was no difference in browning or crispness. so i just roast them straight.

2007-11-15 13:40:55.0 Russ Parsons: kim, no, don't use an immersion blender. it's just too violent for the starch granules. A wooden spoon and 5 minutes of beating will be great.

2007-11-15 13:42:18.0 Michael: Thanks Russ. I'm glad I can eliminate that chore!

2007-11-15 13:42:41.0 jeaner: Are there appetizers that you make year after year?

2007-11-15 13:44:01.0 Russ Parsons: Usually Thanksgiving is one meal where I'm fairly appetizer light. The main meal is so big--turkey dressing, cranberries 2-3 vegetables, etc.--that i don't want people to fill up. i do like to pour champagne and serve some toasted almonds. sometimes i'll make little cream puffs and fill them with dungeness crab salad. that's nice, too.

2007-11-15 13:44:33.0 wolfkini: Any ideas for things to do with pumpkin and pecan that *aren't* pie? I love the taste...not so much the pie crust.

2007-11-15 13:45:36.0 Russ Parsons: man, we're batting 1.000 today. Check the website. I just did an ice cream made from pumpkin and studded with pecan praline. it was really, really good. and really, really easy. don't let the praline throw you: it's just cooked sugar.

2007-11-15 13:46:11.0 wolfkini: That sounds perfect!!

2007-11-15 13:46:32.0 Russ Parsons: if i do say so myself, it was really, really good.

2007-11-15 13:47:15.0 Administrator2: Do you taste a difference between free-range and regular turkey? Is it necessary to go the "extra mile", taste-wise?

2007-11-15 13:48:59.0 Russ Parsons: that's a really complicated question. to be honest, no. I've tasted some great heritage birds and free-range/organic/natural birds. but i've also tasted some great frozen supermarket birds. we did a huge tasting several years ago where we roasted 2 turkeys a week all through teh summer. i got very familiar with turkey flavor. and i'm pretty convinced that the key thing is a turkey that's been handled correctly. i get a distinct "fish oil" flavor from turkey that's been thawed and refrozen. it's slight but there.

2007-11-15 13:49:04.0 jeaner: (grr... I am having some trouble finding that pumpkin ice cream recipe on the website...)

2007-11-15 13:49:13.0 Michael: Russ: Actually, I'm looking for a pie crust recipe. Can you recommend one?

2007-11-15 13:49:30.0 Russ Parsons: it ran with the essay on "orange". try to find it that way.

2007-11-15 13:51:42.0 Russ Parsons: doggone it! my bad. that's running next week. Gosh these holidays are just getting ahead of me. drop me an e-mail ( and i'll send it to you.

2007-11-15 13:52:14.0 Russ Parsons: michael, the best pie crust recipe i know is the one thomas keller uses in the bouchon book. i'm pie-crust averse and it works perfectly for me (and therefore it should for anyone!).

2007-11-15 13:52:23.0 jeaner: ahh, thank you

2007-11-15 13:52:27.0 wolfkini: Do you like to be traditional or experimental with Thanksgiving? I'd like to be creative, branch out a bit-- but I'm afraid the guests will freak.

2007-11-15 13:52:34.0 jeaner: I was going crazy!! I thought for sure I was missing something. thanks.

2007-11-15 13:52:54.0 Michael: Thanks Russ. I'll take a look at it!

2007-11-15 13:53:31.0 Russ Parsons: i think it's important for us to remember that Thanksgiving is a meal we're preparing for our guests, not for ourselves. It's not the meal to show how creative you are. That said, I'll usually slip in one or two side dishes that I'm playing with just for my pleasure.

2007-11-15 13:54:10.0 Administrator2: What vegetables do you serve with your Thanksgiving dinner?

2007-11-15 13:54:49.0 wolfkini: OK, that makes sense I guess. (Grrr!)

2007-11-15 13:55:49.0 Russ Parsons: We usually have a lot of vegetables--there'll be some sweet potatoes. often there will be roasted parsnips. i love brussels sprouts, so we usually have some of those. braised kale is another good one. carrots ... that kind of stuff. i try to keep them as simple as possible because the other flavors in the meal are so complex--the stuffing the cranberries, etc.

2007-11-15 13:57:02.0 Administrator2: Cranberries! Do people serve the gross canned stuff anymore? How hard is it to make from-scratch cranberry sauce?

2007-11-15 13:58:03.0 Russ Parsons: i have to confess that canned cranberries are one of my guilty pleasures. but i always make sauce from scratch for thanksgiving: it's a recipe from my mom's family: basically a spiced sugar syrup that you drop the cranberries into and then cook themjust until they start to pop. it's terrific.

2007-11-15 13:58:31.0 jeaner: Admin! I used to LOOOVE the canned stuff when I was younger. I loved to cut them into little disc, heheh.

2007-11-15 13:58:35.0 Administrator2: REALLY?

2007-11-15 13:58:43.0 jeaner: OMG YES!!

2007-11-15 13:58:55.0 Administrator2: I guess the people have spoken! I'm outnumbered!

2007-11-15 13:59:10.0 wolfkini: How do you prepare the brussels sprouts?

2007-11-15 13:59:14.0 jeaner: I'd only have it once a year though. It was like a weird candy jelly that I'd have with my turkey. yumm.

2007-11-15 13:59:29.0 Russ Parsons: oh yeah. it's kid stuff. terrific. i really think cranberries are a terribly under-appreciated fruit. they're really tart and still sweet. i love them. i used to make cranberry sauce sandwiches when i was a kid.

2007-11-15 14:00:02.0 Administrator2: Wow, you are both blowing my mind here. Do I need to retry the canned stuff? My stomach is beginning to turn just thinking about it!

2007-11-15 14:00:04.0 Russ Parsons: this one i'm sure is on the website! i steam the brussels sprouts, fry some bacon and then fold together the brussels sprouts, bacon and some roasted chestnuts. it's really terrific.

2007-11-15 14:00:26.0 Russ Parsons: oh, our little admin. she's so sensitive, isn't she!

2007-11-15 14:00:34.0 Administrator2: Oh, pshaw.

2007-11-15 14:00:58.0 jeaner: lol. Admin; you must try the canne stuff. Oceanspray, all the way!!

2007-11-15 14:00:59.0 wolfkini: Mmm, bacon! (And for the record, I like canned cran sauce too.)

2007-11-15 14:01:20.0 Russ Parsons: yeah, bacon and brussels sprouts: marriage made in heaven.

2007-11-15 14:01:41.0 Administrator2: Wow! Okay. I guess this Thanksgiving I'll give it a shot. :)

2007-11-15 14:01:58.0 Russ Parsons: be brave!

2007-11-15 14:03:18.0 Russ Parsons: here's something interesting: nobody has asked about making gravy! that used to be the one thing that freaked everyone out the most.

2007-11-15 14:03:40.0 Administrator2: Maybe everyone already read your story...

2007-11-15 14:04:04.0 jeaner: I was never big on gravy. (I preferred the canned cranberry sauce, apparently).

2007-11-15 14:04:15.0 Russ Parsons: that must be the case! Anybody got anything else?

2007-11-15 14:04:57.0 melissa: Have you discussed Heritage Turkeys, how to best prepare them?

2007-11-15 14:05:48.0 Russ Parsons: we talked about heritage turkeys a little melissa. roast them just like any other turkey, but you need to make sure they don't dry out too much. don't overcook them. And whatever you do, DON'T cook them to 180 degrees like that USDA says!

2007-11-15 14:06:28.0 melissa: Thanks! I will brine mine as well to make sure the breast meat is not too dried out.

2007-11-15 14:06:54.0 Russ Parsons: yes, either wet-brine, or dry brine. both will keep the turkey moist.

2007-11-15 14:07:32.0 melissa: Dry brine? Is that a salt rub of some sort?

2007-11-15 14:07:57.0 Administrator2: (Melissa, we'll post a transcript of today's chat this afternoon at, so you'll be able to go back and see what happened earlier, turkey-wise.)

2007-11-15 14:08:19.0 melissa: Thank you!

2007-11-15 14:08:22.0 Russ Parsons: it's the judy rodgers technique: you just salt the turkey and put it in a bag in teh refrigerator for a couple of days. there's a pretty good discussion of it on the website.

2007-11-15 14:09:07.0 Russ Parsons: If that's all, have a great Thanksgiving. Cook well for the people you love. And if you're free this evening, stop by the Santa Monica Library and say hi!

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