No matter how hard I try to remember, it seems that every year I forget to defrost my Thanksgiving turkey and end up in a panic the night before. Any suggestions for a quick defrost? S.F., New York, NY
First and foremost, if you can, buy a locally raised fresh turkey. That being said, I know your pain — my house is littered with notes and lists the week leading up to Big Thursday. It’s the only way I can stay organized. The best and safest way to defrost a turkey is in your refrigerator (allow up to 24 hours for every 5 pounds of bird; a 15-pound bird will take 2-1/2 to three days), but that horse has left the barn. Don’t tell anyone I told you, but a quicker way is to fill your sink or a cooler with cold water and immerse the turkey (still in its plastic wrap). Change the water every half hour and figure about 30 minutes per pound to defrost.
I do my best to plan out our family Thanksgiving celebration, but there’s always a last-minute juggle with oven space as I wait for the turkey to finish and try to cook side dishes. I can’t justify the purchase of a second oven for one day a year. J.R., Simsbury, CT
No need for a second oven, though I know that appliance real estate is precious come the fourth Thursday in November. My first suggestion is that you consider grilling or deep-frying your turkey this year. That will free up your oven for squash, potatoes, pies, etc. A second suggestion is that you try cooking your turkey first thing in the morning. Cook it all the way through, then cover it with aluminum foil (not too tightly — leave an inch of air space around the turkey). It will stay warm and juicy for hours, and your oven will be free.
When I fry pork chops or roast a pork loin, I can never get the meat to be tender. When I go to a restaurant, their chops are always tender. What’s the secret? B.R., Readfield, ME
There are two secrets chefs are in on. The first is brining — an easy process of soaking meats in a salt and sugar solution, which helps boost the flavor and juiciness of leaner cuts of meat. The second secret is that chefs have better access to small farmers and those who raise heritage breeds of pig, which, unlike pigs raised at most large commercial operations, have not had the fat bred out. (In the 1970s and ’80s, Americans complained that pork was too fatty; in response, large-scale pork producers bred pigs to be leaner and, unfortunately, less flavorful.) A national producer, Niman Ranch (nimanranch.com), seems to have led the way back to better-tasting pork products. Other good sources include Lobel’s of New York (lobels.com), John Dewar & Co. (stores in Newton and Wellesley, Massachusetts; johndewarinc.com), Vermont Quality Meats (vtqualitymeats.com), and most Whole Foods Markets (wholefoods.com).