Buck up Thanksgiving Day cooks. After all, don’t you remember when famed American chef, author and TV personality Julia Child was parodied on Saturday Night Live by Dan Aykroyd -- when continuing with a turkey recipe despite ludicrously profuse bleeding from a cut -- after Aykroyd portrayed Child making Thanksgiving dinner under the influence of too much French wine. Nowdays, the late, great chef is available to anybody with a need for Thanksgiving dinner cooking tips via her “French Chef” cooking series that’s still featured on public television and other TV cooking shows. Overall, Child’s best advice for those cooking a big holiday meal is “keep tasting it until it’s just right.”
Julia Child was no wimp in the kitchen: she rocked because she followed directions
When Julia Child joined fellow French Chef Jacques Pepin for a TV cooking show in 1999 -- after the release of their bestseller “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home" -- Child noted that “American women aren’t cooking the Thanksgiving meal as they once did;" she then complained about Americans not paying attention to cooking and “retreating to restaurants instead.”
In turn, Child scolded anyone who complained about cooking Thanksgiving dinner because “it’s an honor,” she exclaimed with an affectionate slap on a turkey about to be roasted. Child then dispenses with the pleasantries and met fire with fire by stating that “anybody can cook a Thanksgiving dinner. And, why don’t they care?”
In 1996, Child was ranked #46 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time. She graduated from Smith College, earning a B.A. in history back in 1934 and also graduated from the famed Paris cooking schools Le Cordon Bleu and Le Grand Diplome. In addition, Child authored the 734-page book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” that became an international best seller and still receives critical acclaim that derived in part from its easy to follow recipes.
For instance, she told a TV audience in 1999 that: "I recommend roasting turkey the way it is described in my new book, ‘Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home.’ Instead of roasting the whole turkey, I suggest that you cut it up - separating the breasts and leg-thighs and then cooking the parts separately. Reserve the whole backbone for the stock. Make sure to take the wishbone out of the breast. Otherwise, it gets in the way when you are carving. You can roast the wishbone separately. After roasting the turkey parts, you rearrange the pieces to make it look like a whole turkey for presentation and carving. I always cook my turkey this way now. Cooking the whole turkey takes too long and doesn't work as well."
Julia Child hated “fools in the kitchen who didn’t prepare”
“This is not difficult to do,” asserted Child in the Public Television series “The French Chef with Julia Child.” “I get so many letters from viewers asking how to do this, how to do that and I tell them my book is free at the library. Read it, and learn the recipes.”
“I will not hold it in any longer, I’ll blow out my teeth,” Child said at the “fools” who make such a big deal about cooking Thanksgiving dinner.
In turn, Child carefully rehearsed a defense way of telling “anybody that cooking your Thanksgiving dinner is easily one of the simplest tasks you’ll ever encounter.” At the same time, she warned those Thanksgiving and holiday cooks – who she acknowledged don’t “cook much throughout the year: -- to “simply take a deep breath” and follow the steps that are either on the frozen turkey itself, or recipes that “anybody who takes the time can follow with success.”
Child gave no quarter to hysterical women who would ramble on during Q’s and A’s either during or after her cooking demonstrations. “Stop that right now,” Child demanded. “All right, let’s get into it.”
And, surprisingly, every cooking obstacles fell away because Child stayed calm, cool, connected, compassionate, charming, creative, comical, curious and mostly confident that she could cook just about anything.
If there is one main bit of advice “that Julia gave to nervous cooks,” said her cooking mate Jacques Pepin is “butter, butter, a little more butter.” Pepin then added: “Seriously, Julia told them that ‘it’s easy,’ and just to “focus on the task at hand,” and, also “you want some butter into it.”
Pepin disclosed that the real secret to French cooking and “Julia’s magic” is “lots of butter. The French cook with lots of butter.”
Julia’s Thanksgiving dinner turkey recipe
After working for more than 40 years in the kitchen, Child said she earned the “celebrity chief’s apron” many times over not because “I was perfect,” but “because I never gave up.”
For instance, if Child burned something, she sorted it out and moved on. During one of her “French Chef” TV shows, for example, she made some hollandaise that wasn’t called for in her own recipe. Thus, she laughed it off: “Here’s a pitcher of hollandaise is case anyone like that kind of thing.”
At the same time, she warned American women “not to be afraid to cook with your hands,” during her many TV appearances on Good Morning America, when she would then grab some salad greens and exclaim: “You notice the shake I’m using is up and down motion.”
For Julia Child’s Thanksgiving turkey recipe, she introduced it this way: “We’re here today on the French Chef cooking a Thanksgiving turkey, and it’s not difficult to do.”
Her ingredients are not rocket science, for example. A turkey, vegetable oil, salt and pepper, celery, onions, lemon (to season turkey cavity, if desired), butter, lots of butter both sweet and salty and Port or Madeira wine.
Child on Defrosting Frozen Turkey
“Keep the turkey in its original wrapper. A 20-pound bird takes 3 to 4 days to defrost in the refrigerator, about 12 hours in a sink full of water. Warning: Do not stuff your turkey in advance, since the stuffing could start to sour and spoil inside the bird — goodbye, happy holidays."
-- Servings: Count on 1/2 pound of turkey per serving, or 1 pound per person, with leftovers. Roast at 325 F (keep a watch on it)
-- Cooking time: For unstuffed birds: 12 to 14 pounds, about 4 hours; 16 to 20 pounds, about 5 hours; 20 to 26 pounds, about 6 hours. Add 20 to 30 minutes in all for stuffed birds.
-- Internal temperatures: 175 F at the thickest portion of the leg; 165 F in the breast; 160 F in the center of the stuffing. Stuffing amounts are 1/2 to 3/4 cup per pound of turkey, making roughly 2 to 2 1/2 quarts of stuffing for a 14 to 16 pound bird.
Child says that she prefers a flavoring in the cavity (salt and paper, and a thinly sliced lemon, a small onion and a handful of celery leaves), rather than a stuffing and she cooks the stuffing separately. Make turkey stock with the neck and scraps. Save the liver, heart, and gizzard for giblet gravy. (*reference her book)
Child on roasting your turkey
To prepare the turkey for roasting, “cut out of the wishbone and cut off the wing nubbins. Skewer the neck skin to the backbone, and skewer or sew the cavity closed or close it with foil. Rub the turkey with salt and vegetable oil. Roast breast up on an oiled rack, basting rapidly every 20 minutes or so. Start testing rapidly for done-ness 20 minutes before the estimated roasting time- and note that a sure indication of approaching done-ness is that turkey juices begin to exude into the pan.”
Also, Child recommends that you “simmer the turkey neck and scraps in enough water to cover them, skim off scum that rises to the surface for several minutes, then salt very lightly. Cover loosely and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, adding water if necessary. You may also wish to include chopped onions, carrots, and celery. Strain and degrease. When stock is cool, cover and either refrigerate for several days or freeze.” (old school, and she said you can skip this step)
Turkey roasting: “In Child's high-temperature roasting system, you start the roasting at 500 F, and in 15 to 20 minutes, when the juices begin to burn, reduce the heat to 450 F. Next, add chopped vegetables (1/2 cup of chopped carrots and 1/2 cup chopped onions) and 2 cups of water to the pan, pouring in a little more water now and then as needed to prevent burning and smoking. A 14- pounder will roast in about 2 rather than 4 hours. High heat makes a brown and juicy turkey, but you have little control in such a hot oven, and Child thinks the slower, longer cooking produces a more tender bird.”
Overall, Child says cooking a Thanksgiving turkey is “as easy as you want it to be.”
The French Chef sadly died of kidney failure two days before her 92nd birthday on Aug. 13, 2004. Child was a chef to the end, while writing at the close to her last book “My Life in France,” with “thinking back on it now reminds me that the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite – toujours bon appetite!”
In 2000, Child received the French Legion of Honor (one of the country’s highest honors). She also was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000. Child was also awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003. Moreover, Child received honorary doctorates from Harvard University, Johnson & Wales University, Brown University and special honors from her alma mater Smith College, and several other universities.
Child was also named “simply the best cook in the world,” during one private ceremony with friends and family on the Thanksgiving just prior to her final year on Earth as America’s “French Chef.”
Image source of Julia Child, the French Chef. Photo courtesy Wikipedia