The holiday is a time for festive lights, edible gifts, seasonal music, and, of course, fabulous parties. This time of year, it's impossible to know who may stop by my apartment on the way home from Christmas shopping or before a spirited Saturday on the town, so have the provisions on hand to throw together a quick, snackable spread. Here are 10 ingredients essential to hosting an impromptu evening of holiday entertaining.
Mike La Rocca, who helms A. La Rocca Sea Food, a wholesaler that supplies fresh Dungeness to seafood restaurants like Bistro Boudin and supermarkets like Mollie Stone's, offers one critical piece of advice: look for a critter that's heavy. "The best way to judge if you're getting a nice, fresh crab is if it's got some weight when it's sitting in your hand. You should feel that pound and a half in your hands — then you know you're getting a crab that's full of meat and juice. If it's been sitting in a counter for a few days, it's going to lose its juice."
Also, the obvious: live crabs should be, well, alive. "If the crabs are alive, they need to be moving," La Rocca insists. For those of you comfortable cooking live seafood, how do you choose and prepare crab?
On the West Coast, the holidays aren't all about parties, roasts, and cookies; they're also about fresh, abundant Dungeness crabs, which are in peak supply during this time of year. But everything about the crustacean, from understanding the season to selecting the right live one, can be tricky.
To get a better handle — er, claw — on all things Dungeness, I turned to two seafood experts: wholesale distributor Mike La Rocca of La Rocca Sea Food and Misael Reyes, executive chef at the sea-centric Bistro Boudin in San Francisco. A few points I learned from the pros:
- Dungeness crabs own the West Coast. They live in Pacific Ocean waters that run all the way from San Luis Obispo, CA, to as far north as Juneau, AK.
- The season has official start days. The official kickoff of Dungeness crab season for the San Francisco Bay Area is the second Tuesday of November, and Dec. 1 for any area north of that, such as Oregon or Washington.
- Things don't always go smoothly, though. Crab conditions and price negotiations can easily delay the season. This year, it took several days for fishermen and processors to reach an agreed-upon price.
- Crab season is long, but timing is everything. Dungeness crab season doesn't actually end until June, but around 80 percent of Bay Area Dungeness is brought in by the end of the year. The rest of the harvest is brought in from regions farther north, such as Alaska.
More — including how to tell if it's a good season — when you keep reading.
A bowl of whole shell-on walnuts can be a beautiful part of a holiday spread, but the question arises: how to get at the nutmeats nestled inside? A nutcracker may be the most efficient way to go about this task, but there is another less conventional way to do it without tools, and it's a great party trick to boot.
Place two walnuts in your palm. Find a ridge on one of the nuts, and line it up with an indentation on the other, as if putting together two puzzle pieces (this keeps them locked together). Curl fingertips inward using firm pressure, as if trying to make a fist, until the ridged nut cracks open the other.
You've procured the salmon, dill, and other accoutrements and are about to get cracking curing a batch of gravlax at home, but now what? While a relatively simple process, home-curing — and, for that matter, slicing cured salmon — is a culinary adventure many aren't yet acquainted with, so we've broken it down visually to make matters more clear. Follow along with our step-by-step guide to preparing gravlax at home.
You've grilled, braised, or roasted up a beauty of a bird, but now what? While carving a turkey might seem daunting the first go-round, all it takes is a little know-how and practice (it gets easier every time!) to carve and plate a turkey worthy of centerpiece status.
P.S. Don't forget to show off the intact bird before you dig in, but carve it up in the kitchen (rather than table-side) to avoid prying eyes, all the pressure, and contain any potential mess.
Thanksgiving is one of those rare occasions where entire families gather, appreciate one other's company, and chow down on some seriously decadent dishes. But with so many dishes happening at once and tons of hustling and bustling busybodies in the kitchen, there's room for a lot of minor (and major!) Turkey Day snafus. While we should never expect the worst, being prepared for whatever predicament presents itself will only make you more grateful. Keep reading for solutions to have in your arsenal in case your Thanksgiving feast is falling apart.
- Is your turkey still frozen? There's a solution for that.
- What to do once you've brined your turkey.
- Find out a cooked turkey's internal temperature.
- Here's how to carve a turkey like it owes you money.
- Will your favorite cranberry sauce just not jell? Don't panic.
- Eek — not enough oven space? Here's the fix.
- Struggling with a sauce that's too thin? It's all gravy, baby!
- Crumbly pie crust can be delicious, but is yours literally falling apart? We'll show you how to keep it together.
- Is that dessert of yours beyond salvageable? Here are a few makeshift sweets ideas.
Last but not least, if all else completely fails, you can always eat out instead.
Anyone can carve a turkey like a pro! Using only a standard chef's knife, Eric Greenspan breaks down the whole process, saying you should carve the turkey "like it owes you money." What the heck does that mean? Watch the video to learn, and refer to our turkey-carving tutorial (with pictures!) for a detailed refresher.
This age-old claim is both fact as well as fiction. Turkey does contain tryptophan, an amino acid that often converts to serotonin, a sleep-regulating neurotransmitter. But in order to truly experience the side effects of tryptophan, one would need to eat copious amounts of turkey on an empty stomach.
Tryptophan can be found to some degree in red meat, eggs, fish, poultry — virtually every animal product. And in reality, few people eat solely turkey at a Thanksgiving meal. Most of us also eat massive quantities of sides, such as stuffing, mashed potatoes, and yams. These carbohydrate-heavy foods trigger the pancreas to produce insulin, which blocks energy. Combine this "food coma" effect with a few too many glasses of wine and football on the couch, and you're in for quite a sleepy night, turkey or no turkey.
Generally, I stick to basting or butter rubs to ensure a moist bird, but many Thanksgiving cooks swear by brining.
The Culinary Institute of America certainly does: they recommend brining as the very best method to ensure bold flavor and moistness. Essentially a brine is a seasoned aromatic liquid in which the turkey bathes before roasting. This technique is often used in preparing all kinds of poultry to maximize juiciness in the finished product. The salt in the brine breaks down the turkey's proteins, making it more tender and keeping in moisture that would normally be squeezed out. Here are a few important brining tips:
- Plan ahead: turkeys generally should brine anywhere from 12-15 hours.
- Choose a container large enough to hold the brining liquid and the turkey. You don't want any spillage situations!
For more tips, keep reading.