As a Retail Dietitian, you’re naturally interested in food’s nutritional profile; but also how it can be prepared. Shoppers rely on supermarket professionals like the butcher, the fishmonger and the RD, for tips and advice that help them feel confident about turning the items in their cart into delicious meals their families can enjoy. The ability to share cooking expertise is not just a job requirement for retail RDs, it’s also a great way to build customer loyalty and enhance your value as an employee.
This time of year RDs can expect plenty of questions from customers about preparing the Thanksgiving feast—especially when it comes to the meal’s main attraction. Today’s Turkey tapped into the expertise of Certified Master Chef Tony Seta, Director of Culinary Services for Butterball LLC, to offer a few bites RDs can share with shoppers to help make their main course a success.
According to Tony, the number one question from callers to Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line, which has been answering holiday turkey cooking questions since 1981, isn’t about cooking at all—it’s about thawing.
“Anyone cooking a turkey that weighs over 20 pounds should remember the phrase ‘Thaw Thursday,’” says Tony, “meaning they should start thawing a week before the big day.” According to Tony, the rule of thumb is to allow one day of defrosting for every four pounds of turkey. Frozen turkeys should thaw under refrigeration, sitting in a container to catch any liquid coming off the packaging.
Turkey can be deliciously seasoned with any number of brines, marinades or rubs, but for shoppers who like to keep things simple, they can also be bought pre-brined or pre-basted—and as long as the turkey is cooked according to the detailed instructions found on the packaging, they’re basically foolproof.
“People worry about the breast meat drying out, and a lot of them have heard the idea of cooking the turkey breast side down to keep in the juices. I don’t think this is practical, necessary or safe,” says Tony, who points out that turning over a hot, stuffed turkey dripping with juices is a potential safety hazard—not to mention a potential mess.
Instead, Tony advises people use a shallow roasting pan and set the turkey on a rack so that it sits above the moisture; this way the legs are sitting up high enough to cook thoroughly without overcooking the breast.
“Using a thermometer is really critical,” says Tony. “You want to cook the breast to 165 degrees, but the legs and thighs aren’t done until the temperature reads 175-180 degrees.” To prevent the breast from drying out while the legs cook through, you can tent the breast with foil, shiny side up to reflect the heat.
This is all good advice, but what Tony really hopes RDs will make consumers understand is that turkey is a perfect protein to enjoy all year long.
“Anything I can do with pork or veal or chicken—and even many beef preparations—I can do with turkey,” says Tony. In many cases the end result is a healthier meal, since turkey is an unbeatable source of lean protein.
“My mom used to make veal cutlets,” Tony says. “She’d dust the cutlets with flour, dredge them in an egg wash and then coat them in breadcrumbs seasoned with garlic, parmesan, salt and parsley and sauté them to a nice golden brown. I can do the same thing with turkey breast cutlets—maybe top them with some tomato sauce, if desired, and they’re just delicious.”
That’s just one example of turkey’s versatility and what makes it an easy and healthy substitute for other proteins in just about any recipe and any ethnic cuisine. Tony recently had the pleasure of tasting Tandoori Turkey, and says the turkey took on the Indian flavors beautifully. Turkey stands up equally well to Chinese, Mexican and Italian preparations, too.
So, while you’re answering shoppers' inevitable questions about preparing the holiday turkey, be sure to remind them of turkey’s versatility and availability as a center plate protein at any meal any time of year. If they need inspiration, share this simple recipe for a Smoked Turkey Sausage Fritatta from Certified Master Chef Tony. For more recipes and resources, visit ServeTurkey.org and follow @ServeTurkey.