Sure, there are some tradtional elements: The stuffing is cooked separately and the bird is seasoned, slicked with buttermilk, salt and pepper, and stuffed with aromatics, for her Thanksgiving feast. But for the longtime Top Chef host and author of newly released The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs, that’s where tradition ends and innovation begins.
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Wintry citrus like tangerines, black peppercorns, rosemary, garlic, bay leaves and kaffir lime leaves line the interior of Lakshmi’s Thanksgiving turkey. And once she’s propped up the turkey on apples, she starts cooking the bird—at 1 a.m.
“I cook it the night before because I don’t want any surprises,” Lakshmi says. “I start the turkey at 1 a.m. at 450 degrees, and then I’ll drop it to 300 degrees 30 minutes later, cooking it until 7 a.m. the next morning, depending on the weight of the turkey.”
Like a Texas pitmaster cooking brisket, Lakshmi goes low and slow with her turkey, ensuring even, controlled cooking and a perfectly moist finished. Then for the rest of the day she keeps it warm in the oven while she tends to sides like green beans with shredded coconut, and sweet potatoes with a kumquat chutney.
It’s a pretty ingenious approach to avoiding tough, dry turkey—and reason #4,042 we love Padma Lakshmi.