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Three Thanksgiving Hacks for a Better Feast

Satya Murthy/flickr

Biochemist Keri Colabroy thinks we could all be better cooks and healthier eaters, if we just learned a little bit of chemistry. That's why she teaches a kitchen chemistry course and a writing class about coffee (yeah, that's a thing) at Muhlenberg College.

Want the secret to perfectly bright green green beans? Or a smooth, no-strings-attached cheese sauce? Ever wonder if wild-caught fish is more nutritious than farm-raised? Or which vitamins survive cooking? Colabroy has answers. (Wild-caught fish contains algal nutrients not found in farm-raised, and vitamin C breaks down if you look at it the wrong way. Okay, not quite, but air exposure and cooking will do the trick.) 

Colabroy and her co-authors address these - and many more - topics in their textbook, "The Science of Cooking: Understanding the Biology and Chemistry Behind Food and Cooking."

So, from a food chemistry maven directly to you, here are a few tips for improving your Thanksgiving feast:

  1. Use vodka instead of water in your pie crust. It may sound obvious, but alcohol and water are different substances. Alcohol reacts differently with flour, and doesn't produce as much gluten. That means a lighter, flakier pie crust. And, don't worry, the alcohol evaporates during the baking process, so your pies are still kid-friendly.
  2. Carve the turkey before you roast it. We've all eaten dried out turkey, and it's no fun. A big part of what makes a turkey so challenging is the fact that light and dark meat cook differently and retain different amounts of moisture. One solution, which has the added benefit of reducing total cooking time, is to cut the turkey apart and cook the breasts and thighs separately. If that seems a little too radical, you could also compromise and try spatchcocking your bird.
  3. Don't overcook the gravy. Whether it's crispy turkey skin, dark roasted root vegetables, or golden biscuits, browning (technically known as the Maillard reaction) is what gives many foods their flavor. But browning a roux - the flour-butter mixture at the heart of gravy - breaks down the flour and reduces its ability to thicken the end product. So, for the thickest, most flavorful gravy, use nice, dark pan juices and go light on cooking the flour.  

One last tip from Colabroy: everything in moderation. It's not new advice, but worth remembering as we gather for gluttony.
Happy Thanksgiving!

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