Thanksgiving Hack: Cook Your Turkey Sous Vide

Maybe you like your Thanksgiving turkey dry and bland. I get it. There’s something deeply traditional about leaving the bird in the oven for hours and hours. Maybe you like the symbolism of the turkey taking up oven space, or maybe overcooked poultry gives you an excuse to overload it with gravy. Maybe you’ve given up on bird altogether (one year, my mom served lobster for Thanksgiving. “No one likes the turkey anyway!”). If you have beloved turkey-cooking traditions, that’s totally cool. But consider this: You can have a platter of turkey that’s juicy, flavorful, and delicious. You just have to cook it sous vide.

It seems counterintuitive, I know. Sous vide—a cooking method that involves sealing food inside a plastic bag and then cooking it in a water bath—seems ill suited for something as cumbersome as a Thanksgiving turkey. It seems too fancy and too French for a holiday that celebrates America. And for those who aren’t used to wielding a sous vide wand in the kitchen, the technique can seem intimidating, even overly precious.

Let me assure you: There is nothing easier or more foolproof than sealing your turkey into a plastic baggie, dropping it into a pot of water, and walking away. Really. That’s it. And when you return, you’ll have the best damn turkey you’ve ever tasted.

High-Tech Turkey

Sous vide is a fancy French way of saying “cooked in a vacuum.” You take some food, put it in a vacuum-sealed baggie (or, for the less pretentious chef, Ziploc works too), and leave it to slow cook in a bath of warm water until it’s tantalizingly tender. Unlike cooking by oven or grill, the bath method distributes heat evenly from edge to center, and the vacuum bag seals in moisture. You can cook everything from poultry to lobster to eggs to corn on the cob sous vide. But the method is especially well suited for turkey.


“Turkey breasts are actually really tough muscle, so they’re a perfect candidate for sous vide,” says Grant Crilly, the head chef and co-founder of food and technology company ChefSteps. “Even as a chef, I used to hate turkey breasts. They’re just tough and a pain to cook. Ever since I’ve been cooking them sous vide, I’ve turned into a turkey breast man.”

Learning to cook sous vide is easy. You can find all sorts of sous vide immersion wands that connect with an app on your phone and simplify the method to pressing a button on your screen. (ChefSteps makes one such wand called Joule.) These sous vide wands, which contain a thermometer and a heating element, clamp onto the side of any pot filled with water and heat it to a precise temperature for a precise amount of time. All you have to do is bag the food, fill the pot with water, place the wand inside, and select the correct recipe in the app on your phone.

ChefSteps offers step-by-step instructions on how to prepare your turkey sous vide. Anova and Sansaire, which each make sous vide wands, also have dedicated guides. Whichever sous vide circulator you use, the basic concept remains the same: Quarter the turkey (if you’re doing this yourself, make sure to remove the ribs from the breast; otherwise, the sharp bones could poke a hole and rip the bag open). Place the legs in a large vacuum-sealed baggie, and cook those first. Then add the breasts in a separate baggie. Time and temperature will vary depending on your individual preferences, but Crilly recommends setting the temperature nice and low and cooking the bird overnight.

The sous vide method gives you a juicier turkey, because none of the moisture evaporates. You also get a more flavorful turkey, since you can marinate the meat for hours inside of the bag. (One pro tip from Chef Crilly: “Take a little pot of butter on the stove—this is before you cook the turkey—throw in thyme, garlic; fresh, beautiful herbs; peppercorns. Roast that and make this epic brown butter to dump in the bag with the bird while it cooks.”) Sous vide cooking gives you more control over the texture of each piece of meat: breasts and legs can cook at different temperature for different amounts of time, which ensures that everything comes out beautifully tender. Best of all, cooking your turkey in a countertop water bath frees up oven space for all the other Thanksgiving accoutrements: potatoes, casseroles, and pies. You can start the sous vide turkey the night before and focus on all the side dishes on Thanksgiving day.

One drawback: Poultry cooked sous vide often comes out looking pale and kind of gross. That’s no way to start your Thanksgiving feast. So, to get that nice, golden brown look, you can crisp up the outside in a number of ways: broil it, fry it, torch it, sear it in a pan, sprinkle on a little rub and pop it in the oven. You can crisp up the outside in whichever method you like without sacrificing that moist, tender meat inside.

I can understand that this method requires sacrifices by way of presentation. For some families, the very essence of Thanksgiving is bringing the whole turkey to the table and carving it right there. So if quartering the bird and cooking the hind legs separately from the breasts seems like some sort of savagery, I get it. But! You can also sous vide a whole turkey, provided you have a humongous pot to create a big enough water bath. (Chef Bruno Goussault has great step-by-step instructions here.) You can’t achieve quite the same cooking precision with this method, and it requires some oven time to brown the outside, but it does allow you to preserve the whole turkey without serving something dry, boring, and bland.

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Omega Healthcare Investors: 'You Won The Month'

Image via Twitter.Some of the money you lost holding OHI since July. Image via Twitter

“Hey, Professor!” Charles turns around to see a very short, very wide man stamping and scraping his feet on the cinders. His blunt, wide head is lowered beneath his mountainous shoulders, and a massive nose ring loops between his snorting nostrils. “Who are you? asks Charles. “I’m a real angel,” says the man. “Then where are your wings?” “Don’t be stupid! That’s just a cliche.” Even before these words are out of his mouth, the man has begun running toward Charles, ramming his blunt forehead into Charles’s solar plexus and knocking him onto his bewinged back. It is a moment before Charles can catch his breath. He sits up and asks, “What did you do that for?” “To teach you a lesson.” “What kind of lesson is that?” “What other kind of lesson is there?”

– Stephen O’Connor, “Here Comes Another Lesson”

Man must suffer to be wise.

– Aeschylus, “Agamemnon”

“You Won The Month”

That was one of the dismissive comments we received on our recent article pointing out that our top names from early October had outperformed Omega Healthcare Investors (OHI) by 20% since we wrote that OHI was still not healthy enough for us last month. Here we respond to that and a few other points brought up by readers.

This Isn’t Hindsight; It’s Foresight

The top-rated comment on our OHI article on Thursday suggested we had conducted an exercise in hindsight (“It’s too bad none of us have the luxury of retrospective investing”):

Image via SA.

This wasn’t hindsight though: we wrote about our system rejecting OHI before its drop, and we had shared our top names with our Bulletproof Investing subscribers the day before.

We Didn’t Just Win The Month

Here’s a simple way to demonstrate that our top names beating OHI since early October wasn’t a fluke. We also wrote an article in early July saying OHI was not healthy enough for one of our portfolios. That article was published on Monday, July 10th, using data as of Friday, July 7th. We shared our top names as of July 7th in this Marketplace post at the time. They were: Align Technology (ALGN), Activision Blizzard (ATVI), ServiceNow (NOW), Brinks Company (BCO), IPG Photonics (IPGP), HDFC Bank (HDB), CSX (CSX), ILG (ILG), Regeneron (REGN), and Bob Evans (BOBE).

Here’s how they have done since July 7th:

Chart via YChartsHere’s how OHI has done since July 7th:

Chart via YChartsCongratulations, OHI longs: you outperformed the worst of our top names from July 7th, Regeneron, which is down 20.5% since. But, on average, our top 10 names from July 7th are up 16.4%, while OHI is down 13.1%. So our top names have outperformed OHI by 29.5% since July 7th.

We Don’t Own Our Top Names Or Hedged Portfolios

That’s correct. We don’t own them because we have been reinvesting all of our free cash in the Portfolio Armor system that generates them. Our software development, financial data, and other costs are considerable. At some point, we expect our revenues to outstrip our costs, and at that point, we’ll be thrilled to invest in our hedged portfolios. We certainly won’t be buying falling knife REITs.

“Do It Again”

A few commenters asked us to repeat the trick a third time, to give you our analysis of OHI as of now and our top names that we expect will, on average, outperform it over the next several months. Our current analysis of OHI is the same as it was in early October: it fails our first screen and so would not be included in any portfolios generated by our system. Below is a screen capture from our site’s admin panel illustrating this.

Image via Portfolio ArmorThe “Long Term Return” there represents OHI’s total return (including dividends) over the average 6-month period over the last ten years. The “Short Term Return” is OHI’s total return over the most recent 6-month period. Our first screen is that the mean of these two figures, labeled “6m Exp Return” above, must be positive. As you can see above, it’s not. Because OHI fails our first screen it’s excluded from consideration in any of our portfolios now.

Essentially, our system assumes that security returns will begin a process of mean reversion over the next several months. If the mean of the short and long term returns is positive, it then applies a second screen as a “sanity check” on whether mean reversion is too optimistic a scenario in the case of a particular security.

If you’re curious what our second screen is, it’s a gauge of option sentiment. Since OHI fails our first screen now, we don’t apply it here, but we did apply it to OHI in our July article, since OHI passed our first screen then. OHI passed our second screen as well in July, but it failed our third test for inclusion in one of our portfolios, as its hedging cost exceeded its our potential return estimate for it. Hence we described it as “not healthy enough” for us in July.

As for our top names as of now, we posted them here for our Marketplace subscribers Thursday night.

Our Top Stocks Don’t Have High Dividend Yields

This may have been the second-most liked comment, despite us conceding the point in our article:

Here again, we’d ask readers to think in terms of total returns, which include income as well as capital gains, instead of income alone. You can create your own income stream by selling shares if you have capital gains. Thinking about income alone is dangerous for two reasons. The first is that you may end up with negative total returns if your stocks drop significantly. The second reason is that extended share price declines are often due to issues that may lead to dividend cuts in the future. A recent example of that, one mentioned in the comments of our previous OHI article, is General Electric (GE), which just halved its dividend.

We Make Mistakes Too

Another commenter asked us to turn our criticism inward:

We’ve made plenty of investing mistakes. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Buying 3Com instead of Cisco (CSCO) in the late 1990s because 3Com looked cheaper according to common valuation metrics.
  • Selling Priceline (PCLN) in the teens after buying it in the 80s after its IPO. Our 200 shares would be worth nearly $350,000 today. And we may have had more than 200 shares.
  • Buying dogs like New Frontier Media (NOOF) because they appeared on Joel Greenblatt’s backward-looking “Magic Formula” screener.
  • Buying other “Magic Formula” dogs, e.g., Heely’s (HLYS).

It was those mistakes that led us to develop a better approach to portfolio construction, one that seemed counterintuitive to us at first as well.

Our security selection method still makes mistakes, such as picking Regeneron in July. But since every position in one of our portfolios is hedged, an investor’s downside risk is strictly limited. You can see an example of this here, where we describe how one of our hedged portfolios generated a positive return despite holding another stock that turned out to be a bad pick, Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI).

Everyone Makes Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. How we grow is by acknowledging them and learning from them. If you are open to a different approach to investing, one that enables you to strictly limit your risk while maximizing your potential return, we invite you to read our recent article on how much risk you need to take to have a chance at market-beating returns.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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The 2 Truths That Reveal Why We Don't Accomplish Our Goals (And Ultimately Accept Failure)

Growing up, failure wasn’t allowed in my household.   

I remember being twelve years old, barely a step into middle school, when I caught the flu the morning of a jump rope fundraiser. My father walked into my bedroom, saw me still under the covers and said, “You’re not awake yet?” 

I had committed to jumping role for an hour straight at my middle school’s gymnasium to raise money for lung cancer. 

“Dad, I can’t,” I said, hovering over the bucket beside my bed. 

“That’s not what Michael Jordan said in the 1997 NBA finals against the Utah Jazz,” he said.

Yes, at 12 years old, my ability to push through in the face of failure was being compared to none other than the great Michael Jordan.

Groaning and on the edge of vomiting, I pulled myself out of bed, held my head in the car, and arrived to a packed gymnasium where I proceeded to jump rope while fighting sweats and shivers, taking intermittent sips of Gatorade. 

I spent the next two days in bed, my father coming in every so often to say, “I’m sorry that was so tough–but I told you that you could do it.”

Anyone who has ever pursued some sort of goal, no matter how big or how small, can pinpoint an infinite number of moments in which failure was a viable option–a “way out.” 

When I fractured my spine playing hockey as a teenager, I had the option of never returning to the sport.

When I was competing as one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North America, I had the option of quitting the game after my teammate disbanded our team.

When I started bodybuilding in college, I had the option of giving up every time I experienced a new injury or grew tired of the overly demanding daily routine.

When I started my first job after college, working in advertising, I had the option of accepting my fate as a copywriter and listening to all the people in my life who said, “You can’t make a living as a full-time writer.”

When I took the leap four years later to become that full-time writer, I had the option of getting scared and throwing in the towel when things didn’t click perfectly right away.

And when I decided I was going to push the boundary even further and start my own writing agency, I could have accepted failure whenever someone told me, “No.”

But every time I’ve pushed through those moments where failure seemed like the only option, my father’s voice has played over and over again in my head:

“I’m sorry that was so tough–but I told you that you could do it.”

In all my pursuits, interests, hobbies and accomplishments, I’ve learned that there are reasons why we, as ambitious humans, fail. And as much as we would like to believe that failure is something that chooses us, the truth is, it’s the other way around.

We choose failure. And in the moments when we make the choice to surrender, give up, and accept things as they are, it’s because we believe one one of these two truths about ourselves:

1. We don’t believe we are capable.

Our comfort zone’s represent what we’ve already done–not what we are about to do.

When we are confronted with a challenge, we tend to compare that challenge to something we’ve already overcome. If the challenge seems less daunting or equally as daunting as something we’ve accomplished, we are less likely to choose failure because we’ve already proven our ability to succeed. 

However, if the challenge appears greater than anything we’ve ever done or successfully overcome in the past, this is where our comfort zone suddenly becomes exceedingly apparent. We see this as the line in the sand–and we doubt our ability to cross it.

2. We believe the pain will outweigh the gain.

Pain without purpose is torture. Pain with a purpose is a price.

Unless we believe that the end result will be worth the road it takes to get there, we will almost always choose to avoid the journey altogether. We see our time and efforts better spent on things that will guarantee a positive result–rather than investing in something that may or may not pay off in the end.

Unfortunately, we very rarely understand the rewards and lessons gained before we leap into the unknown. We can imagine what those gains might be, and weigh their potential value against the tough road ahead, but anyone who has overcome a tough obstacle will tell you their doubts beforehand and their pearls of wisdom gained in the process.

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