Last year Anna and I went to Wine Country over Thanksgiving. There was no turkey. Instead, we had fresh oysters along the Pacific Ocean for an impromptu lunch and finished our day in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It was low-key with no cooking, and because we had drank wine for nine straight days beer was a welcomed change of pace. While we didn’t eat turkey, we saw wild turkeys while driving into San Francisco.
However we promised to be around this year and decided to host our first Thanksgiving at our house. Hosting a holiday meal always presents challenges, but I stuck to a game plan (almost) and it was largely a stress free affair. Sure, we could have baked the bread earlier, but because pies were made the day before it was a wash. Here are my primary takeaways:
- Stick to a Game Plan. This means timing out when the turkey goes in, prepping your sides in advance, and getting out a charcuterie board for your guests. Wine helps too. Science has proven that hanger goes away when you have a mouth full of brie.
- Classics rule. While I enjoy the joys of gastronomy while roaming around the globe I err towards the side of tradition around the holidays (unless its New Year’s Eve, in which case, go crazy with your tastebuds). What does this mean for the Thanksgiving table? We had turkey, cornbread and sausage stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, cranberry sauce, gravy, and rolls on the table. Nothing crazy to see here. That being said…
- Don’t be afraid to up your Technique. Just because we are cooking classics doesn’t mean I’m cooking like its the 1950s. You can make green bean casserole from scratch. Go wild and make homemade bread with your mother. Add some bourbon to those candied sweet potatoes, or be sure to mash then whisk in hot cream and butter to your mashed potatoes (jazzing that butter/cream mixture up with fresh herbs and garlic is a winner). For the star of the show…
- Dry Brine the Turkey. I have done turkeys many ways in Thanksgivings past. I’ve done traditional roasted turkey with herb butter, deep-fried turkey, and brined turkey (both wet and dry). What I will tell you is while herb butter is consistent and frying is really fun (and really delicious), dry-brine is the way to go. You still need to baste your bird but the result always ends up being crisp skin and moist meat. Don’t listen to me though, listen to the experts to sway your opinion. However, this Norman Rockwell-esque bird speaks for itself.
- Embrace Fats. I pity the fools that skip out on butter, whole milk, and cream at Thanksgiving. I view it as you’re not eating like this everyday and Thanksgiving is a holiday synonymous with indulgence. Just go with the flow and do a nice workout on Black Friday (one-click on Amazon doesn’t count). That extra piece of pie won’t kill you.
- Make your own Stock. I was an idiot for not doing this. My wife resurrected the gravy at the last minute due to some unspeakable witchcraft/sorcery. Next time I’m making turkey with all the sides, I’m making my own stock a couple weeks before to avoid a panic attack.
- Leftovers. The true meaning of Thanksgiving. I’m having a turkey sandwich made from the rolls, turkey, cranberry sauce, and gravy mayo as I write this.