Thanksgiving is the king of all holidays, and there is no debate. Being with the people you care about, eating a meal prepared with love, and getting all mushy about how thankful you are to be alive, watching football in a sweater on a cold day is all you can really ask for on a Thursday.
The only thing that can ruin this otherwise perfect day: crap food. This happens more often that you think. Turkey is not a particularly forgiving bird, cooking a meal for 10-plus is a coordination nightmare, and no one’s going to be thankful for that can of cranberry jelly you just slopped onto a plate. So, I offer to you tips, tricks, and a few of my favorite non-traditional Thanksgiving dishes to help guide you to a successful T-day. Non-traditional because I’m different.
Rule number one. Brine it. Rule number two. Brine it. It’s so dead simple and the process produces a more moist and flavorful bird. Even if your recipe doesn’t call for a brining, do it anyway. A simple rule of thumb is, 3/4 pound of salt per gallon of water to make a brining solution. However, if you want to try something a little more impressive, this will do the trick.
Although I fall on the more non-traditional side of the spectrum, Turkey is somewhat non-negotiable. That being said, you have to get creative with it. My go to bird is this Porchini Mushroom flavored bad-boy. The gravy from the drippings this recipe will produce is liquid gold. If you like to grill your turkey or just love Guiness, try this beer-brined, malt-glazed fowl.
This is what we used to call “stuffing” until people became wise to the fact that eating bread that’s been sitting in the hollowed out cavity of a dead animal is not the safest thing to serve at a family dinner. So, now it’s called dressing, but it’s still delicious. Some people pass on the dressing – I happen to make it the star of the show. I can’t find a way to quit this Ciabatta Dressing with Sweet Potatoes and Shiitake Mushrooms. I’ve made it the last three years and have no plans to take it out of heavy Thanksgiving rotation. In the South, oyster dressing is a tradition that I can get behind, and if you feel like a quirky twist on tradition – give White Castle Hamburger Dressing a try.
Don’t try to get fancy. This is the glue that will hold all this food together in your stomach.
Simple formula here: Turkey stock (make your own!) + deglazed pan drippings + roux = gravy heaven. To make a perfect roux melt 1/2 cup unsalted butter in a skillet over medium heat. Whisk in 1/2 cup flour. Reduce heat to low. Whisk like crazy until roux is golden brown. The crazier the flavor profile you go with in preparing your bird via brining, seasoning and stuffing with aromatics the better your drippings will be.
Remember what I said about tradition. Yeah, not a big fan of cranberry at the Thanksgiving table, so I serve a Cranberry Salsa as an appetizer to keep people at bay while I’m whistling away in the kitchen. This is a legit strategy and allows people to get their cranberry fix.
As a final touch, it’s nice to throw something green on the table so you can feel a little better about yourself post food binge. Green beans, brussels sprouts, and broccoli are all candidates. Mark Bittman, a food hero of mine, has a phenomenal preparation of green beans that conquers any mushroom soup laden, crispy onion topped casserole.
As a final note to the readers out there – who I assume are in the white-er collared tax-income bracket since you’re visiting a webmag that often focuses on cross-training diets and cuff link etiquette – don’t we have a lot to be thankful for this year? I’ll be the first to admit that I can act like a whiny baby sometimes when things don’t go my way, but at the end of the day, most everything is in its right place. Before you sit down to eat your Thanksgiving meal next week, take a minute, scare yourself by thinking how fleeting and unpredictable this life we live is, and then dig in.
Oh, and shoot me your final T-giving menu @SethUnger!