Turkey Day is nigh. But is the turkey part really essential? Lindsay-Jean Hard says it's the superstar; Peter Meehan calls it a snooze-fest. They go talon-to-talon here, in our latest installment of How We Holiday.
I am notorious for not ever repeating a recipe in our house. I’ll make something and my husband will be like, This is great! You should make it again!, and I’ll be like, Yeah!—and then never do. There’s always something new and exciting to try. But I’ve learned that when you’re hosting a lot of people, it helps to have at least a few stand-bys to revisit, especially on a day like Thanksgiving when people have an expectation for what will be served. I’d never dream of skipping the turkey: You don’t want people to freak out if you don’t have the regular, traditional stuff on the table.
To be clear though, traditional doesn’t mean played out and boring. It means classic, and some things have staying power for a reason. So at Thanksgiving, there are some recipes that I’m not willing to mess around with. For us, that’s the Judy Bird, the Silver Palate mashed potatoes, the Vegetarian Mushroom-Thyme Gravy, and Canal House’s Cranberry Port Gelée. That covers the must-haves and still leaves room for trying a different salad or squash dish. Last year, I emailed all of our guests and asked them what their favorite Thanksgiving dish was—I wanted to make sure everyone could tuck into their most-loved part of the meal. And you know what? Every single response was a classic one: stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and yes, turkey.
We started hosting Thanksgiving a couple years ago, and this year, we’re having fourteen people. I’ve learned that when you’re serving many different dishes, you don’t have to scale up every recipe; there’s no way people are going to be able to eat that much food. We always spatchcock our turkey—it’s such a great time saver. I’m also embracing outsourcing a lot more; other people have volunteered to bring stuff, and I’m going to be making use of Zingerman’s Deli and their bread-baking skills. No one is going to give me a medal if I do all of it.
Lindsay-Jean Hard is a Contributing Editor at Food52 and author of a forthcoming cookbook about cooking with scraps.
I am part of the Calvin Trillin faction when it comes to Thanksgiving: I don't get turkey. Don't want it. I appreciate the broth that can be made from its bones and know that, combined with a pornographic quantity of mayonnaise, its leftover flesh can be wrangled into acceptable sandwiches. But turkey is a snooze.
Still, there are people—most people, even people who understand the rightness of my feelings on turkey and/or live with me—who want it for the holiday. In these instances (like most instances), I find it wise to follow the words of Chuck D: You've got to give the people what they want, gotta give them what they need. And that is de-snoozed turkey.
How does one wake up the zombie bird from its eternal slumbering stumble of boringness? Dropping the whole pilgrim act. Who wants to eat like a starving Puritan anyway? Literally almost all other cuisines are more promising. So roast it whole, but serve it with hoisin and ginger scallion sauce and lettuce cups and steamed buns and pickles and cook dumplings instead of whatever gross marshmallow-covered thing you usually do. The sauces will save you. Or heat up a couple hundred tortillas, have a bunch of radishes and onions and cilantro chopped up, and make a big vat of mole negro. I like glazed sweet potatoes as much as the next guy, but a chance to eat endless tacos is one that I'll never pass up. Plus, it'd be gluten-free!
One time I tried to confit the legs of some turkeys to take the holiday to southern France, but my oven was on too high overnight and they fried for like, six hours. What to do with turkey cracklings? Turn that crispy, fatty, salty, dry meat into a Thai-style larb, where lime juice and fish sauce could repair the damage done.
Peter Meehan is working on a book about outdoor cooking. He has written numerous cookbooks and was a founder of the magazine Lucky Peach.
Classic turkey on Thanksgiving: yay or nay? Tell us in the comments.