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A Thanksgiving Dinner Party: Turkey, Tips, and Aperitifs

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It is Sunday morning and I am in the kitchen, slightly out of breath, still in my pajamas, wielding a massive serrated knife. I am breaking down turkey bones for stock, and I sound like a lumberjack. The Frenchman comes in to investigate. He finds me, arms extended over the sink, clutching a wing between two hands and wiggling the joint like a woman possessed.

“What are you doing?” he asks. He sounds concerned.

“I. Am. Cutting. Turkey. Wings.” I say, each staccato word falling in step with a swipe of my knife. “Do you want to help me?” I offer hopefully.

I watch his eyes rove from the pile of turkey parts in the sink to my outstretched arms and back again. “Um, no, thank you,” he says, and slowly backs out of the kitchen.

I guess I should not ask him to rub herb butter into and under every secret inch of turkey skin, then, I think.

This year, I cooked Thanksgiving -- the whole, laborious shebang -- a month early. What started as a fleeting thought -- “Wouldn’t it be nice if I wrote a Thanksgiving-themed blog post?” -- quickly spun out of control, and before I could say “homemade turkey stock,” my singular post had evolved into a three-part opus. (While we’re on the subject, here's the first part.)

Would just one of these have sufficed? Of course not!    

On the menu:

  • Aperitif: The New England Express (thyme syrup, apple cider, dark rum, lime juice, and bitters)
  • Hors d'Oeuvre: Market Dipping Vegetables with Buttermilk Ranch Dressing; Creamy Sausage-Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Spatchcocked and Braise-Roasted Turkey with Cider Gravy
  • Sides: Potato Purée with Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onions; Sourdough Dressing; Sautéed Brussels Sprout Salad; Roasted Cauliflower
  • Dessert: Pies from Four & Twenty Blackbirds
  • Digestif: Pumpkin Seed Brittle; digestifs; coffee and tea

Read more: Black-Bottom Oatmeal Pie, from our Guest Editors Four & Twenty Blackbirds.

Finally, after all the stress that comes with these kinds of cooking marathons, the work was worth it. I hope these three posts prove useful or helpful or inspirational for others. But even more than that, I am proud to have created this record: This is what I cooked the third year my boyfriend and I have lived in Brooklyn together, when we invited a rabble of our friends to eat, drink, and be merry on a holiday that wasn’t actually a holiday. It is now part of our story.

This was not my first go around at the Thanksgiving rodeo, but I still picked up a few new tidbits of knowledge, as I assume I will every year I choose take on this big, classic feast. Here, my top three lessons learned from this year’s effort.

First, turkey stock is crazy amazing.
Making turkey stock is a lazy afternoon activity that can be checked off your list (and frozen) months before the big day. I cut wings and backs into pieces, (and then invested in poultry shears), slid them into a hot oven until the meat just pulled away from the bone, scraped up all the lovely brown bits, and simmered it together with mirepoix and bouquet garni. Three hours later, I had a flavorful, golden broth that turned into a taut jelly in the refrigerator and boosted gravy, stuffing, and turkey alike. It was also cheap to make -- one bag of turkey parts set me back only a couple of dollars at the farmers market -- and it was salt-free. 

Second, don’t be a hero.
Seriously, there are no prizes for kitchen heroics. It’s easy to work myself into the headspace where absolutely everything must be made from scratch/cooked à la minute/crafted from the finest Peruvian saffron, grown only at the full moon, passed through the digestive tract of a phoenix. But of course, no such thing will happen. I feel like we cooks sometimes put so much pressure on ourselves, but really, it’s no crime to ask guests to bring a dessert or side, or especially booze. And no one will notice if you take some store-bought shortcuts. Your guests are happy just to be invited. Don’t make life harder for yourself by setting ridiculously high standards. Also, prepare everything ahead that you possibly can.

Third, spatchcocking and then braise-roasting a turkey is one of the best ways to do it.
I am convinced I have struck turkey gold. By combining Antonia James’s Spatchcocked Roast TurkeyAmanda’s Spatchcocked and Braise-Roasted Chicken, and Tom Colicchio’s Herb-Butter Turkey, surely there is no better way to prepare a bird. This was, far and away, the best turkey I’ve ever made; the meat was succulent and juicy, the skin shatter-crisp, and best of all, it was cooked and out of the oven in about half the time. 

Spatchcocked and Braise-Roasted Turkey

Serves 10 to 12 people, with leftovers

One 13-pound turkey
Kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
Zest of 1 small lemon
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
1 tablespoon minced rosemary
10 cracks black pepper
1 yellow onion
1 green apple
1 fennel bulb
1 carrot
1 cup apple cider
1 cup turkey stock

Get the full recipe (and save and print it here).

Photos by Cristina Sciarra

Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker!
Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker!

Tags: Turkey, Entertaining, Thanksgiving, Holiday, Holiday Entertaining