Where’s the Turkey? Fantastical Thanksgiving Day Feasts
Jacqueline Sainsbury / November 12th, 2012
Holidays can pose several challenges for top kitchens, but one of the most oft heard complaints is the boredom behind the stove with customers wanting the same, ever-unchanging dishes. You may or may not be able to switch up the festive routine—much like many home chefs—but in this two-part series, Food Arts editors take leave of their holiday kitchen realities and build their own imaginary menus from the magazine’s recipes.
I think any festive occasion calls for something sparkling. Champagne or Prosecco or cava would be nice. With that, I would serve frico, an Italian cheese crisp traditionally made with Montasio but also good with Parmesan. Food Arts ran a recipe for this snack long before it became mainstream. And maybe a bowl of pistachios roasted in the shell with salt and pepper or toasted almonds. Butternut squash soup says fall to me, and I would toast the squash seeds for garnish and perhaps add a dollop of crème fraîche or labne. Then I would serve Mourad Lahlou’s fabulous artichoke custard studded with preserved lemons and topped with caviar, which you will read about in our December Food Arts Techniques section. But forget about turkey. What’s the deal with eating turkey once a year anyway? If it’s necessary to have a bird, why not quail? And how about a little Pinot Noir with that? I would probably just saute the quail in a cast iron skillet. However, there are some fabulous more elaborate recipes for quail in Food Arts' archives. Using one of them would negate certain salad or side requirements but check them out. Try this recipe by John Folse for a New Orleans spin. Another New Orleans chef Tory McPhail slathered his quail with Jack Daniels. You can't go wrong with that! This one from Melissa Perello in San Francisco has the salad already built in.
You can still make stuffing, and since I was raised in Oklahoma I firmly believe cornbread is a necessary component. I don’t really like sweet potatoes and certainly not topped with marshmallows. So why not roast some carrots, since they’re all the rage right now. And Brussels sprouts are a time-honored tradition, but some are way better than others. Seamus Mullen’s new cookbook, Hero Food, has a recipe for pan-roasted Brussels sprouts with chorizo and lemon juice which sounds delicious.
Cranberries are a must. Food Arts founding editor Michael Batterberry once shared his secret for making the sauce in the oven with very little liquid. Pour a bag of cranberries into an oven-proof baking dish, sprinkle with a small amount of orange juice or Grand Marnier and a little orange zest. When the berries pop open, they’re done. Salad can then follow the main course. Why not throw in a little French touch, even if this is an American holiday? My favorite is a nice autumn lettuce mix with something a little tangy like mustard greens, dressed with a pomegranate vinaigrette and garnished with pomegranate seeds and toasted pine nuts. A wedge of cheese is optional. For dessert my favorite is mince pie or something very light like sorbet, perhaps with a tuile like this orange one from Alain Ducasse.
Ah, Thanksgiving. A holiday filled with love, laughter, copious amounts of wine, and most importantly, food. Every year, my family creates a large buffet with turkey and all the traditional fixings (stuffing, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, etc.). But if I were to break that tradition and have the perfect Thanksgiving in my mind’s eye, I would host a seated dinner party where someone other than myself would serve the courses.
Tunes of Vince Guaraldi Trio and Theolonius Monk would play and glasses of Chateau Ste. Michelle Sauvignon Blanc Horse Heaven Hills Horse Heaven Vineyard 2009 would be poured as guests arrive. As a huge cheese lover, I would have a plate of marinated goat cheese with cognac, red onion, and herbs available for guests to mingle over.
For the first course: cauliflower soup with caramelized onions, apple, and curried shrimp. A nice change-up from a traditional butternut squash soup to warm the soul.
As a North Carolina transplant living in New York City, I’m no longer blessed with a driveway option of deep frying a turkey (which my family is no stranger to). I could, however, take a deep fryer to the roof and do something a bit smaller, like a chicken. Michael Mina’s whole fried chicken demo is a great solution.
Every year, I’m tasked with making a pumpkin chiffon mousse for dessert. My dessert of choice in fantasy land, would be a play on my favorite candy bar, the Whatchamacallit. Mindy Segal’s Ode to said candy bar would be the ultimate end to my seated dinner.
Well, that, and a nice glass of Bailey’s Irish cream, the typical Lewis family nightcap. Seems sometimes I can’t break tradition.
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When it comes to the season’s food holidays, my family always stuck to tried-and-true dishes like a smoked turkey, a brown sugar–glazed roasted turkey, cornbread stuffing, sausage stuffing, oyster stuffing, cranberry sauce two ways (including a rather strange, semi-frozen recipe with sour cream and horseradish from NPR), buttermilk mashed potatoes, creamed onions, candied yams, etc., and all rounded off with at least one apple, one mincemeat, a pecan, and a pumpkin pie. Hey, you can take a girl out of the South…
Although we’re usually a family of tradition, the menu took a rather different turn one year when my cousin and I realized the limitations of throwing an American-sized feast from a pint-sized English kitchen. The turkey (purchased for around $120) had to be broken down and cooked in turns, pies baked in pot lids, and the only marshmallows available (pastel colored in the bag) cooked up to neon hues and revealed themselves to be flavored. Thankfully there was, however, a rather marvelous black trumpet mushroom and chestnut soup, and the whole debacle made for a hilarious evening with some great photos.
Although I don’t have it in me to ruffle feathers and proven timetables by changing up the usual menu, the chef in me loves to fantasize about Thanksgiving, my way. Here’s one version of what my menu might look like, pulled straight from the annals of Food Arts:
• Juniper-marinated venison with pickled pumpkin and lingonberries (although I’d probably look into changing those to cranberries)
• Chestnut spaetzle with black trumpets and salsify in a veal jus/truffle emulsion
• Lettuces raw & cooked, toasted almond vinaigrette, slow-cooked egg (hold the egg today please)
• And, just because I can’t quite let go, a whollop of candied yams will always be found on my sideboard.
Can I throw in a breakfast too? I'm not sure when I'd be able to eat it, but I just couldn't pass by this recipe for French toast with pumpkin custard.
Personal disclaimer: Food holidays are days of no restraint in the Sainsbury household. Bring on the leaf lard, heavy cream, and brown sugar. In a few days, when the leftovers are gone, I’ll consider waddling back to the treadmill and reaching for my bamboo steamer, but for Thanksgiving particularly, dining means lashings of love and gravy.
I am a traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner. That means I like it to be exactly the way my mother cooked it while I was growing up in the Midwest. There was always a roasted turkey with stuffing that included cornbread, sausage, onions, and celery. Giblet gravy included chopped-up bits of hard-boiled eggs. Mashed potatoes vied for space on the plate with cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, and some sort of green vegetable, usually green beans. That was one heaping plate, and there was great satisfaction in the methodical demolishing of all its parts, bite by bite.
My childhood Thanksgiving dinner plate might be credited as being the main influence behind my love and appreciation of food. This wasn’t just mere food, this was glorious food. And then Julia Child came along, just at the right time, to make me a fearless cook and adventurous gourmand. Her main influence on my Thanksgiving dinner, now that I’m old enough, and skilled enough, to cook it myself is manifested mainly with her brilliant proposal, set forth in the November 17, 1985, issue of Parade magazine, to debone the bird before roasting. The backbone and thigh bones were used to make stock for the gravy, and the breast, minus its wishbone, was freed to position itself nicely atop a great heap of stuffing, in its own roasting pan. The thighs and legs roasted in their own pan.
And ever since 1985, that is the way I have roasted my turkey. Sometimes I even freeze the leg-thighs for an additional meal or two based on braising. The turkey stew recipe, which includes “18 fresh giant oysters,” that Walter Staib of City Tavern in Philadelphia has included in our October 1994 issue is tempting, as are the turkey roulades with roasted vegetables from Arnauld Briand (New York City’s The Rainbow Room, November 1994).
Although pecan pie is a favorite classic, this year I am going to make the late Bill Neal’s (Crooks Corner, Chapel Hill, NC) toasted pecan caramel cake, adapted from his Southern Cooking, and included in our June 2002 issue.
It just so happens that my beloved friend and I were born days apart in the same hospital; and since I can remember, on Thanksgiving day, both of our families become one and celebrate not only the holiday spirit but also our continued friendship. My family, armed with pies and pork, marches uptown to commence the tradition. This union of a Puerto Rican family and a Southern black family makes for an evening filled with amusing outbursts in Spanish and “Southern English.” The day’s affair also includes waiting in anticipation for the moment at which we sit down. Encircled by funny-shaped gourds and glistening candles in tall glass holders, we eat. While this day is already amazing, if I could have my fantasy Thanksgiving, it would include all of the following: pork chops with rice and beans, cod fish wrapped in pancetta with polenta, baked grits with wild mushrooms, thyme & country ham (and hot sauce!), tres leches cake, and sweet potato/nutmeg cheesecake. If I were really lucky, my 86 year old grandma would bring pasteles from the island as well as coquito, a concoction that I look forward to year-round, made with coconut milk, condensed milk, white rum (80 proof!), cinnamon, and nutmeg. The sweet buzz-inducing drink is served on Christmas day, but we were never much for convention. Besides, that would be another four weeks away—who can wait that long? Not me. I concede I eat light in the days leading up to this marathon so that I can leave blissfully satisfied on a full belly. And after the dishes are cleaned, we once again sit down to sip on steaming hot coffee strained through, what else, but an old-school “coffee sock.”