I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year.
It’s going to be relatively small, just 10 people. But I am approaching it with great caution because it’s just too easy to screw up a turkey.
Turkey can be too dry. It can be too salty. It can take way longer to cook than you expected so it’s too salmonella-y. If you’ve got one of those turkey fryers, it can even be too burn-your-house-down-y.
There are so many ways to make a bad turkey, that the Thai-born High Heeled Gourmet (one of my favorite food bloggers) described her first real Thanksgiving like this:
I thought Thanksgiving was just the time that Americans reminded themselves of how tough lives were during the pioneer days. They had to eat this horrible-tasting bird just because it was the only thing available during the wintertime! Thanksgiving is just to remind every Americans of that austere time, so they can’t make them any tastier, or it would be too disrespectful to the memory of the pioneers. Or maybe it was just simply impossible to make turkey taste like food.
Add to the turkey worries all the other dishes that have to be prepared at the same time and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Especially if, like me, you’re going to be flying solo in the kitchen.
The key to avoiding that disaster is planning. I already did a full dress rehearsal a couple of weekends ago to test my recipies, get a feel for how long each dish took and to figure out what I can prep ahead of time and what I can cook simultaneously with my kitchen and gear. That meal came out nearly perfect and it taught me a couple of things. Like, no matter what the recipe, web site or cookbook says, always allow an extra hour for the bird. You might not need it, but it’s easier to hold the cooked turkey till dinner time than it is to make the bird cook faster.
To make sure everything is perfect for the Big Show, here’s how I’m spending the next three days.
Turkey, obviously. I’m doing mine on my Big Green Egg, obviously. I’m using Kevin Rathbun’s recipe. It uses lots of herbs, oranges and lemons, so it has a deep savory flavor with nice citrusy undertones. I’ll be smoking mine over apple wood.
Mash Potatoes, obviously. Nothing special about these. Just remember to stir the melted butter into the mashed spuds before adding the chicken stock. That way the fat in the butter prevents the water in the stock from making the potatoes gummy.
Stuffing, obviously. I’m using a classic bread stuffing recipe from Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required). It’s nothing fancy. Just cubed, stale white bread, herbs, celery, onions, eggs, stock, salt and pepper. The nice thing about it is, I can prep the stuffing the night before and bake it on Thanksgiving. That saves a lot of prep work and stress.
Gravy, obviously. I’m also using a Cook’s Illustrated recipe for this. This recipe starts by roasting the turkey giblets, celery, carrots and garlic to deepen the flavors, then finishes it off with white wine, thyme and a blonde roux. Like the stuffing, it can be made days ahead and reheated. Less work on Thanksgiving means more football!
Sweet Potatoes. Here’s where I diverge from tradition. I love sweet potatoes, but I hate those marshmallow smothered, candied abominations everyone serves on Thanksgiving. What an awful thing to do to a sweet potato. So I’m serving a grown up version featuring roasted sweet potatoes with a maple, bourbon glaze. Because bourbon beats marshmallows any day.
Green beans. Again, I leave tradition behind. My loathing of marshmallow sweet potatoes is matched only by how much I hate green bean casserole made out of canned onion soup and topped with canned fried onions. Yuck! No wonder the High Heeled Gourmet thought Thanksgiving was a holiday devoted to terrible food. Since it’s my house, I’m making Almond Sesame Ginger Green Beans with Garlic and Soy Sauce.
My sisters-in-law are bring the appetizers and desserts. So I’m off the hook for those.
Tuesday – Grocery shop. Make the gravy. Cube the bread for the stuffing and start it drying out.
Wednesday – Prepare the stuffing. Wrap and refrigerate. Brine the turkey.
Thanksgiving – This is where things get hectic. But I think I’ll have enough done ahead of time to make it manageable.
10:00 AM – Light the Egg. Pre-heat to 350° F. While the Egg is heating, remove turkey from brine, pat dry and stuff with lemons, garlic, onions, thyme and sage.
10:30 AM – In a biological reversal, the bird goes into the Egg. It’s a 15 pounder. I’m planning on 5 to 5 1/2 hours. I’ll be using my Redi-Chek wireless thermometer which monitors the temperature of both the Egg and the bird. So I won’t have to worry about over cooking the main attraction.
12:00 – 2:00 PM – Prep work. Chopping, mincing, trimming, mixing. I like to have everything ready to go and lined up before I start cooking. It makes cooking so much easier and more fun. You can peel all your potatoes ahead of time and keep them submerged in cold water. You can mince your garlic and keep it wrapped in plastic. Ditto for your onions and just about everything else.
Don’t forget to take the stuffing and gravy out of the frig so they can get up to room temperature.
Oh, and check the turkey. You do not want to over cook that sucker or it will just be nasty.
2:30 PM – Guest start to arrive. Time out of the kitchen for some hosting duties. Wine, beer and soft drinks for everyone. The sister-in-law on appetizer duty is a good cook, so those should up to snuff.
Oh, and check the turkey.
3:00 PM – Get the sweet potatoes and stuffing into the ovens. They both take about an hour to bake. Start boiling the potatoes for the mashed potatoes.
Oh, and check the turkey.
3:30 PM – The turkey should be done. Take out of the oven and let rest at least 20 minutes. Start the green beans. Mash the potatoes.
4:00 PM – If everything goes according to plan all the dishes should be coming out of the ovens and off the stove right about now. Carve the turkey, line everything up buffet style and call the kids for dinner.
It’s a good plan. Foolproof.
I’ll let you know how it goes.