Serious Eats

The Food Lab Answers Thanksgiving Questions: On Turkey, Non-Turkey Mains, Gravy

[Doodle: Robyn Lee]

Last Thursday we gave you the opportunity to ask anything about Thanksgiving. I spent a good chunk of the weekend answering them. (It's a good thing my wife is away and the dog doesn't mind sleeping all day and all night because I've been bathing the apartment in the quiet glow of the monitor and filling the air with the subtle clacking of the keyboard.)

It's been another hard day's night of answering all your queries,* but I think what we've ended up compiling is a truly useful guide to troubleshooting the heck out of your Thanksgiving. Got a question? The answer is probably in this series! First up here, all questions related to turkeys (the brining, roasting, and flavoring of), and non-turkey mains.

* My apologies to anyone who submitted a question after the midnight EST deadline last week. We answered that came in before then!

On Turkeys, Selecting and Brining Of

What should one look for when selecting a turkey e.g. frozen vs fresh; heritage vs commercial; prebrined vs natural, etc? —jimmyg at 5:21PM on 11/10/11

Everything's a trade-off. Fresh will give you better texture, but frozen is obviously easier to store long-term. Even a fresh turkey in a cryo-vacked bag should last several weeks under normal refrigeration, so I pretty much always go with fresh.

Heritage breeds tend to pack more flavor than commercial turkeys, but they also tend to be a little tougher, scrawnier, and drier. Careful cooking can negate these problems (use a thermometer!), so I usually try and get myself a heritage breed if I can. It's worth it for the flavor, and to support the small farmers trying to keep these birds around.

Prebrined or kosher birds are a good way to go if you have a tendency to accidentally overcook your turkeys or don't want to have to brine your bird yourself. Do bear in mind that you won't find the really flavorful heritage breeds as pre-brined ("enhanced") or Kosher, so those you'll still have to brine yourself if you decide to go with a brined bird. I personally prefer the undiluted flavor of a natural bird. I mean, while brining adds moisture, really all you're doing it watering down flavor. Even with a flavored brine, very few flavorful compounds actually make it into the bird.

What size turkey do I need for 4 hungry adults, with having some left over for leftovers? Also, what is the best way to cook, what I am assuming will be, a smaller turkey? —Joe C at 10:05PM on 11/10/11

You're going to have trouble finding one small enough. Turkeys are generally a minimum of around 8 pounds or so, whereas you're going to want a 4-5 pound bird. Just plan on lots of leftovers.

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Cooking small turkeys is just like cooking larger ones, you just have to keep an eye on their temperature as they cook, because cooking times will be significantly lower. Check out this recipe.

My question is about the brine. No bagged ice in Italy, and my freezer doesn't make ice. I was thinking about lining a laundry tub with a black plastic trashbag, but how can I effectively keep the bird cold? Should the salt dissolve all the way in the brine before the bird goes in? How long is the minimum brining time? I've never brined before so I'm freaking out a little bit. (BitchinFixins at 4:57PM on 11/10/11)

I'd fill up a few two-liter soda bottles with water and freeze them (leave space at the top for expansion) and use them to keep the laundry tub cool while the turkey brines. You should have no problem keeping it cold for around 8 hours or so (longer if you replace the frozen bottles periodically). You want to brine the bird for at least 8 hours, though 24 is preferable.

Salt, unlike sugar, has the property that it dissolves equally fast in cold water as hot water, so no need to be hyper anal about dissolving it all. Even in the iced down water, it'll dissolve plenty fast. Just give it a good stir and drop in your turkey.

My first comment in SE:-) I like my meat spicy. When I brine my turkey, what spices can I use in the solution to pack the meat with spicy flavors, and can brine inject flavors other than saltiness? —adnan at 4:57PM on 11/10/11

Unfortunately, the only real flavor that penetrates deeply into the turkey during brining is salt. Most other flavorful compounds are too large to be absorbed effectively. Even brining for a couple days shows penetration of no more than a few millimeters. That said, a spicy surface treatment would definitely add some heat to the mix. I'd brine your bird then rub it with a spice rub that has plenty of heat in the form of cayenne pepper or fresh chilies. You could also spike the gravy with chili if you'd like.

What's your opinion on brining a Kosher turkey? I know there's a lot more salt because of the Kashering process, but is there anyway to brine a Kosher turkey? Less salt in the brine water? Or is it pointless to brine it?
 Thanks (nossi at 4:05PM on 11/10/11)

A Kosher turkey is essentially brined already, so there's really no reason to brine it. If you use a less salty brine, you're actually accomplishing the opposite of the intended goal: you're pulling salt out of the bird, which makes it lose moisture faster as it cooks. You'll also succeed in making the skin soggier. Again, a bad thing.

If you buy a supermarket turkey, one that is labeled as being in a salt water solution, should you even bother with brines or dry rubs or anything like that or is that turkey already packed to the max? —Rosewood at 5:32PM on 11/10/11

Indeed it's already pretty brined out. You won't get much benefit from subsequent brining on your own.

About a zillion brining questions already so I don't know how you are going to condense it. My slight variation is this. If you buy a generic bird from the supermarket it's probably pre-brined (some % salt solution). Is there any advantage/disadvantage in brining the bird again? —koblinski at 6:44PM on 11/10/11

Nope, see above!

Flavored/smoked salt in a "dry-brined" turkey - will it work or will the non-salt flavor molecules just sit on the surface? (LA times says it works, but no science just opinion). —annet at 7:39PM on 11/10/11

That's the problem with opinion: it can't be trusted. On the other hand, bad science has some flaws too. Who has the truth?

Well, fact is that science says that large flavorful molecules like those found in smoke won't penetrate very far. This is indeed true—most of them rest on the surface of the bird. On the other hand, eat a turkey that's been seasoned or brined with smoked salt and it'll taste smoky. It's because it's such a strong flavor that even a little bit on the surface has enough aromatic molecules to make you sense it the whole time its in your mouth. So long as you get a little bit of the skin with each bite, you'll taste plenty of smoke.

Bear in mind that this is not necessarily the case for other, less easily-detected flavors.

On Turkeys, Anatomy and Butchery Of

How do you go about asking a butcher to butterfly or cut your turkey into pieces? Is it ok to just ask? Is it something that could be done while I shopped? Should you tip if it's an independent shop? A supermarket? I know, I know "develop a relationship with your butcher" but I just don't eat that much meat. For what it's worth the plan is to buy a fresh Bell & Evans at my local co-op. —annet at 7:39PM on 11/10/11

Just ask! If you've got a butcher worth his salt, he'd be happy to do it for you. Bear in mind that butchers are very busy during the holiday season, so make sure you give him plenty of time to do it (while you shop should be fine—just make the butcher counter your first and last stop in the supermarket).

Concerning boneless turkeys: How did they walk? —RobC_ at 3:59PM on 11/10/11

I'm not really sure, but if you are interested in knowing how a boneless Turk dances, check out this link.

My family has a long time debate over the turkey rump (the little butt part that usually sticks out and up a bit). My mom's family says it must come off and having it on will ruin the taste of the rest of the turkey, while my dad's side loves that part (especially my grandma) and is very upset when they find its been chopped off prior to roasting. What is the general consensus on this controversial part of the turkey or is my family just crazy? —meridiansour at 4:01PM on 11/10/11

Holy cow, your mom is nuts! It's absolutely the best part of the turkey (or any roasted bird, for that matter). Believe me, after many years of working in restaurants, I can tell you that the Pope's nose (as it's called) is one of those "chef's bits" that cooks fight over to eat. Perhaps your mom was served a roasted bird at a fancy restaurant once and noticed that the bit was missing and assumed it's because it somehow makes the bird taste better. The real reason is that it never made it past the kitchen doors.

If your mom cuts them off, hoard them like gold. Juicy, fatty gold.

On Turkeys, Roasting Of

Will removing the back from the turkey will cause the turkey to cook quicker? I like dark meat, but there is something about the back meat that skeeves me out. —Jim-Bob at 3:55PM on 11/10/11

Yep. If you aren't worried about having the perfectly round turkey on your Thanksgiving table, the best way to cook it is to butterfly it by cutting out the back, spreading it out, and pressing down on the center of the breast to flatten it. Doing it is quite easy and it'll cut your roasting time by at least 1/4, if not more. It's also the best way to get your legs and breasts to cook evenly together, as well as to getting crisp skin.

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You can read all about it in this article which is about chicken, but the same principles apply.

I've got a 18-22 LB turkey coming from my farm share for this years Thanksgiving. They aren't heritage birds, just broad breasted whites, but are left to pasture for their diet. Should any considerations be made in terms of cooking this versus a commercial bird? —kmack at 4:30PM on 11/10/11

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Just be more careful about final cooking temperature. With pasture-raised birds that are free from the "enhancing" solutions many commercial birds are injected with, overcooking is very easy. Cook the breast meat to 145 to 150° or so, and you should be fine.

And remember kids, ALWAYS USE A THERMOMETER!

Last year I spatchcocked my turkey. I stuck my thermometer in the thigh as I would normally do had I left the bird whole. I pulled it at the right temp and let it rest while I threw my casseroles in the oven. When I went to slice my bird, the breast near where the wishbone would have been was completely raw! I was wondering what could cause this and how to avoid it. Maybe throwing some more veg under the breast to make sure that it is propped up? Or should I measure the temperature in a different place with a spatchcocked turkey? —hendrixe at 9:44PM on 11/10/11

You should always measure your turkeys in the breast. That's the part of the bird that's really most sensitive to cooking. Even if your legs overcook, they won't be bad, but under or over-cooked breast meat is terrible. Roast your bird until the breast registers 145° to 160°F (depending on how well done you like it), then just double check the legs to make sure they've come up to at least 165°F or so. If they need a bit more cooking, remove them and leave them in the oven for longer while your breasts rest.

I have a family that insists on cooking turkey in a bag. I have brined/roasted the turkey the last few years with excellent results, yet they still think the bag method is better. What are the pros/cons of cooking a turkey in a bag vs roasting? —cp123 at 5:34PM on 11/10/11

I haven't done extensive testing on this so I don't really know the thermal properties of a bag, but honestly, I don't see how it could possible benefit your bird. Certainly it's not going to help maintain a moister bird—the notion that cooking in a moist, steamy environment leads to moister meat in the end is utterly false. Even boiled meat can dry out if you cook it to too high a temperature. I'd work harder on convincing them.

I am making a cider/applejack basted turkey--sort of a Normandy-style dish. I usually do this with chicken and then make a quick sauce with the pan goodie and creme fraiche. On a larger-scale, though, I wonder if the sauce will be too thick? too much? I don't want it to be gloppy/too heavy. Should I use cream or creme fraiche or both? Extra broth? —CandiRisk at 4:38PM on 11/10/11

I wouldn't sweat it, Candi. Just have the sauce on the side and let people pour on as much or as little as they want. Thanksgiving's not the right day to think about weather your sauce is too heavy!

I'd use straight up crème fraîche because it's got some nice acidity to balance out its richness which should give you a more balanced sauce than straight up cream. If it looks too thick to you, some good broth would do too, but crème fraîche gets pretty loose as it heats, so make sure you have your sauce at serving temperature before you decide to modify its texture!

And if you have more questions about using crème fraîche, I suggest you catch up on old episodes of Cafeteria Fraîche.

I only looked briefly, but I didn't see anything about cooking the turkey breast side down vs. breast side up. I've read so many stories about people who do that accidentally, and end up doing it that way on purpose from then on because the breast was so much more moist. (coppertone24 at 4:43PM on 11/10/11)

Depends on your oven and your roasting pan. With a very thick roasting pan and an oven that doesn't circulate all that much, it's possible that if you turn the breast to face down that the sides of the roasting pan shield it from much direct heat, allowing it to cook more slowly and gently. That said, you'll never get crisp skin from an upside-down cooked bird.

You can always flip half way through roasting, but that's about as much fun as trying to wrangle a pit bull's favorite toy away from him while wearing sausage-stuffed pants. My guess is that the people who think turkey's turn out better upside down are probably cooking based on time, not temperature, so they get a turkey breast that's less vastly overcooked than their normal overcooked turkey breast, leading them to think that it must be the upside-down-ness that's leading to moister meat.

As long as you don't overcook it, there's no reason a right-side-up breast should be any less juicy than an upside-down one.

On Turkeys, Smoked or Grilled

This year i really want to smoke a turkey and was wondering if you had any tips? —freets at 8:50PM on 11/10/11

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Oh, absolutely. Josh Bousel has got you covered! Check out his great recipe for Cajun Smoked Turkey!

Are there any worthy grilled turkey recipes? Should I butterfly it or not? Would cranberry glaze that's applied in the last half hour be noticeable or just be a gimmick? —esjay at 4:28PM on 11/10/11

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Actually, grilling a turkey is one of the best ways to cook it because it makes cooking the legs and breasts to the correct temperature so much easier. Yes, I'd butterfly the bird so that it lays flat. The key to great grilled turkey is to build the right kind of fire. What you want is a two-zone indirect fire, where all of the coals are piled on one side. Place the grate over the coals and position the turkey skin-side-up such that the legs are closer to to coals than the breast. Cover the grill with the vents open above the turkey-side, then roast until the breasts reach 145°F and the legs are at at least 165°F (they may get higher).

If your coals start to die out in the middle, feel free to add a few more during the cooking process. It'll take around 3 to 4 hours for a 10 to 12-pound bird.

If you want your skin extra crisp, you can carefully flip the bird (ha) and place it directly over the coals for a few minutes at the end. Let it rest at least half an hour under foil, then carve and serve.

Recommendations on cooking a bird on the weber? i usually smoke mine on the weber smokey mountain bullet, but I'm cooking off-site this year and only have access to a kettle bbq. tips like timing and amount of coals would be very helpful. I've already purchased coal rails, so i've got that covered. —shimpiphany at 5:18PM on 11/10/11

See my response above. As for amount of coals, I'd start with a 3/4 full chimney and add more as necessary during cooking.

I've tried to cook my bird on the grill before, but it ends up being a bit too dry. Do you have any good grilled/smoked turkey recipes, techniques? —dasago at 5:37PM on 11/10/11

See the responses above, and if you have a rotisserie, Josh Bousel has a wonderful recipe for rotisserie turkey.

On Turkey, Alternative Cooking Methods Of

I would like to test out braising turkey parts in the newest recipe by Cook's Illustrated magazine this month. However, I can't find a scaled down version to see if it's good. Can you help me scale it down so I can see if the white & dark meat taste good? Also, with braised turkey, is there any way I can rip the skin off before or after and crisp it up somehow? —ItsMeCoffeeGirl at 5:49PM on 11/10/11

I don't have the newest issue of Cook's so I couldn't tell you exactly how they do it or if it can be scaled down, but here's a recipe for braised chicken legs which highlights a technique that would work just as well with turkey legs. Indeed, it's how I'm going to do my turkey legs this year: sear them in hot oil and butter until the skin is crisp, transfer them to a roasting pan, then nestle aromatics around the turkey (onion, carrot, celery, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns, parsley stems) and add stock until it's about half covered and braise it in the oven.

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The skin should stay plenty crisp during the whole cooking process, and you get ultra-moist fork tender meat and a very flavorful liquid to make your gravy with to boot!

We're doing turkey cutlets instead of a whole bird - how much should we buy per person? —katyc at 7:08PM on 11/10/11

Normally I'd say about half a pound per person, but this is Thanksgiving and leftovers are almost mandatory, so I'd go with at least 3/4 of a pound per person.

I love your writing on sous vide cooking! They've informative, but not so intensive or haute as to overwhelm someone who just got a sous vide. Do you have any suggestions for cooking turkey parts sous vide (or any other Thanksgiving stuff sous vide)? —jaycain at 8:31PM on 11/10/11

Sure, I did my turkey sous-vide last year. I separate my breasts and legs and put them into separate bags. Cook the legs at 165°F for between 5-6 hours to fully tenderize them, then cook the breasts at 145°F for about 4 hours. You can reheat the legs in the same water bath as the breasts before serving. You can put whatever you'd like in the bag, but I usually go simple. Salt, pepper, perhaps some thyme sprigs.

Take them out of the bag, sear the skin in a hot skillet with butter or oil, slice, and serve! If you're feeling extra porkalicious, feel free to stick some hunks of bacon or salt pork into the bag.

Do you have a recipe for a sous-vide turkey? Preferably made in the beer cooler method. —justin h at 11:43PM on 11/10/11

See above. Unfortunately, there's no way to do this in a beer cooler—it just doesn't stay hot for long enough!

What kind of turkey-dinner-ish meal can you recommend for a single person, coming home after 7pm on Thanksgiving? I'd have no time to prepare anything in the week before. (Celebrating belatedly doesn't work out, either.) —Yukiyummy at 10:37PM on 11/10/11

Turkey cutlets are a good, no-fuss way to go. You can make up a baking dish of stuffing the night before and lay a few turkey breast cutlets over the top. Cover the dish with foil. The next day, just pop the whole thing into a 400°F oven straight from the fridge and bake until the turkey is cooked through to 145°F (this'll take maybe 45 minutes or so). Remove the foil, and there you go: turkey and stuffing with almost no effort. Throw on some gravy and a good salad, and you've got a Thanksgiving meal not quite fit for a king, but certainly fit for a single person coming home after 7pm on Thanksgiving.

So my brother gave me a molecular gastronomy set (with the standard bunch of chemicals and starting materials) but I haven't had the chance to use it yet. Do you have any suggestions for thanksgiving dishes that incorporate a few modern twists on traditional recipes? —capricho at 11:56PM on 11/10/11

Oof, this is such a large can of worms that I don't even know where to begin. Honestly, I'd suggest starting a Talk thread on the subject. People here are bound to have some great ideas.

On Gravy

Why is gravy so amazing? Isn't it the BEST part of Thanksgiving? —Bec at 4:15PM on 11/10/11

Are you just looking for some reassurance here or is this a serious question? If it's the former, then YES OF COURSE IT'S THE BEST PART OF THANKSGIVING. If the latter, then no, obviously stuffing is the best part of thanksgiving. Pull your head out of the turkey.

By the way, have you ever considered starting yourself on the Gravy Diet?" It's a brand new made-up diet for a new generation of gullible people.

What is the most efficient way to get the maximum amount of gravy into my mouth? —film_score at 4:30PM on 11/10/11

I'd suggest the firehose:

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What is the best time/temp combo to roast a turkey to maximize gravy? My mother-in-law makes a 25lb bird and cooks it all day long and gets so much gravy that it overflows the roasting pan. She uses Butterball, or something like that, which I know has added water in the processing. I buy a natural, organic turkey with minimal processing and no additives. I do brine the turkey overnight, but I barely get any gravy at all. Some recipes I see roast at high heat for only a few hours, she puts hers in the oven at 9am on very low. And she stuffs it. Why don't I get as much gravy as she does? —ktskrap at 5:54PM on 11/10/11

You answered your own question here: Butterball turkeys have a ton of extra liquid pumped into them. Some of this comes out as it cooks. Additionally, I'm guessing that your mother-in-law is probably ending up cooking her turkey to a higher internal temperature than you are, which means more juices will be expelled as it cooks. It's this combination that leads to more drippings.

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Of course, I wouldn't worry about it. It's very easy to make plenty of great gravy even before you roast the bird. The pan drippings are a flavor enhancer, that's all. Check out these tips on making gravy.

Didn't you have a "make ahead" gravy last year: roasting turkey parts, making broth, and going from there? I tried the search function, but couldn't find it. Could you give us the link if you have already covered this important part of Thanksgiving—a part that I find overwhelming if I have to do it at the last minute! —Teachertalk at 7:28PM on 11/10/11

Here's last year's gravy recipe. It certainly can be made ahead by roasting off turkey parts for stock then following the attached recipe. I pretty much always make my gravy ahead, adding drippings at end to enhance its flavor.

Ooo, I thought of another one. My boyfriend is a crazy person and doesn't like gravy. If I were trying to bring him over to the gravy side, what recipe would you suggest (white and/or brown gravy)? —coppertone24 at 7:56PM on 11/10/11

I'd suggest making this one, then wearing it. With nothing else. If that doesn't turn him on to gravy, sorry coppertone24, it's time to start shopping for a new boyfriend.

A few years ago I made pan gravy using red wine (AB's Best Gravy Ever). AB's gravy was a rich brown color, ours turned purple. It tasted great, but it was purple. Any tips on what red wine won't turn from scratch turkey gravy purple? —Tootsie at 8:44PM on 11/10/11

Sounds like you didn't reduce it far enough before adding the rest of your liquid. When using red wine, you want to reduce it pretty far before you add any other liquid. This will concentrate its color and its flavor and help you avoid the purple sauce. Yep, nobody wants to eat purple food.

I make gravy using the pan drippings from the turkey. It takes me 20 minutes or so to get the large quantity of gravy (6 cups once finished?) to the correct consistency. Unfortunately, this means that if the turkey takes slightly longer than I expect, I'm in the kitchen whisking gravy while guests are here waiting for their food.. So... is there any way to make a large quantity of gravy quicker? Or any prep work I can do to speed things along? Also, which is better? Butternut squash pie, or pumpkin pie? —marciposa at 10:44PM on 11/10/11

I'm not sure why it's taking so long to get the quantity down to the right amount. Are you seriously getting more than 6 cups of pan drippings from the turkey and reducing them, or are you starting with turkey stock that you made separately? If the former, then it's new to me. I've never seen a turkey release that much juice as it cooks. If it's the latter, then simple: make your gravy before the turkey is done roasting. You can always add just the drippings to the gravy and reduce it just until it comes back to the desired consistency. This is how I do my gravy every year.

And I think Butternut squash is clearly better. Pumpkin just doesn't have the same flavor, as nice and fun as it sounds.

On Non-Turkey Turkey

What's the secret to a perfect kugel? Will your Peking duck recipe work well for a turkey? —scalfin at 6:04PM on 11/10/11

Perfect kugel... unfortunately not up my alley. I've never made a kugel in my life, though Ed did mention that the mashed potato pie I made last week was uncannily similar to a really large, tasty knish. That's about as much as I know about Jewish cuisine.

As for Peking Duck forking for turkey, there are certainly elements of the recipe which would help. Separating the skin from the meat, doing the hot water pour over to help tighten the skin and start rendering some fat, the drying, etc. You won't fine a beef can big enough to hold a turkey upright though, or an oven for that matter.

I'm having a pre-Thanksgiving feast at my place a few days before the main event. I'm making roast duck, instead of turkey, and tarte tatin instead of apple pie. I want to make a great, savory soup that hits on some themes of Thanksgiving and autumn; any recommendations? What would be some great sides for my duck that aren't exactly Thanksgiving staples but still remind us of the season? John Jensen at 6:22PM on 11/10/11

My wife can never get enough butternut squash and ginger soup during the fall. It's enough to turn her already orangish skin even more orangish (I'm assuming she's not reading down this far). It's a great, easy, festive seasonal dish.

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As for sides, we've got a whole page devoted to them with both traditional and non-traditional choices. Pomegranates are in season now, and I always like to have a salad with some fall fruit, bitter greens, and pomegranate (stay tuned for a recipe this week). That should go very nicely with duck.

We'll be having ham at our post-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving with my side of the family to avoid double turkey fatigue. Any tips on making a ham festive (seasonal spice?) so it seems just as natural on the table as a turkey? —nothernspy at 7:50PM on 11/10/11

A good ham is a cause for celebration in and of itself. I rarely find the need to do anything to it other than give it a good sweet glaze and make sure the skin comes out nice and crisp. You could always stud it with cloves, or flavor the glaze with some festive ingredients like, say, cinnamon and allspice. I'd just add a half teaspoon of each to the glaze when you construct it. Here's a recipe for a Maple Glazed City Ham, and here's one for a Cherry Coke-Glazed Country Ham. Make sure you know what you're getting into before you buy a country ham though. Here's a full guide on selecting and cooking a holiday ham.

What would be the best way to add a sugar/honey glaze to a ham to achieve the crisp of preglazed hams? —cutterroberts at 9:31PM on 11/10/11

Just so happens that I wrote an entire article devoted to hams. It's complete with two recipes, both of which should give you a nice crisp glaze.

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TL;DR version: the key is to first slowly render all the fat out of the skin by slow cooking, then to cook it until the collagen in the skin has completely broken down. The skin should be easy to tear, not rubbery or leathery. Finally, jack up the heat, paint on the glaze, and throw it back in the oven until it's crisp, painting it with glaze a couple more times as it crisps up.

I just made my first batch of duck stock. Can I use this duck stock interchangeably with chicken stock in Thanksgiving recipes? —AlanRandolph at 10:54PM on 11/10/11

Sure can, as long as you don't mind your food tasting a bit "ducky."

On Vegetarianism

Vegetarian options that aren't tofurky —jamesws at 4:55PM on 11/10/11

Yeah, I'm on board with the vegetarian (vegan?) mains other than tofurkey. Preferably something that can be eaten with cranberry sauce... does that even exist? MerMei at 8:17PM on 11/10/11

I didn't even realize tofurky is an option to begin with. What about utilizing some of the awesome fall produce? A great squash lasagna, for example? Here's a recipe from our columnist The Crisper Whisperer. Squash also makes great risotto. Check out Nick's recipe here. Of course, vegetable gratins of any kind always feel celebratory. This Swiss Chard Gratin from Alice Waters is awesome, comforting, and celebratory.

This page has a number of turkey alternatives, many of which are vegetarian.

How do you make the tastiest vegetarian gravy? Non-turkey gravy just seems like a lame white sauce, but I have non-meat-eating friends coming over and want their experience to be top notch. —ell.victor at 4:02PM on 11/10/11

A good vegetable stock (I use a mix of lots of onions and celery, some carrots, a tart apple, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns (plenty), fennel seed, coriander, a star anise clove, and plenty of garlic simmered in water for an hour), along with some soy sauce and marmite or maggi seasoning. Both of the latter are concentrated yeast extracts, which add plenty of meaty glutamates to the mix. Thicken with a brown roux.

I'm a recent vegan and this will be my first Thanksgiving not eating meat or dairy products with my omnivore family. Are there any meat- and dairy-free side dishes that you could recommend to please a crowd of meat eaters and non-meat eaters alike? cmstiller at 10:32PM on 11/10/11

I don't really do much vegan cooking, but certainly there are plenty of ideas in our Thanksgiving side dish guide. Off the top of my head, I'd do Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Crispy Roast Potatoes, and Harîcots verts with sauce Ravigote.

Stay tuned tomorrow for all questions related to sides and desserts, and Wednesday for the hodgepodge of miscellany that didn't fit elsewhere.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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