[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]
When I was mulling over what we could do on Special Sauce for Thanksgiving, I immediately thought about stress reduction. Making the big dinner can be stressful for any number of reasons, and while we design all our Thanksgiving offerings with an eye to making the holiday as hassle-free as possible, I decided to continue with that theme in this special edition of Ask Special Sauce. I invited Kenji and Stella on to answer as many questions from our community as we could, since they know a lot about a lot of Thanksgiving-related topics.
Kenji has some invaluable advice about really taking into account the tools and heat sources in your kitchen as you plan out your menu, and he has some suggestions for dishes you may want to consider, like salads, which he says are "definitely underrepresented" on Thanksgiving tables.
Stella suggests making a layer cake if you've been tasked with bringing dessert to a dinner that's several hours away. "Most layer cakes do extremely well on the road," she says, although she does caution that you have to make sure the cake is refrigerated overnight, to harden the frosting, and that you keep the cake sufficiently protected on the ride over.
The two of them delve into other tips and tricks from figuring out what to do with leftovers and accommodating your guests' allergies and dietary restrictions, and they discuss the differences between stuffing and dressing. (Kenji even has an ingenious solution for people who would like to cook their stuffing in their bird without overcooking the meat.)
We've also decided to provide a full transcript of our conversation below, for those of you who'd prefer to read it.
Happy Thanksgiving, Serious Eaters, from me and all the rest of us here at Serious Eats!
The Complete Transcript
Ed Levine: Welcome, Serious Eaters, to a special Thanksgiving Ask Special Sauce. Serious Eaters from all over have sent us turkey day related questions that they would like us to answer. What we're really trying to do here is take the stress and worry out of Thanksgiving. Here to do the answering and provide the stress reduction are two people who know a thing or two about cooking and baking. Serious Eats' Kenji López-Alt, the best selling author of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, and Stella Parks, Serious Eats' resident pastry wizard and also a New York Times best-selling author for her book BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts. Welcome to our special Thanksgiving episode of Ask Special Sauce, Kenji and Stella.
Kenji López-Alt: Thanks, Ed.
Stella Parks: Hey, thanks for having us.
EL: Yeah, this is going to be fun. What's up, Kenji? I haven't spoken to you in a while. You've been sharing some of your favorite books with the Serious Eats community and doing your usual arguing with people about the merits of brining and extolling the virtues of cooking a spatchcocked turkey. I know you're supposed to be working on your next book, but I know you're really just hanging out with your adorable daughter. What have you been up to? What are your days really like?
KLA: My days are mostly hanging out with my adorable daughter. She's eight-and-a-half months old now, and, yeah, I'm a full-time stay-at-home dad now. Although now she goes to daycare two days a week, which is when I'm supposedly working on my book, although really those two days are basically spent catching up on emails and stuff like that.
EL: We are not going to tell your editor that.
KLA: There's actually a fair amount of down time where I do get to do a little bit of work during her naps and stuff like that.
EL: That's good. So you're working on the new book, which you say in your social feeds has 10% more science.
KLA: Yes, 10% more science, carefully measured. The new book, yeah, it's a sequel to Food Lab, untitled as of now. But it's going to be focused more on strategies for everyday cooking. Instead of taking three days to make a meatloaf, it's going to teach you how you can make a meatloaf on a Tuesday night and have it taste about 90% as good as one that takes three days to make.
EL: I like that. I like that. Stella, you've been making waves on Serious Eats with some pastry heresy, in my opinion, by promoting substituting pumpkin layer cake for pie. That is heresy, in my book.
SP: I'm just.... Team cake needs some love.
EL: But you've also been out on the road promoting your book. Where have you been?
SP: I feel like I've been everywhere. I got to go see Kenji in San Mateo and hit up everything in the Bay Area. Then we went up to Seattle for a little bit, then on to Boston, and I've been to Atlanta and Cincinnati and I've done events in New York, of course, and I've got more events coming up. It's been pretty crazy.
EL: You're a true road warrior.
SP: Yeah, I'm definitely getting some new luggage.
EL: Alright, we have many questions. People were really interested in getting the two of your takes on their Thanksgiving problems and opportunities to solve those problems. We're going to start with two people, Drew C. and Christina Y. Basically they're both asking about time and space management when cooking for the holidays.
KLA: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
EL: One of them, Drew C., goes to his in-laws for Thanksgiving. It's a nine hour drive, South Dakota to Colorado with a two-year-old and a seven-month-old, "So we make the drive at night to keep everyone sane. We're leaving Tuesday evening after work, it will be a pretty hectic weekend with all these people in the same house. We would like to be able to contribute something to the meal Thursday but don't want to use any more kitchen resources than necessary the day of. Do you have recommendations for something that we could make before we go and it's easy to prepare or reheat?"
And Christina Y. basically has the same theme to her question. "Keeping things warm is our biggest challenge. We only have one oven and there's always a bunch of sides."
So, how do people deal with this? I have the same problem, so I really hope you can answer Drew C.'s and Christina Y.'s questions.
KLA: Yeah, I guess I'll go first because this seems like more of a savory-related question, although I'm sure there are some dessert options that Stella can recommend, too. For Christina, who's asking about something that she can make and bring on a nine hour drive without having to do much work once she gets there, I would say make a good salad. I think salads are definitely underrepresented and not thought about enough during Thanksgiving meals. Everyone thinks about the stuffing and the potatoes and the turkey, but a good salad, I think, makes an excellent side.
I would say on Serious Eats we have a recipe for a warm Brussels sprouts salad which is essentially.... You can do a lot of that prep ahead of time. It's Brussels sprout leaves that are sautéed in a little bit of bacon fat and then have a toasted hazelnut vinaigrette. You can make basically all of those elements in advance. You can even cook off the bacon lardon and just save the fat. Separate all the leaves on the Brussels sprout leaves, put them in a Ziploc bag, and then completely make the toasted hazelnut vinaigrette. When you get there, basically all you need to do is reheat that bacon fat in a skillet, add the Brussels sprout leaves and sauté them, and then just toss everything together.
Or if you want to do zero prep when you get there, zero heating when you get there, there's a recipe on Serious Eats also for a roasted squash salad with cranberries and kale. For that one, all you'd have to do.... It's served at room temperature so all you'd really have to do is roast the squash ahead of time and make the dressing, get your greens ready, and then you can just pack everything up, and when you get there all you've got to do is toss it all together. It's really easy to to. They're both delicious. And very, very little last minute prep on those.
EL: What do you do if you don't want to use bacon in the Brussels sprouts? What can you substitute?
KLA: You don't have to use bacon. You can sauté them in olive oil. You can sauté them in butter, if you'd like, as well. Although, actually, since it's being served room temperature, I probably wouldn't recommend butter because it would chill and turn waxy. Yeah, you can use olive oil. No problem.
EL: Stella, what are the challenges of having one oven or traveling with dessert?
SP: You know, it's not quite as challenging as you might expect. Most layer cakes, in particular, do extremely well on the road, so you can make up a layer cake in advance, and just refrigerate it overnight before you hit the road, and the buttercream, the butter will harden and it'll be good to go for six to eight hours after you take it out of the fridge. As long as you have it in a box or something where it's protected from anything in the car that might fall on it, layer cakes are super sturdy. When you get back to your destination, you can pop it in the fridge to extend the shelf-life a few days, or you can leave at room temperature and, especially with my cake recipes, the way they're formulated they have a little bit more sugar than some, and that helps extends their shelf-life, so they're great for a couple of days at room temperature.
EL: I think this is just your way of getting back at me, Stella, because you're really recommending the pumpkin layer cake on the site.
SP: Well, I can also recommend pies with no reservations. For all of my custard-style pies, I fully bake the bottom crust. I don't do any par-baking nonsense, I'm all or nothing, so you get this super crispy, flaky pastry crust that's really resilient to moisture absorption. That's great, too. My pumpkin pie, my cherry pie, some options like that keep crispy for several days. As you can attest. You've had leftovers of both, I believe, at this point.
EL: I believe we had them very briefly before they ended up down the hatch.
SP: Yeah, so they last. It's just choosing the right recipe that might have some keeping qualities. Which, I will say, a lot of my recipes are designed that way from my background in restaurants where I was a one-woman pastry show. So I had to make things that could I keep around and didn't have the resources to be making literally everything from scratch every single day, day in, day out. It was really important for me to have some things that could be held. My recipes definitely have that long-shelf-life bent.
KLA: Stella, talking about restaurants, that reminds me of one of my perennial Thanksgiving tips, which is to think about it as if you're at a restaurant. When you run a restaurant, there's a number of different stations in the kitchen. There might be a guy doing things in sauté pans, somebody on the grill, somebody doing salads, somebody at the fryer. When you design a menu for a restaurant, you have to make sure that all of the dishes are balanced between those stations so that one guy or one girl doesn't get slammed the whole night. I like to think about big meals—Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner, things like that—in that same way. Think about all the various heat sources you have in your kitchen. In an average kitchen, you probably have at least an oven, you have your four burners on your stove, you probably have a microwave, and you might even have a toaster oven. Think about using all of those different heat sources and planning your menu so that not everything comes out of the oven, or not everything comes off the stove top.
For instance, you could be doing your turkey and your stuffing inside the oven; meanwhile, you could be doing that warm Brussels sprouts salad which takes a saute pan on the stove top. You can make your mashed potatoes or, say, your mashed sweet potatoes, ahead of time and to reheat those they actually reheat really well in the microwave. Alternatively, you can put them inside plastic bags, zipper lock bags or vacuum-seal bags and reheat them in a pot of hot water off to the side. Then you could also be, say, doing some of your appetizers. Making some toasts, say you're serving cheese or pate or something, you can be making your toast in your toaster oven.
Really balancing your meal between all the different heat sources and remembering all the different tools you have at your disposal and your oven, I think, is really the key to managing space. Even in a small, galley-style New York apartment kitchen, by doing that you can easily serve eight to 12 people without crowding up any one of those appliances.
EL: That's interesting. Stella, where do you come out on the.... Do pies have to be reheated? Because that's always an issue for me.
SP: You certainly can if you want to, especially if you're sitting down to have Thanksgiving dinner and you're not going to immediately start shoveling pie into your face as soon as the last bite of turkey has been cleared away. At that point, your oven has made itself available again, and you can warm up your pies in the oven after the meal and not have to deal with any kind of resource management there.
EL: Warm pumpkin pie, I think, is a crime against nature.
SP: Yeah. I don't actually recommend warming them, but if you pop them in the oven for long enough that the crust starts to warm up, that'll bring a lot of life back to it. But definitely not long enough that the filling is actually being warmed. I just do that to restore some freshness in the crust.
KLA: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
EL: And that's what always happens to me actually, Kenji, is that I put them in too long because, as Stella says, I tend to put the pies in when we sit down to eat and then I forget about them. The filling ends up boiling and everything gets steamed.
SP: Yeah, we don't want that.
KLA: You know what doesn't boil, Ed? Pumpkin cakes don't boil.
EL: You guys are really double teaming me on this pumpkin cake thing.
SP: Cake's pretty great.
EL: Alright, let's move on. Peter B. has a question about defining terms. He says stuffing is basically put inside a turkey, thinks stuffed dressing is made outside the turkey. "Think casserole. I've always thought the stuffing tastes better. It's wetter, more flavorful, mummified." Wow, I've never heard stuffing called mummified.
SP: It's getting dark in here.
EL: Two questions. "Is it safe to continue to prefer my stuffing? And can we make dressing that tastes and feels more like stuffing?"
KLA: Well, first of all, the difference between stuffing and dressing, I think, partly it's whether it's stuffed inside or whether it's a casserole. I think it's also just a regional thing because where I came from in the Northeast, everything is.... Dressing was not a thing. Dressing was what you put on your salad. Stuffing, whether it was in a casserole or inside the turkey is what we called it. I think in the South they probably make that differentiation more, I'm sure Stella can confirm or deny that.
Well, first let's talk about safety. If you're making your stuffing inside the turkey this can actually be a problem because you're cooking your turkey to.... Well, I recommend cooking turkey breasts to around 150 degrees, the government says 165, I say 150 if you want it to be juicy. Since the stuffing is all the way inside that turkey, if you put the stuffing into a cold turkey and you put the stuffing in cold and you throw it in the oven, the stuffing is not actually ever going to come up to the same temperature as the turkey. It's going to always be a little bit cooler. This can be trouble because the raw turkey juices can get into that stuffing and then when you're roasting it, you end up with some of those raw turkey juices in the stuffing even after the turkey is fully cooked. That can be a little bit dangerous.
What I recommend is to.... If you really want a stuffed turkey, what I do is I take some cheesecloth and I shove it inside the turkey cavity, line the inside cavity with that cheesecloth, then fill it up with stuffing, tie the end off and then pull the whole thing out so that I have this ... You basically take a cast of the inside of the turkey out of stuffing wrapped in cheesecloth. You can then microwave it or roast it in the oven, and then, while it's still hot, put it right back inside the turkey. Wear gloves, it will be hot and put it back inside the turkey. That way it gets a head start on cooking so by the time the turkey is done cooking the stuffing is also going to be hot enough to be safe.
EL: Can you finish the stuffing in the dryer?
KLA: Or in the dishwasher, maybe?
KLA: The other thing you can do is roast the stuffing inside the turkey, pull it out and then cook it afterwards. Spread it out into a casserole dish and then reheat it afterwards while the turkey is resting. That also works.
As far as the difference between stuffing that's cooked inside a turkey and stuffing that's cooked outside, and Peter's absolutely right, the stuff that's cooked inside a turkey comes out a lot moister. For me, I like my stuffing to be almost like a savory bread pudding, so very moist and very custard-y. All that texture is amplified when it's inside a turkey. Outside of a turkey, the only way that I know how to get that really super moist texture is to actually cook it in a slow cooker. I know people are going to give me flack for this because I'm generally not an advocate of the slow cooker; I think if you're making stews and stuff in it, they don't come out very flavorful. But one of its few really good uses is stuffing. You take your stuffing mixture, you put it in the slow cooker, you cover it, and you cook it on low for a few hours and it gets a nice crust on the bottom and it comes out extremely moist. Very similar to the texture you get inside a turkey.
Of course, you can always.... If you're roasting your turkey, you have all those pan drippings. You can divide those, so use some of them for the gravy and then pour the rest on top of the stuffing before serving it and you'll get some of that turkey flavor in there, as well.
EL: Stella, can you confirm the nomenclature for stuffing in the South as dressing?
SP: Maybe. Kentucky is kind of a borderline state so I don't know. I don't know if I have a true Southern perspective and I'm sure folks from farther south may disagree, but we treat the terms pretty synonymously. I'm crazy about my dad's stuffing, and it's stuffing, that's what we call it, we've never called it anything else, but it is definitely not made inside of the turkey—we cook it off in a cast iron skillet. But, as with any baked item, you can control how much moisture is retained or lost through a variety of methods, so there's no need for it to be dry inherently.
EL: What makes your dad's stuffing so damn good?
SP: Oh, man, my dad has the best stuffing. It's insane. It's super sage-y, lots of cornbread, but a little bit of white bread also to offset that texture. There's toasted pecans, there's brown butter. The sage is browned in the butter as it's cooked. It's got plenty of onions. It's got a little bit of a sweetness to it, this very faint hint of sweetness. Lots of vegetables with the celery and onions. He divides it up into three batches. There's one that's made with pork sausage, there's one that's plain because I'm allergic to pork, and then he does an oyster dressing. For some reason, it's oyster dressing, it's not oyster stuffing. I don't know why.
EL: See, this gets to Kenji's point. It's very complicated, this nomenclature issue.
SP: Yeah, yeah, it is. But I always eat the pork stuffing because it's the best. I just can't help it.
KLA: The idea of the brown butter in the stuffing, I think that is awesome. I don't know why I've never thought to.... I think I've said in the past that anything that's made with butter can be made better with brown butter.
KLA: I can't even imagine why I've never tried that for my stuffing in the past, but I will be doing that this year.
SP: Yeah. It's really tasty.
EL: We should say, and Kenji can confirm this, that even though Stella is allergic to pork, whenever we have sat down to eat with her, wouldn't you agree, Kenji, that she manages to eat at least some of the pork?
KLA: She does. I think Stella's pork allergy is like my stone fruit allergy, where it's like I'm allergic to stone fruit but if I'm at the farmers market and that peach just looks perfect, I'm going to take a couple bites and risk it.
EL: That's exactly what Stella does with pork.
SP: Yeah, it's worth the pain. I'm also on an eight-hour delay, so it takes until I'm actually digesting it, I guess, for the symptoms to kick in. Usually, at that point I can just take some Benadryl and sleep it off because I'm a responsible, mature adult.
KLA: So when you get your death row meal, you can order pork safely because you won't have to suffer that eight-hour delay after.
SP: Yeah, absolutely. I'm just going to go crazy on it.
EL: That really is a macabre observation.
SP: We already have mummification on the brain from...
EL: That's true, every since they came up with the mummified stuffing issue. Alright, Gail S. has a question about dietary restrictions. " ... Since there are so many choices during most of Thanksgiving dinner, but there has to be a gluten-free dessert. Can one of the traditional pies—apple, pecan, or pumpkin—have a gluten-free crust? Perhaps a nut crust? And will it still be delicious?" This is a very interesting question because these are two people, Kenji and Stella, who have written extensively how to make the most seriously delicious crust and pies.
SP: There's no reason for gluten-free desserts not to be as equally delicious as regular desserts. There's a recipe for a gluten-free pie crust on Serious Eats, and when I was preparing it for photography by our own Vicky Wasik, we were all divvying it up afterwards and just devouring this pie and I forgot to say anything. I wasn't trying to warn anyone, I wouldn't be like, "Oh, don't get that, it's gluten-free," but I didn't think to say anything, I didn't say anything. Nobody mentioned it, nobody was like, "Hey, Stella, this isn't like your regular crust. What's going on?" At that point, everyone at Serious Eats has had my normal pie crust, so they definitely have room for comparison or to ask if something was different. Nobody ever asked, and then eventually I did say something like, "Oh, so what did you guys think about the gluten-free crust?" And everyone was like, "That was gluten-free? I just thought it was your regular crust."
EL: The fact that nobody could tell the difference is the highest compliment.
SP: Maybe everyone was being polite, maybe everyone was like, "Oh, Stella's off her game today," but I'd like to think that it is actually that tasty. The only caveat to that is it doesn't have the same kind of flexibility or plasticity that a traditional pie dough would, so it doesn't do super well with apple pie because the apples are jagged and craggy enough that when you try and lay the gluten-free crust over the top, it tends to break wherever the edge of the apple comes to the surface of the crust. That's a little tricky and can get rough looking, but you can go for a streusel topping or something instead. It does great on other fruit pies. Double-crusted cherry pies and any kind of lattice or basket weave. As long as it's laying flat, it's in good shape. It just doesn't really flex to cover that giant mountain of apples.
EL: How do you compensate with your gluten-free pie crust for the lack of gluten?
SP: I just use a pretty wide blend of different gluten-free flours. It's like no one flour is going to be able to take the place and serve all the roles that a traditional wheat flour is able to play. But if you diversify and use a blend of different flours, then each one of them can contribute. One's pretty good at moisture absorption, and one's pretty good at turning crispy, and if you get a good range of flours into the pie crust, you can get some pretty good results. I do use a small pinch of xanthan gum in my gluten-free pie dough and that helps it be a little bit more cohesive and have a little bit more flexibility.
EL: It's gluten-free flour diversification is the key.
SP: Yeah, and on that note, this person asking about gluten-free desserts, in my cookbook, 80% of the recipes are either suitable for gluten-free because they're gluten-free by nature, like ice creams and candies and things like that, and if not, most of the cakes and cookies have gluten-free variations included after the recipe, so you can get an adaptation there for just about any recipe in the book. The only ones that don't have gluten-free variations are the yeast-raised doughs. That was just an area where I struggle getting a good result with gluten-free, so I just opted to forego that. All the cookies, cakes, pies, that kind of stuff, there's gluten-free options there for everybody.
EL: Got it. Alright, so Steven N. wants to know, and this is something that Kenji and I have discussed a lot, do expensive turkeys actually make a difference? "Had some family buy expensive turkey from a farm once, still frozen, but couldn't notice any big difference between these and the typical ones you find on sale around the holidays."
KLA: I think we've not only discussed this, I think we've probably done several taste tests on this as well.
KLA: There's a couple of ways to approach this. The first way is flavor. Expensive doesn't necessarily mean better, as far as flavor goes. It's really something that you're going to have to talk to your butcher or talk to the farmer. Heritage breed turkeys were not bred the way modern Butterballs and Jennie-Os and all those commercial supermarket turkeys were bred to have these extra large breasts and very lean meat. Heritage breed turkeys tends to have smaller breasts and a little bit more connective tissue, a little bit more fat. In taste tests, and I've done these both with you, Ed, and also back when I was at Cook's Illustrated, we used to do blind taste-tests on this, there is definitely a difference in them, especially if you taste them side-by-side. But, of course, not all expensive turkeys are those heritage breed turkeys. Some of them are just your normal, run-of-the-mill modern turkeys that happen to be raised in better ways.
That's sort of the second part of the equation here, is whether you care about the living conditions of the turkey. Modern turkeys, just like most modern farm animals that are raised on large farms, don't have particularly nice lives. If you are someone who cares about the ethics of raising animals or about the ways animals are treated while they're alive, then for you it might be worth spending more money to find a turkey that is maybe pasture-raised or, at the very least, organic. Something that ensures that they have a little bit more space and a little bit more room to do the natural things that turkeys do.
For me, personally, and for my family, we tend to buy the nicer turkeys just because we do care a little bit about the way the animal was treated while it was alive. As far as getting a heritage breed turkey goes, one that has the smaller breasts and more connective tissues.... The other thing to remember is that they aren't going to be as juicy as, say, a Butterball or a Jennie-O, one of those turkeys that's been injected with brine and one of those turkeys that have been bred to be tender. You can mitigate the toughness and dryness by making sure that you use a thermometer and making sure that you don't overcook them. 150 degrees for the breast is what I recommend.
The other thing you can do, obviously, is to brine them. I recommend what I call a dry brine. Some people call it a light curing. Rather than soaking it in a tub of saltwater, which is a traditional brine, a wet brine, I recommend just heavily salting the turkeys. If you're willing to get a little bit more involved with the turkey's anatomy, you can put that salt under the skin by carefully separating the skin from the meat through the bottom cavity and get the salt underneath there. Rub it generously with salt and let it sit in the fridge for a couple days. What that does is it breaks down some of the muscle protein so that, as it cooks, it doesn't squeeze out as much juice. By doing that, you can guarantee that even an expensive heritage breed turkey, that could generally be tougher and drier than a modern turkey, that even those turkeys will come out nice and juicy. And they'll have better, more concentrated flavor.
EL: What's the sweet spot, Kenji and Stella, for turkeys in terms of price and value? Is it a non-Butterball, so you have to spend a little bit more money than a Butterball?
KLA: Honestly, I think that's a really personal question, because everybody has a different set of values as far as how animals are raised goes; everyone places a different value on their dollar. I would recommend that you spend.... Certainly going from a Butterball to a free-range turkey is a big step up. From there, if you go further than that, you're mostly going to end up paying for incremental increases in the quality of life, and also incremental increases in the flavor. I think at least going from a commercial Butterball to something a little bit nicer, that's a big step up. It also is a pretty big step up in price, though. Usually, they tend to run at least twice as expensive, maybe three times. It's really just a question of what you're willing to spend and what your dollar is worth to you, and how you feel about these animal rights issues.
SP: And also your farmers, I think that's worth saying. Maybe I'm a bad person, I don't care about the turkeys that much but I'm really glad to support the local farmers in the community that I've known through my restaurant work and they're doing amazing work and trying to make a living in the face of big ag. For me, it's worth putting my money back in the community rather than buying something where the proceeds are going to some national conglomerate, God knows where.
EL: All three of us do whatever we can to support our local farmers and they don't have to be organic farms. They just have to be people who treat their land responsibly and grow whatever they grow responsibly.
We got two questions from Claire H. and Julie about what to do with leftover pumpkin purée that's languishing in the fridge. We have mummification, we have languishing, we've got amazing stuff going on on this show.
SP: One of the readers, I think it was Julie, was talking about getting away from typical pumpkin breads and muffins and stuff. Just the other night, John and I made, my husband and I, made a pizza with some leftover butternut squash purée. We used Kenji's dough, his food processor dough, that's in his Spicy Spring Pizza, and we used that and then just put a really thin layer of this roasted butternut squash purée down that had a little bit of brown butter in it, just to loosen it up. It's a very low-moisture purée, so it doesn't sog out the dough very much. That was really nice, I really enjoyed it. It was a really tasty way to use up some stuff going around, a little bit savory.
KLA: Yeah. We actually have a pumpkin pizza recipe on the site that uses a pumpkin purée. Yeah, I agree with Stella, I think pumpkin on pizza is actually really delicious. It sounds.... I think when you say "pumpkin pizza," people have this pumpkin spice idea in their mind, and they think of pumpkin lattes and that would be terrible on pizza, but if you treat it like it's a savory ingredient I think it can be really delicious.
The other things I would do.... Making pumpkin pancakes the next morning, I think, is delicious. On Serious Eats, we have a sweet potato pancake recipe that uses mashed sweet potatoes. You could easily replace that mashed sweet potato with pumpkin purée and the recipe would work one for one. The other thing that I've recently tried, and it was absolutely delicious, was using roasted sweet potato, mashing it up and using it in place of cheese in a quesadilla. I got a lot of crap on Twitter for writing about this, but it was really, really delicious. You don't even have to replace the cheese, you can still add the cheese in there, but mashed pumpkin or mashed sweet potato mixed with some savory ingredients. I mixed mine with a little bit of shredded chicken, some roasted hash chilies that were chopped up, a little bit of lime juice, some chopped cilantro, and then spread that inside a flour tortilla and fold it and fry it like a quesadilla, and it was really, really delicious. I think that would work. A very non-traditional way to use up your pumpkin puree and I think a really delicious way.
EL: That's cool. Alright, the next question is from.... There are two people. Nick M. and Robert B. who, not surprisingly, want to know about the intersection of sous-vide cooking and Thanksgiving. Are either of you going to use the sous vide technique for cooking any of your Thanksgiving feast?
SP: Absolutely not. Get out of here.
KLA: Stella, I thought you loved sous ...No sous vide pumpkin cake for you.
SP: Yeah, I'm going to go sous vide a sandwich.
KLA: I am more sous-vide-positive than Stella is. In the past, I have done turkey sous vide. Maybe once every three years I'll do that for our Thanksgiving dinner, and it always comes out really nicely. Sous vide turkey breast, I think, it really, really delicious. There's a recipe on Serious Eats, I call it Turkey Porchetta, or Turchetta. It's basically turkey breast that's butterflied and seasoned the way that a porchetta is seasoned, so with some sage and red pepper flakes and garlic and fennel, and then all rolled up, wrapped in some skin, cooked sous vide and then you finish it off by searing it in a skillet so you get some nice crispy skin and you get these super juicy medallions of turkey meat inside that are very easy to carve and slice. Of course, you don't get the traditional holiday spectacle of the turkey in the middle of the table, but not everyone needs that. I think it can be really delicious.
The other thing that sous vide is great for, and I mentioned this a little bit earlier, is reheating things. Particularly purées, so mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, things like that. You can even cook them a week in advance, put them in a bag, store them in your fridge, and then on Thanksgiving Day, you just drop that bag into a cooker set at, say, 140, 145 degrees serving temperature and then you don't have to think about it and it's just sitting there ready to eat on its own, so whenever your turkey and everything else is ready, you just slice open the bag and transfer it to a bowl and it's ready to eat. It's a really great way to make those kinds of purées ahead of time.
EL: Yeah, and it sounds like it's also ... That means sous vide cooking is great for leftovers.
KLA: Yeah. If you have leftover turkey meat, even from a roast turkey, sous vide is a great way to.... Store it in a Ziploc bag with the air pressed out or in a vacuum bag, makes it very, very easy to reheat and reheat it without losing any juiciness. That's one of the difficult parts about reheating any kind of roasted or pan seared meat, is that when you reheat it again, no matter what method you use whether it's the oven or say the microwave, you end up losing some juiciness so it's never as good as it was when you first cooked it. With sous vide you can reheat without really losing any of the quality because you're never going to get it hot enough to the point where it's expelling any excess juices again.
EL: Nick M. wants to know if he's sous vides his protein, what should he do about making killer gravy?
KLA: Oh, well, that's simple. If you're going to cook your turkey sous vide, you're most likely taking the breasts off of the carcass. So you buy yourself a whole turkey, you take the legs and the breasts off, and then you have this entire carcass to work with. Get a cleaver, chop it up into pieces, throw it on a rimmed baking sheet and roast that in the oven, and again, you can do this days in advance, roast it in the oven until it's nice and brown, and then use that brown carcass along with some brown vegetables to make a stock. That's going to be the base of your gravy.
I think it's actually easier to make a gravy when you're cooking turkey sous vide than if you're roasting it because you're not in that ... Well, first of all, you have the entire carcass to work with and you're not in that time crunch that you have on Thanksgiving Day when you're cooking a turkey the traditional way.
EL: Got it. We're almost out of time here. Stella, what are you doing for Thanksgiving?
SP: My mother-in-law handles Thanksgiving every year, so every year I just get to kick back and not think about a dang thing.
EL: Does she get uptight that she's cooking for you?
SP: No, not at all. She's super in to cooking for everybody, that's one of her primary ways of showing love for the family is making a meal for everyone. She really enjoys it. She does not require any help from me in terms of desserts or breads or any other contributions. We just show up.
KLA: Stella, are you, either publicly or in your own head, are you judging when people serve you dessert?
SP: Of course I'm judging, that's an important caveat. You can't not. You have this analytical part of your brain that kicks in that is able to instantly troubleshoot and identify, like, the crumbs are coarse.
SP: The crumb is a little bit coarse, that means blah, blah, blah. So there's a part that's always evaluating, that's very analytical. But in terms of judgy judging, looking down on someone or anything like that, absolutely not. I am so grateful for anyone who wants to cook or bake for me. Most people are intimidated by that and I don't get a lot of invitations to people's dinner parties or people don't bake for me. Of course I'm aware of the qualities of a baked good but I'm not judgy-judgy.
KLA: Yeah, I agree. Because to me, that's actually the worst part of being a professional cook or recipe developer or whatever, is that a lot of people are intimidated to invite you for dinner and I've had people tell me this that they don't want to cook for me because they're afraid that their stuff is not going to live up to my expectations. It's the frustrating part about being a professional cook because, like Stella, I absolutely love it when people cook for me. I love going over to other people's houses for dinner, I love going to holidays. And yeah, there is that small part of your head that you can't really turn off where it's like, "Oh, maybe I would've added a little more butter to this," or whatever, but that doesn't affect your enjoyment at all.
The whole idea of cooking for someone, I think, that's the important part. The fact that you're putting time and effort and work into serving other people and that's, I think, really what makes the holidays and what makes dinner parties and everything special. It's great to have great food, but just the idea of sharing food I think is more important than the act food itself for me.
EL: Yeah, to me, Kenji, you and I have talked about this because people say the same thing about inviting me. In fact, my wife says, "That's why nobody invites us for dinner, Ed." Because they think you're critiquing the food. But we're just so happy to be hanging out with people we love to hang out with.
SP: Yeah, absolutely.
KLA: And that's surprising, because I think you, Ed, are actually a famously nice critic, but you still get it.
EL: Yeah, exactly. I'm a pushover. But I'm an opinionated pushover. Alright, so what are you doing for Thanksgiving, Kenji, before we have to wrap up?
KLA: Oh, I'm packing up the daughter and the wife and we're going to visit my sister in Colorado. We're actually renting a house outside of.... She lives in Boulder, we're renting a house a little outside of Boulder and we're going up for a week. Me and Alicia and Adri, with my parents and my sisters. We'll probably do some fishing. And then we'll be cooking Thanksgiving dinner there.
EL: Yeah, that sounds awesome.
KLA: Actually it's going to be Alicia's first fishing trip, actually. I'll probably have her on my back, bundled up because it's really cold there right now, and we'll wade out in the water and maybe do some trout fishing.
EL: And it's her first Thanksgiving.
KLA: Oh, yeah, yeah, it is. It is. And she is a good eater. A real good eater.
EL: She's a Serious Eater. She has to be.
KLA: She eats almost as much as I do at each meal.
EL: That's pretty funny. Alright, now it's time for me to give thanks. First of all, I have to thank Stella and Kenji for hopefully reducing people's stress when it comes to Thanksgiving, and we'd like to thank the Serious Eats community for sending us these awesome questions. I hope we have succeeded in reducing your Thanksgiving-related stress. There are so many people that I have to thank concerning Special Sauce. I'm thankful for everyone who makes the podcast a joy to create. Our producer, Marty Goldensohn, our associate producer, Marissa Chen, everyone here both at CDM Studios and the other Serious Eats' Special Sauce home, The Radio Foundation. I want to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. Stella, you, Kenji, your families, the people you love, and may everyone's Turkey Day be filled with lots of seriously delicious food and wine and the sounds of friends and family enjoying each other's company. We'll see you next time, Serious Eaters.
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