You Asked, We Answered: Thanksgiving Edition, Part 1

Robyn Lee

When I first started taking and answering questions for Thanksgiving a few years ago, I figured at most there'd be a few dozen. We're up to several hundred and counting, and every year we get more and more. This year's batch have focused heavily on sous-vide cooking and vegan/vegetarian options, both subjects close to my heart!

Looking for information specifically on turkey? Check out our Definitive Guide to Buying, Prepping, Cooking, and Carving Your Thanksgiving Turkey for rigorously researched and tested answers to the most common Thanksgiving conundrums.

On to the new questions!

On Turkey

Q: After many turkey defeats (overcooked, undercooked) I broke down and bought an expensive temperature gauge, a Thermapen. Now, what temperature should the different parts of the turkey "read"? And does it matter how deep the thermometer is inserted?

For moist and juicy turkey breast meat, you should aim for a final temperature of between 150 and 155°F. Thighs and legs should register at least 165°F. When taking the temperature, you should be looking for the coolest spot in the breast or the leg, which is generally toward the center or near the bone. Move the thermometer around until you find the coolest spot. And to get that breast and thigh meat to cook evenly, I suggest following either the Spatchcock Roast Turkey or this Simple Roast Turkey recipe.

Q: On a whim, I bought a 1 kilogram turkey breast fillet. It wasn't until I got it home did it occur to me that it doesn't have any skin on it. How do I roast it without drying it out like an old shoe?

Four words: wrap it in bacon.

Q: Any reason why a coq au vin style braise wouldn't work on turkey dark meat? Can you reheat a braise on the stovetop?

It works wonderfully! And in fact, just add some mushrooms and bacon to our Red Wine-Braised Turkey Legs and that's essentially what you've got. The dish can be reheated on the stovetop if you don't mind soft skin. For crisp skin, you'll need to use the oven.

Q: It seems like after the turkey has rested and is then carved for serving, it's always cold when it hits my plate. Any suggestions for serving a hot bird, but still using best-practices for retaining moisture?

Use a thermometer! Rest the turkey just until it's dropped down to about 5°F below its final cook temperature. So if you're cooking it to 155°F, let it cool to 150°F before carving. Preheating plates in the oven will also help keep food piping hot as you eat it.

Q: Is there any benefit to salting a turkey if you're going to spatchcock?

The main advantage of both brining and dry-brining (see our quick and dirty guide here) is that it safeguards against dry meat if you accidentally overcook your bird. So while it's not strictly necessary for a spatchcocked turkey, it certainly doesn't hurt, especially if you, like me, have plenty of distractions of both the blood relative and liquid-variety going on on Thanksgiving day.

On Sous Vide Thanksgiving

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Q: How long can the sous-vide turchetta sit post-sous-vide before hitting in the deep fryer?

Once you've cooked it sous vide, so long as it's kept stored in its bag in the fridge, it has an incredibly long shelf life—anything up to a week is definitely safe, and you could probably go as long as several (though I wouldn't risk it). When ready to fry, bring it back up to temperature in a 140°F sous-vide water bath, remove it from the bag, pat dry, and deep fry. If you're planning on cooking it the same day, you can remove it from the bag, pat it dry, and let it rest up to 2 hours at room temperature before deep frying.

Q: I'm getting a sous-vide cooker as an early Christmas present for myself this year and was wondering if you had any suggestions for side dishes to make with it (I would do the Turchetta but my family fell in love with your spatchcocked recipe that I tried last year and I'm pretty sure I'd have a revolt on my hands if I didn't make it again). Anything to help with the rush of dishes reheating/cooking while the turkey rests would be most appreciated.

Creamy side dishes like mashed potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes are custom-made for reheating sous vide (check out complete instructions here). Creamed or glazed dishes like these Creamed Pearl Onions or these Gingery Glazed Carrots are also superb. Use your immersion circulator for reheating and holding your gravy. If you like to serve soup as a first course, reheating it in the circulator is a no-brainer.

On Vegetarian and Vegan Options

Roasted Cauliflower With Pine Nut, Raisin, and Caper Vinaigrette
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Q: I have a sister who is on a vegan/low fat diet, any suggestions for side dishes that would mesh well with traditional thanksgiving fare?

We've got tons of vegan recipes for you! For relatively low-fat Thanksgiving fare, I'd start with these Roasted Brussels Sprouts and these Roasted Sweet Potatoes (swapping out the honey for maple syrup if she's a honey-free vegan). This Vegan Stuffing isn't totally low fat, but in small doses it should do the trick. Finally, how about this Roasted Cauliflower with Capers and Pine Nuts (again, use maple syrup in place of the honey) and this Roasted Chickpea Salad with Sun Dried Tomato Vinaigrette?

Q: Yikes! My son just told me that he and his vegetarian girlfriend are visiting with us the weekend before Thanksgiving and we want to celebrate the holiday with them early and vegetarian. I can handle the sides but need a main dish (no tofu, please). Thanks!

We've got a ton of options for you! Check out any one of these vegetarian-friendly Thanksgiving turkey alternatives for ideas ranging from sweet potato chili to spinach lasagna to a full-on vegan roast!

Q: I'm the only vegan at a very traditional four course Thanksgiving. Any ideas for an appetizer, soup, and something to fill out the mains that take well to reheating?

Both this Spicy Carrot and Harissa Soup and this Cream of Mushroom Soup are 100% vegan and tasty enough for any carnivore to slurp up with no protest. For a side dish or appetizer, I'd go with this hearty Carrot and Rye Berry Salad which is delicious made ahead and doesn't need to be reheated (important for keeping the kitchen sane on Thanksgiving!). As for mains, this Rich and Hearty Mushroom Bolognese is better on the second or third day, as is this Sweet Potato Chili With Hominy and Two Beans.

Q: What about us vegans and vegetarians? We follow Serious Eats too!

Hmm... have you seen our incredible over-the-top recipe for Vegetables Wellington? It's insanely delicious, complex, and flavorful, and 100% vegan to boot!

On Gluten Free Baking

20131113-273516-GFTues-Pie Crust-thumb-625xauto-365950.jpg
Elizabeth Barbone

Q: Do you have a gluten-free traditional pie crust that's fabulous? Having GF guests and they're hoping for pies with a crust. Thanks!

Yes! Check out our Guide to Making Gluten Free Pie Crust!

On Fish

Q: My son is bringing his girlfriend but she won't eat our deep-fried turkey. She loves fish. What would be an impressive, yummy, fairly-easy-to-prepare fish dish that I could serve?

You want a recipe for fish that's easy, impressive, and incredibly delicious? Why didn't you just say so! Look no further than this Whole Roasted Fish right here.

On Stuffing, Potatoes, and Other Sides

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Q: I need to make my turkey gravy way ahead and freeze it. What is the best thickener to use which will stand up to this freeze-and-thaw method and still be thick when reheated?

Pure starches like corn starch or arrowroot break down with prolonged heating or temperature changes. Your best bet is a traditional flour-thickened gravy. Let it thaw under running water or in the fridge overnight, then whisk it constantly as you reheat it. It should thicken just fine as it heats up.

Q: How would I make a traditional scalloped potato recipe for 30?

Scalloped potatoes are one of those dishes that actually do fantastically well cooked a couple of days in advance and reheated. I'd triple or quadruple your standard recipe, make it in several casserole dishes (or in large heavy duty disposable aluminum trays), bake it off in advance, then store it covered in foil in the fridge. Reheat it under the foil on the big day for 45 minutes at 375 to 400°F, remove the foil, and let the top re-crisp for an additional 15 minutes before serving.

Q: In the Guide to a Stress-Free Thanksgiving, you suggest making the stuffing/dressing the day before. Should the liquid be added to the stuffing when it's assembled on Wednesday or closer to the time it will go into the oven on Thursday?

You can go ahead and assemble the Classic Sage and Sausage Stuffing Recipe to completion, including the liquid, transfer it to a casserole dish, cover it with aluminum foil, and keep it in the refrigerator for up to three days before baking it!

On Planning

Q: Do you have any tips on how to design a Thanksgiving menu where the dishes really complement each other? I know how to pick and cook recipes that taste great on their own, but I have no idea how to put a multi-course meal together; last year that resulted in almost all of our dishes using bacon in some form or other, which was fine but was also a LOT of bacon. Any thoughts you have on menu-designing for the home cook would be appreciated!

I find that the easiest way to design a holiday menu that works well is to first think about the practical aspects by making sure you're employing a wide variety of cooking methods. Pick a casserole or two, pick a quick-roasted vegetable, choose a few stovetop items, and perhaps a salad. Not only does this make cooking easier by making sure that you aren't trying to cook every single dish in the oven at the same time while your burners go unoccupied, but it also makes for a meal that works well, with different cooking methods bringing different elements and flavors to the table!

Q: What to make for a solo Thanksgiving?

Why not try this One Hour, One Skillet Thanksgiving Dinner? It comes with everything from turkey to roast brussels sprouts to mashed carrots, and is good enough you'll want to eat the leftovers the next day!

Q: This is my first year being the head honcho for thanksgiving. I am taking over our 25 person ordeal while balancing "sharing" cooking responsibilities. Any suggestions on how best to have more than one cook in the kitchen at a time?

When I'm prepping a big meal, first, I like to make sure that everyone has a designated work space with a cutting board and knife. With clear delineations, there should be no bumping or fighting over counter space. Second, make sure you communicate! If you're walking behind someone, say "behind you!," and say it LOUD. Holding a hot pot? Say "HOT POT, COMING THROUGH!" It's the only way to make sure nobody gets injured. Third, have a prep list with clear tasks stuck on the refrigerator with a pen next to it. Make sure folks mark down what they're working on and when it's complete. That way there's no doubling up on tasks and no confusion. Fourth, make sure that everyone cleans as they go. Letting dirty dishes or scraps of food pile up is a surefire way to end up at each other's throats before the meal is even on the table.