Thanksgiving is only a few days away, which means that at this stage your menus should all be finalized, your turkeys should be dry-brining, and you should be just about ready to start thinking of imagining that your brain is not going to be overloaded with competing tasks on Thursday. As each year goes by, I take a more and more lax approach to the holiday. Partly because, after years of cooking for the holidays, I know all of my recipes and my family's likes and dislikes so well that I can make most of this stuff in my sleep (and still wake up in time for the traditional Alt family drunken midnight sing-along), but more because I've come to realize that at the end of the day, it's only food. Sure, when you make it right, it can turn an excellent evening into a perfect one, but so long as it's gotten friends and family to gather around the table, it's done its job.
Plus, I find that taking it easy and not bringing stress into the house puts everyone in a better mood, which, in turn, makes the food taste better anyway. So relax. Your turkey is gonna be fine!
Here's what I'm going to be serving my family this year. It's a mix of old favorites and new recipes, classic comfort food and a few small extravagances.
Typically Thanksgiving is my family's "sensible" meal, meaning we eat non-sensible portions of very sensible foods. Christmas is our blowout, fanciest-foods-only exercise in edible excess. But this year, we won't be celebrating Christmas as a family, which means that we're breaking out the caviar and foie gras early. I've already got two lobes of foie gras from La Belle Farm in my fridge, one waiting to be turned into a foie gras torchon and the other to be roasted whole (talk about decadent!). My dad has an oystering license up in Massachusetts, so he'll probably be harvesting some fresh Wellfleets to bring out west (I love East Coast oysters so much more than Pacific), and we'll have those along with some absurdly tasty (and, okay, pricey) local Sacramento Valley farm-raised caviar from ROE Caviar.
On to the simpler side of things: We'll have a good cheese plate with olives before the meal, and my roasted pumpkin soup with brown butter as the first course. Pumpkin soup is Adri's favorite.
The Turkey: Fried and Smoked
In years past, we've had Thanksgiving at my mom's apartment in New York, complete with its "spacious" 40-square-foot kitchen. Our only option for the turkey was to cook it in the oven, so we've been eating some variation of roast turkey—whether spatchcocked, rolled and roasted as a turkey "porchetta", or the odd turducken—year after year.
This year, the Alts are coming to California, where my wife and I will be hosting. With a backyard and Northern California weather, that means we'll be doing the turkey outdoors, and the overwhelming popular vote was for deep-frying it. I'll probably leave half as is and serve the second half slathered in Buffalo sauce, with a bunch of celery on the side and a bucket of blue cheese dip. Like a true American.
My older sister also requested some smoked turkey, so I'll be smoking at least one breast on the kettle grill as well.
We serve our turkey with this easy basic cranberry sauce and my basic turkey gravy, which I enhance with the turkey backbone and giblets along with a big ol' splash of soy sauce (family tradition!).
This is what Thanksgiving is really all about, right?
Mapo tofu may be my spirit food, but stuffing owns every other part of me. I only make it once a year (other than for recipe testing), and that alone makes it the best day of the year. Typically I'll go with my classic sage and sausage stuffing, which is made with plenty of butter, stock, and eggs so it achieves a tender, moist, almost savory bread pudding–like texture. But this year, I may well be convinced to take Daniel's advice and go with oyster stuffing.
Brussels sprouts are my family's favorite vegetable, and we can't have a big holiday gathering without them. Deep-frying them is a magical, if over-the-top, way of serving them—they get crisp and sweet and frizzled, so they absorb extra sauce and flavor. If simply cooking them with bacon isn't enough, you can also add cream and cheese to make this ridiculously rich and tasty gratin. Most likely, we're gonna keep things simple this year and go with these easy roasted Brussels sprouts.
Some families debate politics and religion at the holiday table. We debate mashed-potato styles. I prefer mine rich and creamy, while my sister likes hers ultra fluffy. I think she's gonna win this year, because, at my wife's insistence, we are going to be gracious and accommodating hosts.
It goes without saying that my mom's favorite roasted pear salad with pomegranate, blue cheese, and hazelnut vinaigrette will be on the table. I cook the pears and make the dressing a day in advance, so that all I have to do on Thanksgiving Day is toss everything together in a big bowl and set it on the table. Easy!
There are always a few last-minute additions, which depend on what I find in the farmers market the week before the big day, but luckily we've got a whole slew of recipes to help deal with any emergency vegetable situation that might arise.
Desserts and Drinks
My dad drinks vodka martinis with no vermouth and a twist. Adri likes hers dirty, with gin. I prefer a good Negroni. At least we can all agree that domestic wine is what we're gonna have with the turkey, and that whiskey is what we're having afterward.
In the past, we've always had an apple pie for dessert, but this year, in the spirit of my new "I'm doing things the easy way this time" motto, I think I'm going to go with pecan pie, by far the simplest of the Thanksgiving pies. Heck, if I didn't already know how darn easy and foolproof my pie crust recipe is, I might even go full-on and buy a pre-made crust. But that would just be uncivilized.
Happy Thanksgiving, Serious Eaters! What are you all eating this year?
P.S. Did somebody say leftovers?