Even on Thanksgiving, timing is everything. (Okay, not really everything— because certainly the most important part is that everyone is together.)
Last week I taught my annual “Thanksgiving Essentials” class at the Institute for Culinary Education, and when I asked students what their biggest concern with hosting Thanksgiving is, timing was at the top of their list. How to know when the turkey is cooked to the perfect point of doneness was a close second.
I’ve got you covered.
First, choose recipes that can be done entirely or mostly in advance.
- Most casseroles can be made entirely ahead and reheated. The beauty of roasting that big bird is that after it comes out of the oven, it must rest about 20-30 minutes before you carve. That is the perfect time to put your sweet potato and other casseroles in the now-empty oven to reheat.
- Many vegetables can be slightly undercooked ahead of time, then can be finished as they are reheated. My favorite two ways to reheat Thanksgiving vegetables are 1. in a skillet on the stove. This works especially well with slightly undercooked green beans. 2. In the microwave. I do believe this is one of the very best uses (besides melting chocolate and butter) for the microwave: place the vegetables in a pie dish, and drape loosely with a damp cloth. If you have a lot of vegetables, do it in batches, transferring the vegetables to a warm covered serving dish.
Pay attention to your serving dishes.
- Don’t wait until you are ready to put dinner on the table to start pulling out your platters and utensils. Take out every platter, bowl and serving utensil you will need, and mark it with a small post-it note with the name of the dish for which you will use it. That way, you needn’t scramble once the food is cooked, scrounging around your cabinets and drawers while the food either over cooks or gets cold.
- That brings me to getting food to the table hot. One neat trick is to run your plates through the rinse cycle of the dishwasher. Leave the dishwasher closed until you are ready to use them. Warm plates keep the food hotter for longer. Place them on the buffet with a pretty cloth draped over them right before you bring the food out.
Don’t trust yourself to remember every detail. (Talking to your adorable nieces and nephews is one of the great pleasures of the holiday– don’t miss it because you are afraid of forgetting to do something.)
- Keep a list on the counter of the dishes you are serving. That way you won’t accidentally leave the cranberry sauce in the refrigerator or the potatoes in the oven. I speak from experience here.
Cooking the Turkey Perfectly
Every year, all of us food writers are required by our editors to come up with the glorious new way of cooking a turkey. The truth is, the classic method of roasting a turkey in the oven can produce great results. The biggest impact on serving a turkey that is tender and not dry, cooked enough to be safe, but not so much that it must be drowned in gravy in order to be palatable, is cooking to temperature.
Serving the Turkey: How to Carve
Here is the key: remove the leg and thigh, then the breast. Once you take the entire breast off the turkey, it is easy to get beautiful, even slices. Do not try to carve the breast on the turkey. You will end up with shredded, meat, and it will take you much longer. Here is a step-by-step photographic guide to carving your turkey.
Finally (for now), here are a bunch of recipes for turkey that we created for magazines, websites and corporations.
Cider Bourbon Glazed Turkey (for Circulon)
Spatchcocked Turkey (for Anolon)
Here is my Thanksgiving Pinterest board where you will find links to more of our recipes
This is page of our Thanksgiving recipes put together by California Olive Ranch.
Here are Six Do-Ahead Side Dishes
And here is my absolute favorite Thanksgiving dessert, Pecan Caramel Tart with Sea Salt Crunch