How To Assemble The Perfect Thanksgiving Dinner
Vegan honeynut squash dish by Mr Matthew Kenney. Photograph courtesy of Mr Matthew Kenney
Five top American chefs on how to make the ultimate Thanksgiving feast.
As much as Thanksgiving is a nationwide celebration in the US – a red-letter day when Americans embark on Planes, Trains And Automobiles-esque journeys to be with their loved ones – it’s also a day that sparks intense debates in the kitchen.
Centred around a communal meal – traditionally a celebration of the autumn’s harvest – the main event on many Thanksgiving tables this Thursday, 22 November, will be a show-stopping turkey (46 million such birds are dished up each year.) But how to prepare said turkey? Deep-fried or roasted? Brined or not brined? Served with green bean casserole, beets or sprouts? And then there’s the pumpkin pie filling: shop-bought or made from scratch? Here, some of the most trusted chefs in the US demystify iconic Thanksgiving dishes and provide inspiration for a meal to end any debate (until you sit down and the wine starts flowing).
By Mr Tom Colicchio
“Traditions change between families and across states but the tried and tested centrepiece remains the turkey,” says Mr Colicchio, whose restaurant empire includes Craft in New York and Los Angeles. He advises on selecting an heirloom bird from a trusted small producer and instead of brining, seasoning an hour before cooking with butter blended with roughly chopped thyme, tarragon, parsley and sage, stuffed under the skin and around the neck. “For an even cook and golden skin, start the oven on a lower temperature and ramp up at the end – remembering to baste every 15 minutes,” he says on a process he calls the “reverse sear”. A recommended 20-minute resting period provides the perfect window in which to finesse your side dishes.
THE VEGAN ALTERNATIVE
By Mr Matthew Kenney
“Thanksgiving recipes are best when simply prepared with the best ingredients possible,” says West Coast chef Mr Matthew Kenney, whose vegan restaurant Plant Food & Wine in Los Angeles, serves honeynut squash stuffed with chestnuts, maize and scarlet runner beans and a sweet potato and mushroom Foragers’ Pie at Thanksgiving. “The secret to doing Thanksgiving in a special way is using familiar ingredients such as squash and pumpkin then use luxurious additions. Our mashed potato is dressed up with mushroom gravy and we braise Brussels sprouts with cider and mustard seeds.”
By Mr Marcus Samuelsson
With a reputation for big-hitting flavours, head chef of Harlem’s Red Rooster Mr Marcus Samuelsson has plenty of innovative twists on conventional side dishes at Thanksgiving, including adding chorizo to brussels sprouts and roasting chestnuts with sugar and berbere spice mixture before chopping and adding to mashed sweet potato or pumpkin soup. “Another element that can really take your Thanksgiving to the next level is a good gravy,” he says. “For a twist on tradition, cranberry gravy keeps things festive and delicious. Take the juice from your turkey (without the fat) and bring to a boil in a small saucepan. Add cranberries and pepper to taste, simmering until the cranberries pop.”
By Mr Matt Lewis
According to Mr Matt Lewis, one half of the duo behind Baked – the revered Brooklyn bakery – nostalgia plays an important part at Thanksgiving. “If people want a pumpkin pie they want the pie from their childhood – not something reimagined or anything too ‘cheffy’,” he says. “It’s a special day and you want people to be in the mood, so lay on the spice.” He recommends using cloves, cinnamon and fresh nutmeg with a touch of black pepper to bring out the flavour, adding oats to the crust for texture and – crucially – using shop-bought filling. “Crazy people make their own pumpkin filling, which is insane,” he says. “It’s a lot of work without any of the pay-off.”
Mr Cedric Nicaise
Just as important as the show-stopping mains and elevated sides are the accompanying drinks, something that Mr Cedric Nicaise, wine director at Eleven Madison Garden has a few suggestions to suit the occasion. “Try batch making a couple of cocktails ahead of time – Negronis and Manhattans will last in your fridge for weeks if guests don't drink them on the day,” he says, before directing our attention to perfect wine pairings. “Don’t skimp on the white wine – both aligoté or a white burgundy go well with Thanksgiving dishes. In terms of reds, my go-to is Beaujolais, which is light and refreshing, perfect with the meal after cocktails and champagne.”