All photos/art by Keller + Keller
To determine what a traditional Thanksgiving dinner menu ought to include, I took an informal and unscientific poll among friends and colleagues.
Just about everyone agreed on a juicy turkey with crisp brown skin and stuffing, of course (although one friend claimed that a tough, dry bird was part of his holiday since childhood, so he purposely overcooks his).
With the exception of mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, though, the “must haves” for side dishes varied, from green-bean casserole to candied yams with marshmallows.
Of course, everyone wanted a delicious and special feast, but not a back-breaker — they wanted time to spend with family and friends. So I pulled out some of my own family’s favorite dishes and looked at some seasonal classics and made them all a little less fussy — but still gratifying.
As for the bird itself, my years of turkey cooking have proven to me what we all know: The white breast meat tends to cook first and dry out, while the thighs take a bit longer. Try these remedies to keep the meat moist:
If you’re cooking for a crowd, use smaller birds — two 14-pounders, say — and roast one the day before. The next day, take the preroasted bird out of the refrigerator an hour before you put it in the oven, and then heat it at 250 degrees for an hour.
Cover the breast with foil or cheesecloth soaked in chicken or turkey stock. (Remove it during the last 45 minutes of cooking so the skin browns nicely.)
Basting helps, too. I doubt the juices penetrate the skin or add to moistness, but the liquid will evaporate off the skin and cool things down a bit as the bird cooks away.
Brine your bird, or buy a kosher turkey. I rely on brining — I think it delivers a consistently juicy and delicious roast every time.