A simple, easier menu for your smaller, safer Thanksgiving.
I'm grateful to all of you trying to keep the rest of us healthy.
So…it’s been a while, friends. And while I know it feels like a decade has passed between February and November, I know it’s actually only been six or seven years. I hope you’re all doing well*, and that you and yours are staying healthy and safe.
For a myriad of reasons, I know a lot of you are a) planning to keep your Thanksgiving celebrations small and b) are possibly cooking a full spread for the first time, and that all of this might be making you nervous.
Buddy – it’s gonna be okay. Seriously!
Believe it or not, this is a great year to learn how to tackle Thanksgiving. A smaller, more modest feast will allow you to concentrate on each of the four dishes I’m laying out for you without the extra high stakes of a dozen hungry guests and the snooty eyes and tastebuds of your relatives (super-judgy Aunt Melissa and her hardcore-QAnon boyfriend can keep their comments and their stank-ass green bean casserole to themselves this fall.)
I hope this guide helps you put together something comforting, nourishing and delicious, if only to remind yourself and the ones you’re cooking for – your family, your very very close friends, your roommates or your podmates – that what’s important is the time we have together and the opportunity to share it – and that sometimes, that sharing has to happen over Zoom.
Please note that the only thing I said you have to share is time. The dark meat and the drumsticks are an entirely separate matter. Back the fuck off, Steve.
A beginner’s Thanksgiving menu (for 2-4 people.)
Roast spatchcocked turkey with gravy
Sage and sausage stuffing
Roasted sweet potatoes
Brussels sprouts with bacon and balsamic vinegar
Pie (BUY A PIE THIS YEAR. Splurge on fancy ice cream. NO ONE WILL COMPLAIN.)
Total Shopping List
4 large onions
3 large carrots
8 stalks celery
3 pounds sweet potatoes
2 pounds Brussels sprouts
2 12-oz bags fresh cranberries
1 large navel orange
1 bulb garlic
12 thyme sprigs (or a good amount of dried thyme)
1 bunch parsley
1 clamshell fresh sage, or 2 teaspoons dried sage
1 whole turkey - frozen (yes, FROZEN) if you can get it by no later than Sunday (12 to 14 pounds total) [a little smaller is fine but don’t go larger if your sheet pans are on the smaller side]
2 pounds sage sausage (or regular Jimmy Dean, or even sweet Italian sausage, if you can’t find sage)
6 oz sliced bacon [regular, not thick cut] - if you have to buy a full package of 12-16 oz, OH WELL, guess you’ll just have to eat the rest.
11 tablespoons butter
1 quart orange juice
Olive oil (the everyday stuff, not the super fancy fruity, peppery stuff)
A fair amount of kosher salt [Diamond Crystal if you can find it but regular Morton is fine]
2 1/2 quarts low-sodium homemade or store-bought chicken or turkey broth
2 bay leaves
4 tablespoons flour
2 loaves (about 20 oz each) of soft Italian bread
honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar
2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (doesn’t have to be the super good stuff, but if you’ve got it, add a little here.)
1 (or, preferably, 2) large sheet pan(s) that can definitely fit inside your oven (lipped)
A wire rack that can fit inside the sheet pan (something like this)
poultry shears or good heavy duty kitchen shears (like these)
2 oven safe casserole dishes
1 instant-read thermometer (if you don’t already own one you love, this one is my favorite)
READ THIS POST IN ITS ENTIRETY. It’s a lot, but it’s pretty straightforward.
Organize your fridge. Doesn’t have to be a total clear-out, but you’ll need to make room for groceries and, the night before Thanksgiving, a sheet pan with a raw turkey on it.
Get everything you can at the grocery store, or order your groceries for delivery. It’s a madhouse the week of Thanksgiving, and this year, it’ll likely be doubly so.
Double check your equipment and grab/order what you need.
Cut both loaves of Italian bread into 1-inchish chunks and toast them on 2 lipped sheet pans in a 275°F oven for about an hour, tossing carefully with a spatula every 20 minutes. If there’s any soft spots, toss and continue to toast for 5-10 minute intervals until bread is toasty, golden brown and completely dried out. Let cool COMPLETELY, then store in an airtight container and set aside (hidden from carb-hungry monsters in your home) until Thursday.
If you bought a frozen turkey, begin thawing it in the package in the fridge (you can put it in a clean plastic bag or garbage bag if you’re worried about leaks.) If you start thawing it no later than Sunday and didn’t go any bigger than 14 pounds, it should be fully thawed by Wednesday, which is when you need to start working on it (I recommend buying frozen birds since they leave the plant injected with a little brine to make them easier to ship.) If you forgot and need to thaw it quickly, use the cold water method no later than Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.
Make the cranberry sauce.
2 12-oz bags fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups orange juice
1 navel orange
Rinse cranberries in cold water.
Zest exterior of orange with a grater (a Microplane would be great here, but a standard grater or a zester would be fine)
put cranberries, OJ, sugar and zest into pot and heat over medium-high heat, bringing to a boil and then returning to a simmer. Stir occasionally until all cranberries have popped, about 10 minutes.
Let the sauce cool (about 30-45 minutes) then store it in the fridge.
Double check your list and make sure you have everything, and grab what you still might need.
Make sure no greedy hands have gotten into the croutons you made over the weekend.
Make room in your fridge for your stuffing, sheet pan and bird.
SPATCHCOCK and DRY BRINE YOUR TURKEY.
1 10-14 lb. turkey
1 cup kosher salt
2 heaping tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
Additional spices (like garlic salt or onion salt)
Mix salt, sugar and baking powder in a bowl. Set aside.
Clean your sink, then place your turkey into it and cut open the plastic wrapper. Remove it and set it underneath your bird as you do the next few steps.
Reach into the neck and chest cavities and pull out what will likely be the neck bone and giblets. If the area is icy and frozen stuck, run cold water into the cavities until you can pull out the goodies. You may have more than 1 bag of livers and gizzards, in addition to the neck. Set everything aside.
Okay, I bet you’re asking “what the heck is spatchcocking?” Basically, what you’re doing is cutting out the backbone of the turkey so you can spread the bird out flat on the rack and sheet pan so it can cook a lot more evenly and quickly. This saves you time AND reduces the likelihood that your breast meat will dry out. And with the dry brine, this method will also deliver crispy skin and perfectly seasoned, juicy meat.
Get your sheet pan ready by placing the rack inside.
Follow these spatchcocking instructions. DON’T THROW AWAY THE BACKBONE, YOU FOOL. Put the backbone, neck bone and giblets into a plastic bag and store in fridge until tomorrow, when you’re gonna make gravy.
Place bird on top of sheet pan/rack.
Mix salt, sugar and baking powder in a bowl.
Pat your freshly spatchcocked bird dry with paper towels, both top and now the freshly exposed interior.
Sprinkle salt/sugar/baking powder mixture onto all surfaces of the bird, inside and out. Be generous with your sprinkling. You don’t need every square millimeter covered, but every part of the bird should look like it got a good hit of the mixture.
Reposition the bird, skin side up, on the rack. Make sure no parts of the bird are hanging over the side of the sheet pan (if so, place foil underneath.) Put bird into fridge for 18-24 hours before Thanksgiving dinner (if things are tight you can brine for 12.)
PREPARE YOUR SAGE AND SAUSAGE STUFFING INGREDIENTS.
Follow this recipe through the end of step 2 (and for the love of God, use more garlic than the 2 measly cloves suggested.) Store mixture in fridge in a covered microwave-safe bowl.
MAKE YOUR BRUSSELS SPROUTS.
Follow this recipe, but leave out the pecans if you want. If you already have slivered or sliced almonds, toss ‘em in, but not toasting the pecans saves you a step or two, and frankly, this recipe doesn’t need them. It’s delicious. Just make sure you get a decent, crispy char on your sprouts. This dish can be served at room temp, so you can finish it, cover it and move on.
MAKE YOUR SWEET POTATOES.
Begin this recipe at least 2 hours before you plan to begin cooking your turkey. Once completed, put into a covered oven-safe pan. Do not refrigerate.
ROAST YOUR SPATCHCOCKED TURKEY.
When preheating the oven, make sure there’s room underneath the turkey for a casserole dish on a lower rack
Add in a liberal amount of garlic salt to the black pepper on the turkey, and
When making the gravy, cook stock an additional 30 minutes to concentrate flavor.
Don’t skim ALL the fat. Come on, yo.
With about 30 minutes to go on your turkey, CONTINUE THE STUFFING (which is technically dressing, since we’re not putting it into the bird)
Microwave the sausage mixture for 60-90 seconds, just to warm it through.
Continue recipe from step 3. With about 10 minutes to go on the turkey, put stuffing dish in oven below turkey.
Once turkey has come to temp, pull it out to rest, gently tenting the turkey with aluminum foil.
Reduce heat in oven and continue cooking stuffing as per recipe.
With about 15 minutes to go on your stuffing, WARM THE SWEET POTATOES IN THE OVEN ABOVE THE STUFFING.
DON’T FORGET THE CRANBERRY SAUCE IN THE FRIDGE. OR THE WINE.
If you time it right, everything should be done/rested all at the same time. Don’t go crazy trying to get all your timing exactly right, though. The people eating your food will be grateful for whatever delicious chow you can serve them - and lukewarm turkey is better than undercooked stuffing. My advice if things get woolly - drink more wine. Give any hungry kiddoes some buttered rolls. And relax.
Everyone around your table will be thankful for everyone else there. The food is almost besides the point. But it will likely be delicious, and a fond memory of a wild year.
I know things have been a little rough. And in some cases, extremely sad. But even in this dark season, there are things to be grateful for.
I know that I’m grateful for all of you.
Good luck on Thanksgiving. Feel free to reach out to email@example.com with questions.
More The83k to come.
*…unless you’re an anti-masker and/or stand too close to people at the grocery store, in which case, please, respectfully, stuff your head up your ass. All the way up…there you go. Hard to breathe in there, I bet. Masks don’t seem like such a big deal now, huh?
I’ll let you know when it’s safe to come out. We should have widespread vaccine access by early summer, you fucking selfish bag of dicks. You should be ashamed of yourself.