Thanksgiving is essentially the ultimate celebration of food. This holiday combines the notions of seasonality, tradition, family and (let’s face it) excess into a single meal the represents all for which we are thankful. Here at OurLocaltopia we have spent the past few months gearing up for Thanksgiving through a series of recipe and technique focused posts that run the gamut from traditional to nouveau. As the big day approaches, we of course have even more of these recipes and techniques to share! In this post, Jonathan Dye reveals a variety of his own hints for taking some of the stress and work out of Thanksgiving dinner prep, including his suggestion for quicker cooking, spatchcocked turkey prep. Jonathan Duffy Davis takes us through a step-by-step tutorial on dry-brining and whole roasting your turkey, and shares his recipes for perfectly roasted harvest vegetables. Finally, we recap the various recipes we have explored this fall so they can be used on your own holiday table! Now, beware, this is quite a long post! But, if you can’t find the time to read it all, just use the handy-dandy navigation links below to skip to exactly what you’re looking for:
Tips for a Simplified Thanksgiving -By Jonathan Dye
Pressed for time this Thanksgiving? Try some of my time-saving options for (nearly) guaranteed success! Now, I am not traditionally in the business of of telling folks what to do, but let’s face it… the week of Thanksgiving is exceptionally busy, with many things demanding our focus. And if you’re like me, any help and time-saving strategies are appreciated! Thanksgiving is so important to celebrate, yet we often find ourselves pressed for time (and therefore options), which might affect what we can deliver to the all-important Thanksgiving dinner table. If you find yourself entertaining friends or family this week, take a look at a few basic notes I’ve taken on ways that you can eliminate stress through a tiny bit of thoughtful planning and execution in the days prior to the holiday. It is, after all, important to enjoy the day, the rest, the meal, and the celebration of the spirit of the day. And, to be mindful to remain (if only somewhat) unencumbered by the necessity to cook and serve for a crowd. Please enjoy the notes and photos below. You are welcome to use them as a tools to plan your meal and to be positioned for the greatest success, in whatever form it takes.
Dressing (aka stuffing) can be easy to assemble the day before. One of our favorite recipes is here! Cook your aromatics (onion, celery, and in this case, Italian Sausage) in advance. Cool and refrigerate these ingredients separately from your dried bread. The next day, simply combine your bread and sautéed vegetables, add stock, and cook in a casserole. It couldn’t be simpler!
Clean and peel your potatoes as far as a day in advance! Make sure to store in a covered pot with plenty of water to halt oxidation. The next day, cook your potatoes until they are tender, and proceed with your recipe. The mess is gone, the potatoes are ready, and you’ll be happy as a clam! This year, a recipe from Williams-Sonoma is winning rave reviews!
Naturally high in pectin, cranberries will gel on their own. Whether you’re making a rustic sauce or a refined gelee, the sauce and it’s flavors will not suffer if you make the dish in advance.
Remember to include your friends or relatives in your meal. They will appreciate the opportunity to contribute, and it will alleviate your need to provide additional sides. Be mindful, though, because dishes brought over are best suited to be served at room temperature and in the container in which they were brought. Dishes served room-temperature can reduce your stress!
Brine and prep your turkey in advance. The flavors will be better, and the turkey will benefit. A long rest (as much as two days) in the refrigerator, uncovered, gives the bird’s skin a chance to dry out, enabling it to produce a crispy crust. Remember, moisture is the enemy of crispiness, and the skin of the bird is a great carrier of flavor, color, and texture!
Having the proper tools to prep your bird is essential! Here, we use quality poultry shears, a trussing needle, linen twine, and a pepper mill to ensure that the bird receives all the attention it deserves.
While it is lovely to get creative, there’s a reason that onion, celery, and carrot are mainstays in the flavor department in your turkey’s aromatics. When chopped together, they are known as Mirepoix, or the “Holy Trinity.” For our spatchcocked bird, we’re using them as an impromptu roasting rack, which will add significant character to the pan drippings.
A spatchcocked turkey on a bed of aromatics cooks in as little as 2 hours. While the notion may not be romantic, it is functional and emerges from the oven and onto the serving platter with all of the splendor of a traditional bird (but with significantly less stress and mystery). Want more details on spatchcocking? Martha’s got you covered!
Creating a nice compound butter can really compliment the flavors of your bird and its drippings. Here, we’ve used marjoram, salt, pepper, and lemon zest to add a touch of flair. If you haven’t tried lemon with turkey, it’s not too late to start!
Making sure your serving pieces are cleaned and labeled in advance allows you to concentrate on many other pressing obligations – such as gravy making! Take the time to identify the right pieces, label them, and place them on your table or sideboard the night before. You will be thankful for the time this simple step will save you.
Set your table with all of the things that you enjoy and that will add your personal touch to your celebration. Family style food service, while informal, can help you de-stress and will provide a chance for your guests to get involved in serving.
Thanksgiving, simplified. We love this holiday, and the history and tradition behind it. Regardless of what you serve, Thanksgiving offers the chance to come together and participate in a communal and meaningful exchange. Whether you are going to be simple or fancy, remember the core of the celebration and you’ll be right on track. Great luck, great food, great times, and great friends!
Happy thanksgiving to you, your friends and your family; all of those most dear.
Dry-Brined and Whole-Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey by Jonathan Duffy Davis
The turkey should be the least daunting task of the Thanksgiving feast. The hardest part is wrangling the huge bird in and out of the oven – the cooking process should be nearly worry free if you let a thermometer guide you. There are plenty of ways to best cook the meat of your turkey so that the breast meat stays moist while the leg meat cooks through. Unfortunately, whole-roasting the bird is not the best way to accomplish this. Spatchcocking the turkey, or cooking the breast and legs separately, are the best ways to ensure even cooking. The breast meat of a whole roasted turkey invariably overcooks before the legs are finished because the dark meat of the leg simply takes longer. That’s not to say that this isn’t the way you should prepare the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving Feast! A crisp, golden turkey is a beautiful thing and we’ve got a little trick that you can use to keep that white meat moist and flavourful – Brining.
Brining or Dry-Brining Your Bird
The brining process involves immersing meat in a solution of salt and sometimes sugar. The salt in the brining solution alters some of the proteins in the meat so that they do not shrink as much during cooking. Protein contraction squeezes moisture out of the meat; less protein contraction thus results in a moister bird. The brined meat also has a smoother and more pleasing texture and is seasoned with all of that wonderful salt (and perhaps sugar) that the brine contains.
I have brined plenty of poultry but I have become a big advocate of an easier alternative for one primary reason – I really don’t like finding a way to keep the turkey and all that brining liquid cold and contained for 24 – 48 hours. I find that dry-brining is a great alternative with results that are often superior to the wet-brine method.
The Dry-Brine Method
Dry-brining is a method that was recently popularized by the LA Times. It simply involves salting your bird heavily and allowing 24 – 48 hours for the salt to permeate the meat. It is sometimes referred to as “curing,” but advocates of the method prefer the word “brine” and argue that it is essentially the same thing. The salt that is rubbed onto the turkey pulls moisture onto the surface of the meat, dissolving the salt, and forming an in situ brine right on the surface of the bird.
To Stuff or Not to Stuff
Stuffing is fantastic – a starchy, comforting food that is flavoured with the drippings from the roasting bird. (Bracing for impact) But I suggest that you cook your stuffing separately. I understand that separating the stuffing from the bird is a serious compromise in stuffing flavour (and American tradition) but the costs in stuffing are returned to you and your guests in the quality of your turkey. An unstuffed turkey has a cavity where hot air can circulate. The lack of stuffing increases surface area and allows for more uniform cooking. Stuffing the bird creates a situation where you MUST drastically overcook the meat to achieve a safe overall temperature. Your stuffing can still taste of turkey though! You can create a quick stock from the neck and incorporate it into your stuffing recipe. Pouring some of the pan drippings from the roasted bird will also make that stuffing taste like the holidays.
(If this suggestion to forgo stuffing is upsetting then you should go ahead and stuff that bird! This meal is all about tradition and some traditions just shouldn’t be broken.)
Recipe – Dry-Brined and Whole-Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey
For Dry Brining
- 1 unadulterated turkey (Avoid “Butterballs”, pre-brined, injected (yikes!), or kosher birds. All of these forms of turkey have been pre-seasoned and will be far too salty after brining. If you want to forgo the brining process, a kosher bird is the best option as it has already been prepared with salt.)
- 1 tablespoon of kosher salt or sea salt per 5 pounds of turkey meat (For example – A 20 pound bird would require 4 tablespoons of salt.)
- The dry-brined turkey
- 1 teaspoon canola oil
- 1 large yellow onion
- 1 large bunch of herbs – parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are all good choices
24 to 48 Hours Before Cooking (preferably 36 – 48 hours):
- Wash and dry the turkey
- Cover all surfaces of your turkey in a thin but consistent layer of kosher salt. Make sure to salt all surfaces of the cavity. It is also a good idea to separate the skin from the breast and work some salt directly onto the flesh of the breast.
- Cover lightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
The Evening Before Thanksgiving:
- Uncover the turkey to allow the skin to dry. Exposure to the dry air of the refrigerator will remove moisture from the skin while leaving the flesh nice and moist. A drier skin will get crispier and will brown nicely.
30 Minutes Prior to Cooking:
- Preheat the oven to 500oF – that’s right, 500oF (see below)! Remove the turkey from the fridge.
- Apply an extremely thin layer of neutral tasting oil such as canola to the skin of the bird, just a teaspoon should do it
- Season the skin and cavity liberally with finely ground black pepper – do not add salt!
- Quarter and peel the onion and add it to the cavity
- Add herb bunch to cavity
- Truss the turkey if you wish – I usually just tie the legs together and tuck the wing tips under the bird. Trussing is mostly for aesthetics and to prevent the wing tips from burning.
- Place the bird on a roasting rack in a large roasting pan
Roasting Your Turkey
An initial period of high-heat cooking will render the fat from the skin and help it to achieve a crisp texture and golden flavour. It also speeds the cooking time – a 15 pound bird should be done in under three hours. Just make sure to reduce the temperature to 325oF after 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 500oF.
- Place the turkey in the oven and roast at 500oF for 30 minutes.
- Reduce temperature to 325oF and roast until the thickest part of the thigh and breast meat register 165oF (This is the temperature recommended by the USDA. You can decide to pull the turkey out of the oven at 160oF and the temperature should increase to 165oF through carry-over cooking).
- Allow the turkey to rest for 20 – 30 minutes before carving. You’ve both had a long day.
Forget the clock, a thermometer is the only way to tell that your turkey is done. It should read 160oF to 165oF when inserted in the thickest part of the breast and thigh.
Good luck on Thursday! If you need advice, post your question in the comment section. We’re here to help you through the biggest meal of the year.
And of course, no bird is complete without a hearty selection of roasted vegetables to serve along side. Continue reading for my recipes and methods on preparing a suggested trio of harvest time vegetables…
A Trio of Roasted Autumn Vegetables for Thanksgiving: Acorn Squash, Brussels Sprouts, and Parsnips – By Jonathan Duffy Davis
These incredibly simple recipes are ones that I associate with a warm kitchen filled with comforting smells and family. My mom always puts roasted acorn squash on the table for both Thanksgiving (the Canadian one in October!) and Christmas. My family loves their vegetables, so it should come as no surprise that half of an acorn squash is but one of many vegetable-based sides for a holiday meal. The sweetness of the squash and brown sugar is nicely balanced by the salt and cracked black pepper. The hint of cinnamon is there to remind us that the kitchen and the table are the best places to be when the weather is cold and family is close.
Brussels sprouts and parsnips are two other autumn vegetables that you can pop into the oven along with the squash. You’re already heating all of that real estate so you might as well make good use of the space! Brussels sprouts have an undeserved reputation as being more medicine than vegetable – something to force children to eat for the sake of health. When over-steamed and under-seasoned, we agree that Brussels sprouts are indeed gag-worthy and barely deserving of the effort of picking up the fork. But with just a little caramelization and adequate seasoning, it turns out that Brussels sprouts are delicious. Prepare them as we do here and you will never look at them the same way again.
The undeserved notoriety of Brussels sprouts is echoed in the obscurity of the noble parsnip. Parsnips are those large, carrot-like vegetables in the produce section that few people seem to ever take home. They aren’t my first choice for summer dining but they are the absolute epitome of winter food, bringing a bright but comforting flavour AND the starchiness of a potato. Parsnips are excellent beside a piece of roasted chicken or turkey but they are sublime when served with a nice beef roast! Just like our Brussels sprouts, caramelization is the key to making a parsnip delicious. If I’m roasting a chicken or some beef, I love to throw them in the pan and roast them in the drippings. Check out the Roasted Acorn Squash recipe and gallery below!
Roasted Acorn Squash Recipe
- ½ an acorn squash per diner
- 1 tablespoon butter per squash
- ½ tsp cinnamon per squash
- Cracked black pepper and salt to taste
- Halve each acorn squash lengthwise and use a spoon or ice cream scoop to remove the seeds.
- Trim a small section of squash off of the skin-side of the squash to allow it to rest cavity-side-up.
- Rub flesh with cinnamon, salt, and pepper
- Add a tablespoon of butter to each squash half
- Roast at 350o F – 400oF for approximately 40 – 50 minutes or until the flesh is tender enough to be pierced with a fork
Roasted Brussels Sprouts Recipe
Ingredients – for six small servings
- 2 pounds Brussels Sprouts
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 4 tbs balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbs whole-grain mustard
- Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
- Pre-heat oven to 400oF
- Wash and trim the Brussels sprouts, removing the dry stem-end and any discoloured leaves.
Use a paring knife to quarter each “sprout”. Quartering them increases the surface area that is available for browning and the more the brown, the better they taste.
- To a mixing bowl add oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper and whisk to combine
- Add Brussels sprouts to dressing in bowl and toss to combine.
- Spread dressed Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet in a single layer. The more space between your sprouts, the more colour and flavour you will achieve.
- Roast in the oven at 400oF for 15 – 20 minutes, turning them half way through. You will know the sprouts are done when they are tender and have a nice brown crust.
Ingredients – for 6 small servings
- 6 large parsnips – approximately 3 lbs
- 3 tbs olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Pre-heat oven to 400oF
- Wash, peel, and trim both ends from each parsnip
- Quarter the parsnips and add to a large mixing bowl
- Toss with oil, salt, and pepper
- Roast at 400oF for 30 – 40 minutes
***Alternatively, you could add the parsnips to the bottom of the turkey roasting pan 30 minutes before the turkey is done. The parsnips could come out of the oven with the turkey, rest, and return to the oven on a separate baking sheet just before the meal to come back to temperature.
These simple preparations of vegetables are staples on the Duffy-Davis holiday table. I hope they find a place on your table this Thanksgiving. Let us know how they turn out!
OurLocaltopia’s Thanksgiving Dinner Recipe Round-Up
We love this time of year, and it shows in our recent posts! In case you missed any, or if you just need a reminder, here’s a list of links to our posts and recipes for a variety of Thanksgiving dishes.
Thanks so much for reading and sharing Thanksgiving and the entire harvest season with us!
Good (And Thankful) Eating!