For many years as a food writer I’ve helped perpetuate the notion that the Thanksgiving dinner is something that requires much in the way of advanced planning. All those shopping and to-do lists. All those schedules for making pie crust and peeling potatoes. All those containers of make-ahead food that find their way to the recesses of the fridge and freezer, only to reemerge after the big day. (So that’s what happened to the Brussels sprouts! Behind the iced tea all along!)
Forgive the gender stereotype, but I think this approach hews more to the way women cook than men. In my experience, women tend to be more detail-oriented and focus on the big picture of timing and serving the meal. The turkey is important but, then, so is the presence of clean towels in the bathroom and the bowl of nuts on the coffee table. Men, on the other hand, more often get swept up in a big cooking project — pit-roasting a whole pig, say — and let the details fall where they may, confident that everyone will get fed and leave happy.
With this in mind, I’d like to propose that guys take over the making of the Thanksgiving meal. Hear me out on this. Depending on the cook, you may risk the possibility the meal won’t start until midnight. But it could work. Here’s how:
So you, Mr. Sunday Chef, will go into this thinking of nothing but the big project, i.e. the turkey. Should you order a special heritage breed 24-pounder, look for a naturally raised fresh one or simply get one of those massive frozen lumps? Next, you will start researching all the possible ways to cook this turkey. You may decide to deep-fry it because that means you get to buy a turkey fryer, a gas ring and any other gear the guy at the hardware store recommends. You can also get your wife to flip out by carrying one of the kids around in the turkey fryer for days beforehand.
Then again, you may likely opt to brine the turkey and so you will take over the fridge with your big, sloshy bucket of dead bird. Everything else — eggs, milk, mustard — will have to find a temporary home elsewhere. If not a brine, then you can at least get one of those huge, honking syringes and use it to inject brine right into the turkey’s raw flesh before roasting.
As the turkey hogs all of your attention, continue to tell your wife you’ve got the whole meal planned out. Say that you’ve found a cranberry relish from Bon Appetit or Saveur and that you noticed a terrifically trendy vegetable (broccolini, parsnips, Tuscan kale) at the farmers market. When she asks why you didn’t buy it, and in fact, haven’t yet bought anything for Thanksgiving, which is ONLY TWO DAYS AWAY, remind her that the turkey has commandeered the refrigerator. Also mention that a famous television personality (Ina Garten, perhaps, or Martha Stewart) says that the vegetables for Thanksgiving have to be “market fresh” and do you want them freaking market fresh or not?
At this point, you’ve had your disagreement, and your wife will note that you’re impossible to talk to. She will also silently begin larding the cupboard with cans of cranberry sauce and chicken broth. A bakery pie or three might show up on a counter.
Thanksgiving Day will dawn, and you realize that you still have all day to get dinner ready. So enjoy a bowl game or two! Once you’ve satisfied that need, it might be a good idea to start shopping. The farmers market may be closed, but there’s always a supermarket open somewhere. You should go nuts: Buy $4.69 packages of fresh sage, enough potatoes to feed Ireland, a mountain of fresh beans, all the ingredients for making cornbread from scratch. A case of wine. Bring all these bags home and spread them all over every free inch of counter space in the kitchen. They’ll get put away, particularly once you move that graying, waterlogged turkey and its baptismal font out of the fridge.
You’ve got about five hours before guests start arriving, so now would be a good time to pour every ounce of your energy into making a turkey that is going to rock people’s faces! And, uh, stuffing…right…
Not a problem. You’ve got bread, onions, celery and — look — chicken broth. You can wing something that looks more or less like stuffing in 10 minutes flat. And, see, that fresh sage came in handy. Once the turkey’s in the oven, you have time to catch part of another game. When you get back to the kitchen, you may discover the potatoes already cut up and boiling on the stove and the green beans trimmed. Your wife will give you a little half-smile and pat on the arm. “Thanks for getting the vegetables started,” you say. “No problem,” she responds.
Your guests start arriving, and instead of wine and beer, they bring all kinds of odd add-ons to the meal: nuts, guac and chips, nice cheeses and crackers, cut-up raw vegetables. You’re not sure how it happened, but it’s all kind of perfect because that turkey needs another hour, and you didn’t think of anything to nosh on beforehand. Boy, they must have read your mind.
So, finally, the turkey is ready to carve. Did you make gravy? No, but your wife has placed cans of broth and some of that special fine flour for gravy next to the roasting pan, and as your guests stand around the kitchen like spectators in a gallery, you get to make a nice show of stirring together your famous pan gravy. Everyone applauds and, hey, it’s only 9 p.m.
Thanksgiving is a roaring success.
Trust me on this. Thanksgiving in our house has worked this way for years.
And, guys, you know what the best part is? Because you did all the cooking, you don’t have to wash the dishes.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog