Several million stories have been written about how to season, brine, and / or roast a turkey, so we won’t attempt to grapple with those issues here. Instead, we will make two simple and sensible recommendations that — if heeded — will likely result in a brilliant and happy Thanksgiving for all involved.
The first is to cook your turkey in a tabletop electric oven. We like the Hamilton Beach 22-quart roaster (pictured above) or the Nesco 18-quart roaster (it also comes in camo, if you happen to be under enemy fire while preparing your meal). Retailing at $40-$70 (Fleet Farm always carries a variety of sizes), these marvelous devices can handle up to 22-pound birds.
Using an electric oven accomplishes a few things. First and foremost, it frees up your regular old oven for the endless parade of sides and other dishes rotating through the kitchen on Thanksgiving. Second, it cooks turkeys quickly. We’ve been able to finish 22-pound birds in under three hours, faster than we’ve managed in our conventional oven, and so fast that we start temping the bird at around 90 minutes because the last 20 or 30 degrees in temperature change come fast and furiously. Finally, if you put the electric oven somewhere accessible to your guests, the basting and checking of the turkey becomes Thanksgiving theater, a chance for everyone present to ooh and aah and enjoy the way the cooking bird fills the room with plumes of savory delight.
Our second recommendation is this: brine your turkey. But don’t soak your turkey in salt water — rub the salt onto the skin. It works beautifully to tenderize the meat and spares you the effort of filling and then disposing of gallon after gallon of turkey water. We’ve tried both ways, and now swear by the dry-brine method. The New York Times breaks it down quite nicely in their essential guide to Thanksgiving.
Each Friday afternoon, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email email@example.com.
Chicken Liver Tart at Heyday
Contributed by John Garland
Cubano at Hola Arepa
Who needs beans, plantains and all that other filler? Slow roasted pork, ham, mustard, refrigerator pickles and a spicy aioli make for a powerful, two-fisted meat talisman to protect against the wintry onslaught. [Last Week on the Hot Five: #2]
Contributed by Peter Sieve
Surf and Turf Burger at George and the Dragon
“Awesome surf & turf burger @ganddpub w/fried oysters & caramelized onions. Get it!” [Debuting on the Hot Five]
Pork Belly at Borough
Contributed by Paige Latham
Ram-Toria-Aaloo at The Himalayan
Contributed by Joshua Page
Our family spends Thanksgiving with a friend who has celiac disease, so we have a mostly gluten-free dinner — I do make rolls and a pie crust with wheat flour, but also gluten-free versions for Jerry. A dish we all look forward to is the gluten-free dressing, which starts with a tasty cornbread. You could use your favorite cornbread recipe for the dressing if you don’t need to avoid gluten.
While these recipes are forgiving, and you can use the most readily available ingredients, several ingredients merit mention. Likewise, for the dressings, proportions are flexible: don’t discard a handful of excess diced celery; use it. The critical part is tasting for seasoning as you cook. And stuffing the dressing into the turkey turns it into … a stuffing, of course!
This Hack is underwritten by Gorkha Palace: Using fresh & organic ingredients, Gorkha Palace brings you an eclectic range of cuisines of Nepal, India and Tibet thus offering our patrons a unique culinary experience.
Fresh, wholegrain cornmeal is sweet and flavorful and makes a difference in these — and other — recipes. I used organic cornmeal from Whole Grain Milling in Welcome, Minn., available in bulk at Lakewinds, the Wedge, and other co-ops. I also love the organic cornmeal produced by Greg Reynolds at Riverbend Farm in Delano, Minn., but it’s unavailable this year. “We had a very cool wet spring and early summer,” Reynolds wrote in an email. “The corn got planted late, and we had a frost before it matured. Consequently, no corn crop.”
The surprise vegetarian guest can send the coolest cook into a tizzy, generally resulting in a plate of sides hastily assembled into an entree. But to make a veg feel welcome, one pantry staple will do the trick: vegetarian stock, broth, bouillon paste, or bouillon cubes.
Each allows for a fantastic feat: the transformation of a collection of already tasty sides into a truly special plate, all through the magic of gravy.
And you’re likely to find that all your guests enjoy the vegetarian gravy on its own merits. Lighter than traditional, pan-dripping gravies and more complex and savory than anything from a packet, vegetarian gravies, like their meaty friends, reflect the flavor of their primary ingredients. While using turkey drippings grants a very specific “Thanksgiving” flavor, choosing among vegetarian bases can change the tenor of your meal.
The fastest route is a can or Tetra-pak of vegetarian broth. As a go-to, I like the readily available Swanson’s, which has the bright, clear look and flavor of a balanced broth you might whip up from a traditional mirepoix mixture (equal parts carrot, onion, and celery). More complex broths, often found in the natural-foods aisle or at your local co-op, will tend toward either a stronger carrot flavor or a darker, earthier mushroom flavor.
Your table setting says a lot about you! Serving pieces not only complement your foodstuffs, they also express your sense of design and aesthetics. Let your new casserole be the conversation starter at the dinner table! Let your wine tumblers toast to good company and good health! Let your dessert plates savor the moment and the end of the feast! From salt shakers and gravy boats to after-dinner espresso mugs and dessert plates, let your table find its voice at Northern Clay Center, as you shop from over 2,000 handmade ceramic pots. With the holiday season upon us, visit our gallery in South Minneapolis and our online store to plan your dinner party (and to gift shop!) at a time and place convenient to you.
Paul Berglund (above), Executive Chef of The Bachelor Farmer (Minneapolis) visited Northern Clay Center to choose serving dishes fit for his holiday table.
I grew up in the Midwest. Thanksgiving was very traditional. I most look forward to the gravy, dinner rolls and stuffing. As you can see, I hit the starches pretty hard, with a side of turkey. Most of the dishes, I have chosen for their warm colors. Ceramic dinnerware is actually a perfect fit for fall and winter, because most of the colors you find in glazes are earth tones.
I am imagining a slice of apple pie with vanilla ice cream. Apple red with warm yellow. It’s perfect! Low Dish ($40) by Paul Eshelman.