Thanksgiving is a holiday with lofty expectations. There is a big meal to prepare for more people than you usually cook for comprised of dishes you more than likely only make once a year. Each year there is an explosion of trendy recipes with new methods, imploring you to cover your turkey with a bacon lattice or a wine soaked t-shirt, soak it in a salty, sugary bath for days beforehand, fry it, grill it, slow cook it, spatchcock it, or squirt it every 15 minutes with a supersoaker of basting liquid (I may have made that up, but watch it catch on). There are so many people to please, traditions to uphold, and diets to account for that all the fun is almost sucked out of planning.
Sam Sifton is here to cure all these ails. A New York Times writer with 25 years of Thanksgiving cooking experience, as well as the one man Thanksgiving help line for the Times. The combination of his own experience and saving so many other meals made him full of opinions and wisdom on the subject which are compiled in Thanksgiving: How To Cook It Well. It may seem silly to have a cookbook you use for one day a year, but the recipes and lessons transcend turkey day. The dry humor alone makes this worth reading cover to cover each year, whether or not you are hosting (it will take you an hour at most, not counting for the times you walk around reading parts aloud to all in earshot).
On some topics Sifton offers no compromises: NO APPETIZERS (oysters don’t count), NO SALAD, NO GARLIC, NO CHOCOLATE. One bottle of wine per person is not outrageous. Gravy and cranberry sauce are the most important elements because they tie everything together (I agree). If you don’t cook, you clean (which should be law, holiday or not). “Leave the kitchen gleaming so that the morning may dawn on a new day, not a continuation of this one.”
If you are paralyzed by options each year, Thanksgiving is your book. There are enough variations to keep the meal interesting year after year, but all are well tested recipes guaranteed to succeed. Sifton says with his guidance “you are going to cook and serve a meal that will bring praise down upon you like showers of rose petals.” And once we are past Thanksgiving, and you have a picked over carcass and a ton of meat Sifton directs us through making turkey stock (get everything you can out of that giant, expensive bird!) and turkey gumbo, turkey salad, and even Thanksgiving eggs (because “exhaustive research into the business and culture of American breakfast suggests that you can always put an egg on it” – AMEN).
The suggestion I am most excited to put to work in my own kitchen this year is to start the morning of Thanksgiving by using the neck of the turkey to create a stock which will be used throughout the day (genius!). It will take everything I have not to, but there will be no salad (guess what will be for lunch Thanksgiving day though?!). Thanksgiving is a book I will most often reach for in November, but also on days when I need a little extra guidance when hosting a large group, classic recipes, or a reminder of how funny food writing can be.