Sam Sifton is commanding. Hear, hear, he says, in Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well (Random House 2012) have no fear, for this book will lead you through preparing and enjoying a proper feast:
But you should not be filling a Thanksgiving guest’s stomach with onion tarts or nuts or corn chips or wee amuse bouches in advance of a trencherman’s feast of turkey, and four sides, the whole thing covered with gravy. Appetizers may promote the appetite of those who order and consume them in restaurants. At Thanksgiving, though, appetizers take up valuable stomach space. They are insulting to your own hard work. (p.9)
He does make an exception for oysters (pp. 91-92) and shows you how to shuck them. Sam is an expert in all things Thanksgiving, from how to choose the bird, cook it and all that goes with it, and how to enjoy yourself at the same time. There is a very helpful chapter on Setting the Table, Serving the Food & Some Questions of Etiquette. If you are new to the meal, then read this one first. It’s easy to get everything right. In fact, read the whole book first before you even invite your guests or go to the market. Sam will calm your fears and ensure you that you will have as good a time as he has had since his first college Thanksgiving.
The book includes good guides on how to shop for, cook, and carve the bird with fine illustrations by Sarah C. Rutherford. There is a discussion and recipe for brining, smoking, or frying a turkey. There is even a recipe for Faster Roast Turkey (p. 37), which involves cutting off the legs and thighs and spatchcocking the breast. The end result might not look like a traditional turkey, but after you carve it, the taste is just as good if not better.
As for sides, Sam is a firm believer in in-season, rejecting Spring asparagus for anything from the Autumn:
Instead, keep your attention on gourds and tubers, on the end of the growing season, on things to which you can add butter and cream, maple syrup and bacon. (p. 49)
That’s right, this isn’t a diet meal. It’s a meal about celebration. So, add butter and sage to your roasted butternut squash (p. 58) or douse your Brussels sprouts in bacon and light cream (p. 63).
What better way to finish Thanksgiving – the only way – is with pie: Apple (pp. 98-9) and Pecan (pp. 102-3) and Pumpkin (pp. 106-7). Of course, you can add two or three other desserts, but these are the minimum. Sam shows you how to stay traditional.
Pick up a copy of Thanksgiving early, curl up in bed with it, get to know it well, and you’ll be the picture of calm on the big day.