Thanksgiving Prep ...

Stock, stuffing, and turkey strategies; books, movies, theater and links...

If you’d have asked me to guess, quickly, how many newsletter’s I’ve written, I’d have said eight or ten. But this is the 28th newsletter as we’re approaching its one-year anniversary. And I want to thank people for reading and for those who comment, for adding to the conversation.

Giveaway!

To celebrate the anniversary, I’d like to give one reader a signed copy of From Scratch, my last solo cookbook. I’m making the offer now so that I can get the book off (to anywhere within the United States) in time for you to give it to your favorite cook, or keep it for yourself, of course (nothing wrong with that!).

When I blogged regularly, I used to do giveaways all the time and I loved the activity and ideas it generated. Hope this does the same. Feel free to share this newsletter with anyone who might like to enter!

All you need to do to enter is leave a comment saying what is your favorite dish to make for, or bring to, a FRIENDSGIVING, a new kind of holiday I’m fascinated by.

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Thanksgiving cooking strategies….

Thanksgiving is a holiday that all Americans share, regardless of religion, the one holiday that is centered around food, and how appropriate that is, as food unites us in so many ways. In a country so divided, we couldn’t need this holiday more than we do now.

Thanks to safe effective vaccines, we can gather once again, and after the previous year’s isolation, it’s time to pull out all the stops. We will return to the tradition of having a pre-Thanksgiving bash on Wednesday (pulled pork? yes!) with friends, and a joyful, noisy Thanksgiving with family. We’re counting 26 people on each night—52 guests in the span of 24 hours! The year 2020 is behind us, I pray!

To make such parties happen, and to do so with as little cooking stress as possible, we’ve got to plan. Here are a few of the strategies, with links to my recipes, that I use year after year.

Numero Uno!

Make roasted turkey stock! Yes, for the gravy but it can do so much more! (If stock just isn’t going to happen for you, I have more thoughts below on using store-bought.)

Here’s my recipe for easy turkey stock that is done in your oven while you sleep, days before Thanksgiving. And it’s also the perfect technique for the turkey carcass after Thanksgiving.

Gravy ties all the food together. And if you have good stock fabulous gravy is a snap. But let’s not forget one of the most important things gravy (and/or stock) brings to the table: heat. One of the most disappointing parts of the Thanksgivings of my youth was cold turkey. My Uncle Jon, bless him, insisted on carving the turkey at the table. Anything short of that, he said, was unmanly (such as his brother’s sawing away at the bird with his electric serrated knife back in the kitchen when my family hosted).

But by the time everyone was served, the white meat was cold. Which is fine for sandwiches the next day (I love a turkey sandwich on white bread, with iceberg lettuce and Hellmann’s mayo, and a tall glass of milk.) But not when everything else is hot.

Gravy not only adds deliciousness to the entire meal, it can keep hot whatever you put it on.

After I simmer the roasted turkey bones in the oven over night, I remove them, add the aromatic vegetables and herbs and simmer gently for 45 more minutes before straining through a chinois, then through cloth.

A good rich stock, for those unmanly amongst us, of which I am one, can be ladled over the cut turkey. I basically serve the turkey in hot broth so that it stays hot and moist. Notice in the top photo, the pan.

To take this idea to its furthest reaches, and in my estimation the most perfect way of cooking a turkey, is the roast-braise technique. Chef Doug Katz in Cleveland turned me on to this years ago and it’s brilliant. Long ago, in my previous life, I did an extensive post on this roast-braise method with very useful photos. It’s the ideal way to ensure the thighs are fully cooked and tender without overcooking the breast.

We’re not going to do this because we’ve got two gonzo turkeys (ordered long ago from Whole Foods, fearing a shortage) and we’re just going to have to go full-on roast. Or more likely roast one whole turkey and I’ll break down the other into pieces to save space and gather more bones for stock.

(And a reader yesterday asked for my recipe for spatchcocked grilled turkey. I’ve republished it for him here; if you’re in the mood to grill your turkey, do! The flavor is incomparable.)

How to make gravy…

Thicken really good stock. That’s it.

The best and most flavorful way to thicken stock for gravy is to collect the fat from the roasted turkey and mix it with an equal measure of flour. It helps to cook this mixture but it’s not critical. The only important step is to mix it well so that all the flour granules are coated with fat, which prevents clumping as they swell to do their thickening. Allow this turkey-fat roux to cool, then whisk it into hot stock as needed.

My recipe for making gravy is at the bottom of this post.

I love your writing, Ruhlman, but there is no way I’m making stock…

Then buy good organic boxed broths. Again, Whole Foods is a good place to get this.

Or, up your store-bought game a bit: pour your boxed broth into a pot, add onion, carrot, and if you have it, turkey parts and simmer for an hour, then strain. This makes boxed stock almost as fresh and clean as homemade.

Sides…

Make ahead anything that you can, such as a good cranberry sauce. My dad’s favorite cranberry sauce, cranberry with orange, is at the bottom of this post.

Dressing/Stuffing: I haven’t cooked a stuffed turkey in probably thirty years because it’s impossible to cook the stuffing without overcooking the turkey by a mile. So I make dressing in a cast iron skillet. Dressing is essentially a savory bread pudding. The easiest way to make a great dressing is to mix a basic custard base, which is two parts liquid and one part egg. I use 32 ounces of the rich turkey stock and 8 eggs (eggs are about 2 ounces each). Pour it over good cubed bread that’s been dried and whatever other flavorings you want (onion, leeks, mushrooms, herbs and so on). Bake at 325 till set. (Actual recipe here.)

And now a confession. My beloved wife Ann has suggested using Stovetop Stuffing this year. So that’s what we’re doing! And I’m looking forward to its retro pleasures. (In the same vein, hors d’oeuvres will surely feature chips and Lipton’s onion soup dip and I suspect some form of updated green bean casserole will be involved.)

Pies…

Pies are Ann’s department. I can make sweet pies, but I don’t usually. I did think Melissa Clark’s article in Wednesday’s NYTimes, on perfecting pies, was outstanding. And she includes recipes for apple, pumpkin and pecan pies (her idea of combining honey and maple syrup to replace the corn syrup in the latter is ingenious).

And to drink…

Thanksgiving day should be long and drawn out with plenty of time to spend with friends and family. I don’t recommend getting into the Negroni’s and Manhattan’s early on.

For a truly fabulous cocktail that’s festive, complex, delicious, but relatively low alcohol, make spagliatos: Campari, Sweet Vermouth, and Prosecco, in whatever proportions you wish. Start with one ounce each Campari and Sweet Vermouth and about 3 ounces Prosecco.

For an even lighter cocktail, make the Americano; equal parts Campari and Sweet Vermouth, topped off with seltzer water. Both are outstanding cocktails and will ensure you remember the dinner once the turkey reaches the table.

What we’re watching…

With Ann’s weekly teaching in New York and my spending half my time there, we haven’t been to the ones we’re dying to see because we haven’t been together: But these are The French Dispatch, Last Night In Soho, Spencer, and Passing (the latter on Netflix).

I was able to catch a fabulous documentary by Todd Haynes called The Velvet Underground, a deep dive into this experimental band and the whole downtown art scene of 1960s Manhattan. It’s available on Apple TV but I saw it on a big screen at The Film Forum and appreciate the big screen (a ton of split screen sequences) and good sound.

For weeknight viewing we’re back into the third and last season of Dickinson, a delight.

But by far, BY FAR, the best thing we’ve seen recently was The Lehman Trilogy (by Italian novelist and playwright Stefano Massini; adapted by Ben Power; directed by Sam Mendez), a history of the investment banking behemoth, from its 19th century beginnings as an immigrant’s business selling cotton in Alabama, to it’s growth into a massive financial institution, to its 2008 downfall. Three actors play seemingly dozens of characters over the course of 3 hours and 45 minutes (I was absolutely unaware of the time). A tour de force. Unlike any show I’ve seen, and the best play I’ve ever attended.

What we’re listening to …

Ann found this one so, I’ll let her describe it:

The audiobook MYSTERY AND WONDER, which is Malcolm Gladwell interviewing Paul Simon about how he wrote his iconic songs. Just want to put on my ear pods, climb in bed, and listen to the whole 9 hours.

This from a girl who spent her early teen years listening obsessively to “I Am a Rock,” as only a lonely, romantic teenager can do. We’ve just begun it, but this new kind of audio book from Gladwell’s company, Pushkin, is, in effect, a 9-hour conversation with Paul Simon as he takes us through his artistic process as Gladwell explores the question, what does it mean to be a musical genius? It’s rare that an artist is able to delineate the creation of his art with such precision and clarity.

Bridge Over Troubled Water was one of the first pop albums I listened to, starting in fourth grade. I’m still listening to it. One of my favorite songs is “The Boxer,” which Simon discusses thoroughly, guitar in hand to play and sing as part of his elucidation. The audiobook costs $14.99 and it’s worth it.

What we’re reading…

I’m reading and loving Gary Shteyngart’s Our Country Friends, a funny romp as Manhattan sophisticates gather in a country house in New York’s Hudson Valley during the first weeks of the pandemic.

Ann is always working multiple books. She writes:

I’m deep into two books right now and struggling with which one to pick up because I like them both so much. THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END by Adam Silvera is, I guess, a YA book, but its premise of getting a call that lets you know you’re going to die today is compelling for any age. Richard Osmon’s THE MAN WHO DIED TWICE is the second in his Thursday Murder Club series in which four senior citizens solve murders. This one is as delightful as the first one.

Links we’re liking…

Read the NYTimes review of the aforementioned Velvet Underground documentary.

I’m always strangely comforted to find an email from The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings) by Maria Popova. This post features French Philosopher Simone Weil, on friendship: “Friendship is not to be sought, not to be dreamed, not to be desired; it is to be exercised (it is a virtue).”

As I’ve mentioned before, Ann has recently finished a memoir of her days as a TWA flight attendant, called Fly Girl, which will be out in May (preorder here!). Great stories (a woman breast feeding a cat in first class?!) of a young woman’s first work on her way to becoming a novelist, but it’s also a look at how our culture has changed as reflected by the way we travel (flight attendants were actual nurses at first, became hostess figures in the 1950s, and were sexualized in the 1960s). Her former TWA colleague, Matt Davies, sent her this 1955 short film for The Mickey Mouse Club on becoming a TWA “airline hostess.”

One-hundred fifty-eight years ago yesterday, Abraham Lincoln read 300 words in Gettysburg, PA, words that became one of the most famous speeches ever written. As we celebrate Thanksgiving this coming week, amidst continuing and deep social unrest, his are words to consider, over and over: “Now we are engaged in a great civil war,” he said in 1863, “testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” And ends with a plea: “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” (Here’s the wiki link, scroll down for the full text.)

And finally, on the lighter side …

As I’m enjoying Shteyngart’s current novel, I leave you with one of his ever entertaining book promo trailers, this one for Super Sad True Love Story, featuring Edmund White, James Franco, and Jay McInerny as Jay McInerny.

See you in a couple weeks and have a great Thanksgiving!

—Michael

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