Keep It Simple On Thanksgiving Day

Pasture raised turkey

Avoiding undue stress on Thanksgiving Day…

Each and every one of us—when hosting guests for Thanksgiving—desires to not only to serve the best food possible but also to have such a climate in our home that causes our guests to feel at ease. Preparing excellent food is an art in itself, and to be the hosts who have it all together—calm and composed—requires even more preparation and self-control.

As you know, achieving the above for a major hosting like Thanksgiving is a stretch, and if your home is anything like one certain Fisher household, it’s usually a bit more chaotic than that, and underlying chaos is really hard to conceal from even the most unassuming guests. However, let’s focus on having things on more of an even keel when the big day arrives.

To minimize chaos, we advocate being proactive. Please don’t think we’re experts because we have a long repute for procrastination (I more so than Esther), but all considered, we have learned a few things about turkeys (and about people). Here’s our list;

  • Reserve your turkey early enough to avoid having to scramble to find one the day before (believe me, we encounter these folks every year).
  • Keep it simple. So many folks watch a cooking show or two and have these grandiose ideas about how to cook a turkey—and all the trimmings—to perfection. Remember, cooking shows usually feature career chefs who have lots of experience cooking anything. For most of us, that’s just not reality. Cooking is an art form, and must be learned as we go. Excellent food prepared in a simple, tasty manner really wows people.
  • Prepare as many dishes—especially cold dishes—in advance as possible. This not only keeps the cook from becoming too frazzled, but also helps to avoid ruined or less-than-perfect dishes due to “too many irons in the fire.”
  • Narrow down the number of offerings. We humans are much more likely to over-complicate things than keeping it too simple. When we host, Esther and I will trim down the menu to a few first-course dishes, and even fewer desert dishes (yes, we’ve been uncomfortable going into it for fear of offering too little). We’ve found it allows us to put more energy and focus on the few dishes, have plenty of it prepared to excellence, and folks are satisfied and awed. Eschew the temptation to attempt a fancy four course meals, invest more time actually enjoying the guests, and enrich their experience by being a calm and composed host.

For what it’s worth, those are our aspirations for a manageable hosting. While we realize that simplifying an event like Thanksgiving dinner is not the goal for all, our experience has been that it actually enriches the experience for both the guests and the hosts. For now, this is The View from the Country.

P.S. Watch for more simple recipes and additional thoughts later this week.

Quotes worth Re-quoting ~

“Everyone has complicated lives, but the more you can simplify it and make it work for you,
the better it is going to be.” ~ Lewis Hamilton

“I find that as you get older, you start to simplify things in general.” ~ George Clooney

Cooking the Turkey Early –
   In keeping with the “Keep it Simple” article above, we’ll share our experience in cooking the turkey early. We know just how unnerving it is to be cooking the turkey Thanksgiving morning while hoping and praying that it’s cooked to perfection at the exact moment when all the guests have arrived, the other food is ready, and everyone is seated around the table anticipating the carving of the turkey.

While some folks may have the ability to reach that ideal, Esther and I have found it difficult to achieve. Therefore we started cooking the turkey in advance. Our creed is that low and slow is the best way to cook pastured proteins (due to the exercise it gets in its lifetime). Plus, we’re traditional oven cooks (no fancy grills or convection ovens for us).

Starting the evening before the holiday, we’ll rub the turkey liberally with our bright yellow pastured butter and sprinkle it with plenty of salt, pepper, or other seasoning of your choice (Esther has been told that much of her cooking success is due to the liberal use of butter and salt, which we find plausible). After buttering and seasoning put it in the roasting pan and turn the oven to 400 degrees for an hour (high heat in the beginning helps to get heat to the core of the carcass faster). After an hour reduce oven heat to about 250-260 degrees and bake it for the remainder of the night (we’ll usually put the turkey in at about 9 PM).

I know all night sounds long compared to the 20-30 minutes per pound rule most folks tout, but remember, it’s low heat, which doesn’t dry out like high heat does. Also, the poultry industry is adamant in its advice to always use high heat when cooking poultry. Why is that? It’s to kill the bacteria the carcass collects in the less-than-clean high-speed automated processing line (think tens of thousands birds per day in a single processing line). This concern becomes nil in a farm-raised bird raised outdoors and processed in a clean small-scale hands-on facility.

The next morning we’ll remove the turkey from the oven when it’s well browned. Timing is dependent on the size of the turkey, but a 15-18 lb. bird will usually be ready by 7 or 8 AM. We leave the turkey in the roasting pan and wrap the whole pan in a heavy blanket to retain heat. This process is beneficial because it then allows the bird to “rest” in its own steam. Steam is one of the best natural penetrating agents ever to be discovered, and having the steam circulating in the pan for a few hours helps to break down the meat proteins, acting like a natural tenderizer. One of our biggest challenges has been moving the turkey from the pan to the serving plate without having it fall apart.

If you take this route of cooking the turkey early, don’t worry about it not being hot. Being the turkey folks we are, we’re usually looked to to provide the turkey when gathering with Esther’s family. We’ll cook the turkey at home and after traveling 2-3 hours (with it still wrapped in the blanket) it’s still quite hot when serving it at 10-11 AM. The beauty of cooking early is that it not only takes the stress away of having it ready at exactly the right moment, but also frees you (and the oven) up to prepare other food after the turkey is done. Good luck, and let us know how it turns out.