I’ll never forget the way the words rang in my head, what, four or five years ago, Judy Rodgers, chef of Zuni Cafe in SF: why is this the beginning of the eating season, she asked, why isn’t this a holiday about cherishing our food, about saving it, about putting it up before winter so we don’t starve, about sharing it? Thanksgiving should be about being with people we care about, about paying attention to what we have so that we don’t waste it, so that we make more of it, so that everyone has it.
So as I spend a happy day in the kitchen, I’ll be thinking about the time I live in, a time of unprecedented thoughtfulness about food and where our food comes from. It’s a lucky time to be a chef, to be a cook, to be someone who loves good food.
I would be grilling my turkey today if my daughter hadn’t demanded that I roast it. I love grilling a turkey. It may be the tastiest way of cooking a turkey. It requires continual attention, which is a good thing, unless you’ve got a million other dishes to cook, vacuum the living room, set the table, maybe even shovel the front walk, who knows? So I’m roasting this year, and not stuffed. Doing a “dressing.” Leeks and mushrooms and lots of herbs and celery and some turkey stock and fat from the cooking turkey. Turkey cavity will have onion lemon and herbs. I’ll also be making green beans with almonds (easy to finish at the last minute). I always have some kind of corn, symbolic for me. My dad’s cranberry sauce. Donna’s making the mashed potatoes because she loves to. Epi from On the Rise bakery, a wonderful edible garnish for the table. Friends are bringing pecan pie and pumpkin pie.
I did a local radio show yesterday with two chef restaurateurs I really respect and like, Doug Katz and Jonathan Sawyer, and Doug was talking about how he does his small-farm-raised birds. It’s kind of a combo braise roast and it makes so much sense, but does have a big sentimental drawback. He removes the legs and braises them in stock and vegetables and roasts the breasts. It would be a great strategy at home. Sweat plenty of veg in a roasting pan, add the legs and enough wine and stock to come three quarters of up, bring it to a simmer on the stove top, then put the rest of the turkey on top and roast it. This way you end up with succulent tender legs and thighs and can control the doneness of the easily overcooked breast. And you’ve made some more delicious stock in the process.
But part of the ritual of thanksgiving is seeing this whole roasting bird. So I intend to present the bird when the breast is done, then remove the legs and finish them in the roasting pan with the vegetables and stock. And finish the rest of the dishes while the breast rests.
How ever you’re cooking your meal, don’t panic and don’t stress, enjoy the process. Today is not about perfect food. This, holiday we all share, is about appreciating food, about sharing it, about being with friends and family, about giving thanks for the present with hopeful thanks for the future.
A final thanks to Pierre, who created the above illustration. I met him in Vancuver at a signing. He was a young cook and artist whose playful illustrations in his first book, Kitchen Scraps, a fun illustrated cookbook, I really admire. Thanks Pierre.
To all, Happy Thanksgiving.