Thanksgiving meal with few people means no expectations, freedom to do what you want

Among the disruptions 2020 brings is the radically altered Thanksgiving gathering. In her own words, Good Food host Evan Kleiman offers ideas for a downsized Thanksgiving feast, appropriate for a small gathering:

I expect there will be fewer tables hosting 10 or more people and many more with six or less. As a solo diner, I’m sure I’ll be in good company. As it happens, I’ve had experience with what my mom called the Tiny Tim Thanksgiving after my restaurant closed and I was no longer cooking for 200. 

The blessing of a reduced number at the table in 2020 is that there should be zero expectations, so truly do what you want. Have Chinese food or enchiladas or buy turkey sandwiches from the deli. (Next week I’ll have to-go recommendations for you.)  

In fact, I reached out to our wonderful listeners to ask what they’re planning on making, and as expected, they are a free wheeling bunch. Some responses:

  • Hot pot is so easy.  You just prep then cook as you eat! 
  • Elaborate meat pie for two.
  • One duo is just doing sides and pie.
  • Another duo is making braised beef, mac and cheese, and collards.
  • Another duo is considering roasting a small duck.

It’s an insight to how varied our celebrations are, and how 2020 has made the holiday strangely freeing.

But if you want to do something somewhat traditional, here are ideas for a reduced guest count Thanksgiving meal.

If you find that cooking a whole turkey provokes anxiety, don't do it. Small turkeys have a smaller meat-to-bone ratio, so if you are less than six people and still want the impact of a large bird, why not just roast a beautiful big chicken or capon? You can still stuff it, both under the skin and inside. Or roast a duck.

If presentation of a whole fowl centerpiece isn’t important to you, here are some suggestions.

For dark meat lovers, why not give everyone a leg? Imagine a table of four, each chomping on a whole leg a la Henry the VIII. The laughter alone would make the day. 

Or if you want a project you can actually do in advance, why not confit turkey thighs or duck legs? Melissa Clark’s famous shortcut of Instant Pot duck confit is genius.

I’m going to try adapting it to my yearly turkey confit recipe.

Confit is the process of very slowly cooking a protein in fat, usually duck fat or olive oil. The biggest challenge is getting your hands on the duck fat. I order it online or locally get it from any good butcher shop. The resulting meat is silky and luscious with crisp skin. I’m hoping Melissa’s idea can allow me to use less duck fat.

If you prefer the turkey breast, then try it stuffed and rolled. Ask the butcher to butterfly it for you, or look online to see how it’s done. It’s easy.  

The benefit of the rolled breast is the ability to get seasoning all the way through the meat. Stuffing can be nearly anything that’s solid enough to stay in one place, from traditional bread-based stuffing recipes to cooked, drained, chopped spinach and ricotta. For years I’ve made them with a shallot-rosemary butter and slices of prosciutto. My technique to keep the breast moist is to wrap it in aluminum foil so that as the compound butter melts it bastes the meat.

As for vegetarians and vegans, you know what you love. Make it without feeling confined to any traditional menu. My favorite vegetarian “wow dish” for fall is:

Stuffed pumpkin as the centerpiece. Both Ruth Reichl and Dorie Greenspan have recipes for pumpkins stuffed with bread, cream, and cheese. Dorie adds bacon. I’ve made it both ways and also added cooked greens. It’s impossibly rich, yet vegetarian and a stunning presentation.  I’ve served it in a large pumpkin for 10 people, and a little kabocha for two. It’s easy to adapt. 

If you’re not vegetarian, you could add chopped or shredded chicken or turkey to the mix.

Butternut squash lasagne — my impossibly luxurious delivery system for flavor, made with thin no-boil noodles and enriched by silken pools of béchamel.  

— Written by Evan Kleiman