This year between turkey ranchers cutting back on numbers of birds they raised a few years ago, avian flu slamming into turkey flocks, continued supply chain disruption and inflation, it might be difficult to find the size of bird you want, if you can find one you can afford at all. It may cost double what you remember past prices to be. So maybe it’s time to reconsider our time-honored tradition of the huge burnished bird being the center piece of the table.
The first alternative we’re going to look at is simply being open to making turkey in a different format than you usually do. For example, I would be thrilled to see a Thanksgiving table laden with roasted legs and thighs. Let's remind ourselves that traditionally, the rule of thumb when figuring out how much turkey you need is one pound per person because the carcass of the bird is so large. In smaller turkeys, the carcass is proportionally larger, so you get less meat. Instead of a 20 to 30-pound bird, you may find smaller birds more available, and yes that means you might have to get two. But small turkeys are easy to spatchcock, which lets you put two in the oven more easily.
Another solution is to buy parts instead of whole turkeys. It’s actually easier to cook legs, thighs, and breasts separately. You’ll ensure more even cooking and it will take less time. You can do what I do and confit the legs and thighs and butterfly, stuff, and roll the breasts. An advantage to confiting the legs and thighs is that you can do it now and store the meat in the fat until Thanksgiving Day.
Another way to go is to look for a different kind of poultry. Perhaps duck is something you like, but you’ve never tried roasting one whole at home. Liberty Duck has been supplying chefs and home cooks high quality ducks since 1992. They recommend this roast duck 101 from Martha Stewart.
But there’s no rule that says you have to have turkey or even another bird on the Thanksgiving table. We don’t have the same Sunday roast tradition as the British, but in an ironic nod to why we have Thanksgiving in the first place, you could make a beautiful prime rib roast.
Or you could simply do what a lot of families do, and make the favorite family recipe for the holiday. If it's lasagna, make that. Is it a gorgeous smoked brisket or ribs? That would be delicious. You can always surround these other choices with the full complement of Thanksgiving sides, and of course you can finish with pie. If you’re honest, most of us are all about the sides.
If you are looking for an impressive vegetarian or vegan main dish, look to squash. My two favorite ideas for impressive squash dishes are whole stuffed, and roasted pumpkins or large Butternut squash treated as a Wellington. On Good Food, we’ve talked about both ideas and have several examples. Ruth Reichl’s pumpkin is stuffed with a rich, cheesy bread pudding that souffles up and out of the top of the pumpkin when it bakes. Dorie Greenspan’s pumpkin stuffed with everything good takes that idea to another level. I usually add a lot of cooked greens, but the recipe is so elastic, you can make it your own. Both of these pumpkins become this gorgeous burnished mahogany, and it’s very easy to serve by just spooning out a bit of the filling with the tender squash flesh while keeping the skin intact.
Another idea that has gained a lot of traction in recent years is a vegetarian play on a beef Wellington, using a large butternut squash instead of a beef fillet. The cooked squash is surrounded by sauteed mushrooms and encased in puff pastry, which you can buy. It’s gorgeous, delicious, and not very hard to make. Here’s another version by Melissa Clark.
If you want to browse Thanksgiving ideas, go to kcrw.com/Thanksgiving.
It's good to remember that what makes Thanksgiving special aside from slavish adherence to past familial traditions or Instagram-based expectations of what your version of hospitality should be — is simply being together on a day when everything else stops. I think we’ve learned enough over the past two and a half years that simply enjoying people you love and tolerating those to whom you’re related is joy enough.