Thanksgiving Basics

Thanksgiving Basics

Stuffing in a Pan

Both turkey and stuffing will be infinitely better if you cook them separately. That way they’ll roast—not steam—and become crisp in all the right places; also, your pan juices won’t have a bunch of unwanted stuff(ing) floating in them. Finally, a stuffed turkey takes a long time to heat through, making it a legitimate food safety risk. Here’s a delicious stuffing (enough for 8 to 12 servings) that comes together quickly the night before and is then reheated while the bird rests.

1 Heat the oven to 375°F; grease a 9 x 13-inch pan with 2 tablespoons butter. (You’ll need 16 tablespoons or 2 sticks total for this recipe.)

2 Cut a large loaf of bread into 1-inch slices. (Wheat or white doesn’t matter as long as it’s of the quality you’d choose to eat on its own. It’s okay if it’s dried out. And I leave the crust on; it adds texture.)

3 Pulse a few slices in a food processor until they form crumbs the size of peas; dump them into a bowl and repeat until all the bread is pulverized. You should have 8 cups.

1 Put what’s left of the 2 sticks butter in a large pot over medium heat. When it melts and foams, add 1 chopped large onion and 4 chopped celery stalks and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add 1 cup chopped walnuts and cook, stirring almost constantly, until they begin to brown, 2 or 3 minutes.

2 Add the bread crumbs and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage leaves (or 2 teaspoon dried) and toss to combine. The bread should be slightly wet but not soggy. Stir in chicken stock or water, ½ cup at a time, if the stuffing looks too dry (you won’t need more than 1½ cups).

3 Sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss again, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Turn off the heat.

1 Transfer the stuffing to the prepared pan. Bake until the top is golden (but not too brown) and the inside is steaming hot, 40 to 50 minutes. Cool, cover with foil, and refrigerate.

2 On Thanksgiving Day, take the stuffing out of the fridge about 1 hour before the turkey is ready so it comes to room temperature. When you take the bird out of the oven, lower the heat to 375°F. Put the stuffing in the oven (if the pan is glass, make sure it’s no longer cold) and bake until hot throughout (a quick-read thermometer will register 160°F), 15 to 20 minutes.

3 Remove the foil and continue baking until the top is browned and crisp, another 5 to 10 minutes.

Making Gravy

Whatever drips down from the turkey into the bottom of the roasting pan provides the backbone for incredible gravy. To add volume, you’ll need stock. (This is one of those times when water just doesn’t cut it.) Thicken it a bit and away you go.

PREPARE THE PAN AND GIBLETS After you remove the turkey from the roasting pan, take out the giblets and chop them up; put them back in the pan along with the neck. Spoon some of the fat off the top of the pan liquids, leaving as many of the solids and as much of the dark liquid behind as possible. Put the roasting pan over 2 burners and turn the heat to high.

DEGLAZE THE PAN When the solids in the pan start to sizzle, add 6 cups turkey or chicken stock. Scrape the bottom of the pan to get up any browned bits. Reduce the heat so the stock bubbles and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk ⅓ cup cornstarch with ¼ cup water in a small bowl until smooth.

FINISH THE GRAVY Strain the stock through a mesh sieve into a large pot and discard the solids. Bring to a boil and add the cornstarch slurry to the bubbling gravy, stirring constantly. It should thicken almost immediately. Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve hot.

You can keep gravy warm over low heat for up to 10 minutes.

Timing the Big Dinner

I have two suggestions for destressing this meal: Grab a couple helpers to get the meal —and guests—to the table. And remember that only the gravy needs to be served piping hot; everything else can be served from the fridge or at room temperature.
Here’s how:

  • The turkey shouldn’t go right from the oven to the table. It is big enough that it can rest for up to an hour without cooling down too much. So once it’s out, cover it loosely with a tent of aluminum foil and let it rest on a rimmed baking sheet or platter (to catch the juices).
  • Casseroles and gratins can either be cooked ahead and warmed or assembled the day before and popped into the oven to cook when the turkey comes out. Refrigerate them in the baking dishes (covered tightly) that you plan to use for cooking and serving; that way you don’t have to scramble.
  • Once casseroles and gratins are in the oven, check on things once in a while and rotate pans and dishes as needed to keep them cooking or warming evenly. Pull them out when they’re done and tent with foil. They’ll stay warm enough.
  • Figure it takes about as long to make gravy (15 to 20 minutes) as it does to get both the whole meal and the whole family to the table.

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