I love Thanksgiving so much. So. Much.
But, at the same time, I realize Thanksgiving can be like a slippery ball of butter. New York Times food editor Sam Sifton starts his book, Thanksgiving, How to Cook it Well, with this exact sentiment. The first sentence of the book simply reads: “Thanksgiving is not easy.”
He didn’t lead with, “Turkey should be brined,” or, “Leftovers are for quitters.” Nor, “Queso makes a great gravy.” Nope, of all the words Sifton could have chosen, he settled on ones that point to the struggle. Even he gets the weariness of the day.
(Raise your hand if you’ve ever had queso on your table the fourth Thursday of November? High five!)
But don't overwork yourself this Thanksgiving, a la Carrie Underwood in 2015.
So, the day lines up like this: Kickoff is at 3:20 p.m. Working backward, and assuming you’re eating before the game, let’s say at 1 p.m. — allowing for a perfect transition to the couch for the pregame — you need to get up early to put the bird in the oven. Then, you'll spend the rest of the day getting the sides ready. Hopefully, you can get the desserts done a day or two ahead of time.
Timing all the dishes and accoutrements so everything is ready, warm and set at the same time is like conducting a tiny orchestra. A beautiful, tasty orchestra.
However, there are some things that can be outsourced, allowing you to focus on key dishes. But what are those key dishes? What is best to outsource? We contacted some Dallas chefs for their advice on what to make from scratch and what to outsource. Here goes it:
John Tesar, Knife
“I would make everything from scratch … ”
“But, the easiest shortcut would be to buy some really great bread from an artisan bakery and cut them into croutons and let dry them out. Then, make your stuffing with those croutons, including savory cornbread, mushroom bread and cheese breads with fruit and nuts, etc.
“Also, I think it’s OK to buy a quality or a natural brand of pumpkin purée to make your pumpkin pie, and if you can’t make the crust, go find a quality frozen, premade pie shell and go wild.”
Andrea Meyer, Bisous Bisous Pâtisserie
“Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and my husband and I have been hosting the meal at our house for about 15 years. I think it's best to focus on your favorite parts of the meal and do those from scratch, while outsourcing items that maybe aren't as popular or could really save you time. I love roasting the turkey with white wine and loads of butter, making the gravy and focaccia stuffing myself.”
“But, I buy pre-chopped veggies to save the prep time, and I love the stuffing mix from Williams-Sonoma, which saves a bunch of time. We always outsource the cranberry relish and use Williams-Sonoma's because it's really tasty, and most of the family barely touches it. And it should come as no surprise that we get our classic pumpkin and apple streusel pies from Bisous Bisous now (although we made them from scratch in the past).”
Nick Walker, Commons Club at Virgin Hotels Dallas
“Turkey is the prize and needs to be made by the cook. Any standard recipe will suffice. I recommend brining to retain moisture, then oven-roasting. Gravy should be made from the giblets with an extra, pre-purchased smoked turkey leg or ham hock.
“Stuffing should be made by the cook with nice dried crusty cornbread and aromatic vegetables. Whatever stock you use here is key for flavor. Cranberry sauce is best with frozen cranberries, orange juice and some toasted spices. Mashed potatoes should never come out of the box, it’s a culinary sin. Sweet potatoes or sweet potato casserole is a great dish to make with homemade sweet potato mash and store-bought marshmallows or even marshmallow fluff.”
“Pie crusts are great from the store freezer section. And premade chicken stock is also great. My wife and I use it at home all the time. You can use any of the basic brands as a starting point, then just add some aromatic vegetables and maybe some wine.”
Sean Sanders, Union Bear
“One thing that I definitely recommend you make from scratch are mashed potatoes. I know rich and creamy homemade mashed potatoes can seem intimidating to some, so some opt for the pre-boxed stuff you just have to mix with liquid, but nothing beats the real deal. They are also such a great blank canvas that you can play with. From either classic with just plenty of butter and cream, to fancy, cheese whipped versions, skin on and chunky, loaded baked potato style, or even throwing in certain vegetables like spinach or artichoke hearts. There are tons of recipes out there, so do a little research and have fun with them!”
“On the other hand, something that I think is perfectly acceptable to get a little premade help from are whatever rolls or bread you plan to serve. There are tons of premade doughs out there that you can still bake in-house to get that 'homemade' feel (and smell) that will keep you from having to mess with the time-consuming pain of making/proofing/baking them completely from scratch.”
Wade Burch, Perle on Maple
“Making your own gravy is a must, in my opinion. Canned or jarred gravy has chemicals, stabilizers and loads of salt. A good chicken broth made a few weeks ahead and stashed in the freezer or even a rotisserie chicken you get the weekend before, since you will probably have family arrive a few days early, can make all the difference on the big day. Use a good chicken or bone broth as the base and then fortify it with the carcass, some fresh vegetables and herbs the day before. Then use that stock to make your gravy with a good roux made that morning once the bird is roasting, and your final touch will be spot on.
“I think it’s worth the extra time to bake your own sweet potatoes the day before. This allows you time to let them cool, peel them and slice into discs. Arranged neatly into a casserole and topped with a bourbon-brown sugar glaze, they can sit overnight and be baked just as quickly as the canned 'yams' with much tastier results and better presentation.”
“I would outsource the pastries. Unless you are making a family-favorite pie or cake, the bakeries in Dallas are fantastic, and those professional pastry chefs are amazing at what they can do, and you don’t have all the mess to worry about.”
Adam West, Local Yocal BBQ & Grill
“The No. 1 thing on my list is actually orange-cranberry sauce because it is possibly easier than anything to prepare for Thanksgiving. My next one would be the gravy. While the turkey is cooking, simply remove the neck bones and gizzards and place in small saucepan. Add stock of choice and simmer for two hours minimum. Pick the meat and reserve. Thicken the gravy with a medium-to-dark roux and add chopped neck meat/gizzards back to gravy and allow to simmer on low for one hour.”
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"Dinner rolls, they're time-consuming and take up precious oven space. My favorite are the Hawaiian Sweet Rolls."
Peja Krstic, Mot Hai Ba
“All the sides should be made at home. The gravy, squash casserole and stuffing is too good to buy.”
"If anything, there are a lot of places that will cook the turkey for you now, and that’s not a bad option if you want less mess.”