Happy (almost) Thanksgiving! Just a few days until we’re feasting and drinking wine. But let’s not kid ourselves: Thanksgiving is a lot of work. Fun work if you like cooking, but work. If I’m going to spend several days making food, that food had better taste out-of-this-world amazing. Here are five simple tips for ensuring a delicious Thanksgiving meal that will make all your hard work worth it.
1. Use fresh ingredients
Somewhere along the line, “Big Food” high-jacked Thanksgiving. It seems like many recipes for Thanksgiving “classics” like green bean casserole, creamed corn, sweet potato casserole, and other dishes call for canned or processed ingredients. Try switching to fresh ingredients wherever you can this Thanksgiving. Use fresh veggies instead of canned, fresh herbs instead of dried, bread for stuff instead of store-bought croutons, and cream instead of condensed milk. You can even make your own cream of mushroom soup quite easily…here’s a recipe. I’m going to try this for the first time this year; I’ll let you know how it goes. Fresh ingredients are more flavorful than their processed counterparts, and they’re healthier, too.
2. Let the turkey rest!
I’m talking 45 minutes to an hour. Seriously. It takes awhile for a big bird to fully re-absorb its juices. The worst thing you can do to a turkey is carve it too soon, before the juices are back in the meat. When it’s done, just take it out, cover it tightly in tin foil (I like the heavy duty stuff because it stays hotter), and leave it alone. If you do this, you’ll have a juicy, flavorful bird.
3. Make your own whipped cream
Reddi-Whip? Cool-Whip? Not on Thanksgiving, my friends. That pie you spent hours making deserves better. Making your own whipped cream takes less than five minutes and three ingredients. Simply pour a container of heavy whipping cream into a chilled stainless steel bowl, add sugar and vanilla, and whip it with a mixer until it forms stiff peaks. That’s it.
4. Use those giblets and that neck!
There’s a reason your turkey comes with the giblets and neck: that’s where some delicious flavor lives. Throw those delicacies into a small pot, add a quartered onion, celery and carrot pieces, salt, pepper, and fresh herbs, cover with water, and let that simmer covered for an hour or so. Strain out the broth and save it–this is liquid gold. At this point you can eat the neck if you like and toss the veggies, but save the giblets. Grind them up in a food processor. When you’re making your gravy, use the liquid gold broth and whisk in some of the ground giblets. Delicious!
5. Use homemade chicken stock
Chicken stock makes its way into lots of dishes at Thanksgiving: it moistens stuffing, adds depth to gravy, and serves as a flavorful substitute for water. Most people turn to store-bought stock–but think about the last container of stock you bought. Could you drink it and enjoy the taste? If not, it’s probably not making your food taste better. I never realized this until I actually tasted store-bought stock (even the organic stuff) and didn’t like it. I started making my own stock a few years ago and was amazed by how much better it made my food taste. If you want to ramp up the flavor of your Thanksgiving dishes, try making your own chicken stock. It’s incredibly easy, plus you’ll get make-ahead meals for the busy Thanksgiving week.
Step one: roast and carve a whole chicken. You can make stock by boiling an uncooked whole chicken, but I prefer to roast mine first and use just the bones, fat, and a bit of the meat to make stock. That way I can enjoy the meat! If you roast your chicken the week of Thanksgiving, you will have pre-cooked meat to use for quick meals, which means you can cut down on kitchen time before the big day.
Step two: put the bones (all of them, even the spine!), a bit of skin, and some of the cooked meat into a large stock pot. Add a couple quartered onions, some celery and carrot pieces, fresh rosemary, thyme, and parsley, halved garlic cloves, bay leaves, salt, and pepper, then cover with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour or two, until you like the taste. A tip: tie the herbs together with string before throwing them in. That way if the stock starts getting too herb-y, you can easily fish them out.
I made my chicken stock on Sunday, but you can do this months in advance and freeze the stock until you need it (a tip for next year at this point). Bonus tip: use the same procedure to make turkey broth with your leftover turkey bones. It makes great turkey soup!