For the first few years after we moved out of New England, D and I drove home each year to spend Thanksgiving with our families. Traveling on Thanksgiving is hell on Earth: the traffic seems twice as bad as it does at Christmas, flights are exorbitantly expensive, airport delays are worse, and everyone traveling seems more rabid in general. So last year, we decided to give thanks for getting to spend Christmas with our families and stick out the November holidays in DC. We spent last year with a friend’s family, but this year my sister came to visit and we made our first bird.
Thanksgiving in my childhood always seemed to be the Superbowl for cooks, with just as much pressure as a stadium full of screaming burly men. Dads and uncles spent days out by the smoker in pursuit of the perfect bird. Moms and aunts hovered nervously over sides and the roasted bird in the kitchen, wary of drying things out. And it seemed like a perfectly coordinated dance to get to the table first with the soup course, then salad, then all the sides and the birds, poised and ready at precisely the same time when they were piping hot and not dried out. It looked stressful from my vantage point at the kids table.
So I was a bit nervous about pulling off a turkey, to say the least. I obsessed over brines and soaks, and found nobody on the Internet can agree on the perfect recipe. Each claimed to be better than the rest, then I’d read something else that disagreed completely. After throwing a minor fit Tuesday night when our bird had leaked pink juice all over the fridge and I screwed up the brine, I made a decision: I was going to break that age-old American tradition of freaking out over the meal. I wanted to enjoy the day in the kitchen and spend time with D and my sister and watch football.
And that’s exactly what happened. I think we owe this to a few things:
First, we kept it simple. Mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, roasted veggies, salad. We had the staples but didn’t go overboard. I made a Pinterest board that shows some of the things we were planning to make. I ended up skipping the soup course (I made it Friday for a detox dinner instead) and bread, because did we really need more carbs? I made the dishes D considered must-haves (he insisted on stuffing and mashed potatoes), added some vegetables and cut everything else from the menu. This wasn’t going to be the day to try intricate new recipes.
Second, I took the lazy man’s route to a delicious turkey: spatchcocking (or butterflying). For those who aren’t familiar with the method, spatchcocking a turkey involves cutting out the backbone, then pressing it flat into a pan. Not only does it take a fraction of the time to cook, but the legs, wings and breast roast evenly, eliminating that age-old problem of undercooked dark meat and dried out breast meat. Serious Eats does a great job of explaining it step by step, including making the gravy. One thing I’d recommend is using heavy-duty shears on the backbone rather than standard kitchen shears (see the gallery below for the sad remains of my kitchen shears).
Third, timing was low-key. We knew we’d eat when the food was ready, and that ended up being around 4:30.
My sister documented the turkey process with my iPhone, so the quality of the shots we have isn’t great, but we were able to live tweet the entire ordeal as it was my first turkey. Warning: if you’re squeamish about making meat — which I understand, because I can be too — be forewarned, there is a lot of raw turkey in these shots.
Now, I know everyone has their family tradition for making turkey and I don’t want to be one of those people who insists they have the silver bullet. I’m sure there are many purists who would look down on the way we did our turkey. But it worked amazingly well for what it was. And above all, I was proud of us for pulling off a Thanksgiving meal in our tiny one-person kitchen, and having a blast spending time with family. I think this picture of my sister sitting in front of the open fridge digging into the leftovers Friday morning sums it up.
Isn’t that what the holidays are really all about?