Prep, serving tips for a worry-free Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is such a great holiday, but we know cooking this meal can be a monumental task. Luckily, the experts in the Martha Stewart Living test kitchen know how to make it easier, having prepared versions of the classic turkey-centric feast at home and at work for decades. Here, we unveil prep secrets, time savers, modern updates and paradigm-shifting surprises:
The perfectly plated turkey: A whole turkey glistening on a platter certainly does make a stunning centerpiece, but in reality, it’s the carved bird that graces our tables. Fan out the meat slices; add the wings and drumsticks. Then garnish with fruits and herbs for a platter that’s both pretty and practical.
The juiciest white meat: Treat your turkey breast like a great steak and cut it against the grain. First, remove each breast half from the bird with a deep slice down both sides of the breastbone. Then place each breast half on the cutting board and cut slices crosswise.
Stuffing vs. dressing: Technically, the only difference is where you bake it: Stuffing cooks inside the bird; dressing bakes in a dish.
■Sausage Stuffing: a bread stuffing full of sausage, herbs and pears. The bread gets moist and flavored when cooked in the bird.
■Cornbread Dressing: Get ahead by baking the cornbread with nuts and dried fruit mixed right in, then freeze it up to a month. The day of, just combine with a few more ingredients and bake in a buttery dish. (Vegetarians will thank you.)
■Oyster Dressing: This crunchy dressing — cooked in a shallow layer, never inside the bird — is made with saltines; it’s a must-have on many tables.
Three easy ways to dress your sides: Don’t fret over complicated side dishes. These simple sauces will embellish just about any steamed green or roasted vegetable:
■Bechamel: This classic white sauce is the key to creamed greens and is a cinch to make with butter, flour and milk.
■Brown Butter: A one-ingredient wonder sauce. Cook butter until the milk solids brown and the flavor becomes nutty and nuanced. Spoon over vegetables.
■Vinaigrette: Dress just-roasted vegetables as you would a salad, and serve warm or at room temperature for an instant classic.
No peeling required: We’ve been eating our squash skins for a while now. Delicatas started us in that direction, since they’re commonly cooked with their skins on, but now we’re doing it with lots of other varieties, too, like acorn squash — plus sweet potatoes, carrots, apples (of course) and even beets. There’s a lot of flavor and vitamins there, so give the peeler the day off.
Roast seeds, flesh and all: Save yourself all the sorting and rinsing usually associated with cooking squash seeds, and roast the whole lot together. The fibrous pulp surrounding the seeds is sweet and nutty, amplifying the flavor of this addictive snack.
Perfect pies from the freezer:
■ Double-crust pies should be frozen for 30 minutes to an hour before baking to preserve edges and avoid a collapsing top crust.
■ Single-crust pie shells must freeze in their dish at least an hour (or up to one week) before filling or blind-baking to keep their shape.
■ Pecan pies can be baked fully, then frozen for up to a week. Thaw at room temperature for at least four hours before serving.
Pie-prep tricks to live by: We’ve made thousands of pies in our test kitchen. Here, our must-do steps:
■ Egg Wash: A beaten egg brushed onto a double-crust pie adds a gorgeous sheen to any dough.
■ Sanding Sugar: Coarse sanding sugar is the secret to a crunchy, sparkling crust.
■ Docking: When a single crust requires prebaking, dock (prick it all over) with a fork to prevent puffing in the oven.
■ Blind-Baking: Completely prebake single shells before pouring in any loose filling.
Tools of the trade: Having the right supplies and knowing how to use them will get you to the finish line with a lot less hassle.
■ Taking the turkey’s temperature: For the most accurate read, insert an instant-read thermometer horizontally through the lower breast, starting near the leg.
■ The electric knife: The kitchen gizmo of yesteryear is still great for carving. We like it as much as a supersharp slicing knife — with bonus #TBT (Throwback Thursday) points on Instagram.
■ Ditch the turkey lifters: A few layers of paper towels act as disposable pot holders for moving the bird from pan to carving board nick-free.
■ Potato masher: For a satisfyingly lumpy, Thanksgiving-worthy mash, the old-school masher does the trick.
Getting it done days in advance: Thanksgiving is a multifaceted meal, usually anchored by a big bird with many side dishes and a pie (or three). That’s why it’s nice to get as much prepared ahead as possible.
1 week before
■ Turkey Stock: There’s no need to wait until you get your bird to make it. Pick up some turkey wings and turn them into a wonderfully flavored stock. (It can even be frozen up to three months.)
■ Squash Seeds: A favorite for day-of snacking, seeds stay crisp after roasting for up to a week.
2 to 3 days before
■ Pies: Start by making pie doughs three days ahead of time (or make them a month in advance and store in the freezer). Bake all pies at least a day before they will be served to develop flavors and set fruit-pie juices (at room temperature) or custards (in the refrigerator).
■ Mashed Potatoes: Go ahead and make them completely and refrigerate them. To reheat, place them in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water; stir until warm.
■ Vegetables: Chop all ingredients for stuffings and sides, then combine and label them in containers in the fridge.
Questions should be sent to Martha Stewart Living , 11 W. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10036. You may also e-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number.