From Our NYT Files: Melissa Clark’s Thanksgiving

From Our NYT Files: Melissa Clark’s Thanksgiving

By Melissa Clark
The New York Times

From Our NYT Files: Melissa Clark’s Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving mornings were chaos when I was a kid, and my dad was always in the middle of it. There’d be butter splattering from the turkey basting, pans of mushrooms hissing. It was always right at the most hectic moment when he’d look up, tears in his eyes (from the onions he was chopping), and declare, “Thanksgiving is the best holiday, because it’s all about the food.” What he was talking about was not just the meal itself, but the messy, convivial process of everyone cooking it together: the garlic mincing, vegetable trimming and pie dough rolling, all punctuated by the chatting, kvetching and endless debate over the paprika in the brussels sprouts and whether the turkey was done For me, the joy comes in pressing the butter into the flour with my fingers, trying to get the lightest, airiest pie crust, while my husband, Daniel, mashes butter and bourbon into the sweet potatoes, humming to the Bowie he’s put on the morning’s playlist. My daughter, Dahlia, likes to pick the leaves off herbs and nibble on marshmallows when she imagines no one is looking. As friends and family arrive, they end up in the kitchen too, wine glasses and potato peelers pressed into their hands. And just as when I was a kid, there’s the chatting, the kvetching and the endless debate about whether to put candied ginger in the pie or the ice cream — and whether the turkey is finally done. Then there’s strategizing, experimenting, tweaking. Thanksgiving is the most traditional dinner on the calendar, so I like to subvert it just a little, figuring out how to take an unchanging menu and reimagine it every time without losing its comforting essence.

I realize it may not be like this for everyone. Cooking Thanksgiving can be stressful. Expectations run high, turkeys burn, pies bubble over. But I believe that if you engineer your day so you can cook with those you love and find happiness doing it, no one will notice if the white meat’s a little dry. (That’s what gravy is for.) My dad passed away last year, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, so we skipped the big feast, sharing bagels and lox instead. It was too soon to do it without him. This year we’re finding our rhythm again, and I’ll host at my place for the first time. I’ll be making the dishes you see here, the food we love. There’ll be far too much of it, but that’s O.K. Thanksgiving, of course, is all about the food.

Why can’t turkey taste more like lamb — specifically, a Provençal-style leg of lamb, rubbed down with garlic, anchovies and rosemary?
This was the question my father asked whenever talk turned to Thanksgiving. He’d threaten to make something other than a bird for our group of 20 or more friends, relatives and neighbors — anyone who needed a place to go. But he gave in to tradition every time, grumbling at first, then lovingly fussing over each detail. He liked to dabble in cooking trends, experimenting in an attempt to top the previous year’s effort. We ate our way through the Brining Years, the Slow-Roasting Era, the Spatchcocking Phase, the Basting-With-Butter-Every-30-Minutes Period, and a brief Cheesecloth-Over-the-Breast moment. All the turkeys were juicy, with crisp brown skin. But he never rested. A better bird — more flavorful, more tender, more bronzed — was always in reach, if only he could find the right technique.
What my father was never able to try was treating the turkey as if it were a leg of lamb, and that’s what I’ve done here. Copying his (perfected) lamb-leg method, I pierced the turkey legs, making tiny slits in which to stuff a paste of garlic, anchovies and rosemary. After marinating the bird overnight, I roasted it until it was almost as gorgeously golden as his was. The garlic-scented drippings make the most wonderful gravy, which was not something he’d tried with lamb — no matter how much he loved experimenting.

8 garlic cloves
8 to 12 anchovy fillets, to taste
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon drained capers
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
Kosher salt, as needed
1 (10- to 13-pound) turkey, giblets removed
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
½ small fennel bulb, diced
½ lemon, seeded and thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine
1 to 2 quarts turkey or chicken stock, as needed
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
½ cup dry white wine
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup turkey or chicken stock, more as needed
1 tablespoon tarragon leaves
Kosher salt, to taste

In a blender, small food processor or large mortar and pestle, combine garlic, anchovies, rosemary, capers and pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt per pound of turkey (i.e. 5 teaspoons salt for a 10-pound turkey). Process or pound to a paste.
Place a wire rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Cut tiny slits all over turkey legs. Rub two-thirds of the paste all over the turkey, under its skin and in the cavity, then stuff remaining paste into holes in the legs. Transfer to the rack on the baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered overnight or for up to 3 days.
Remove turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting.
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Scatter onion, shallots, fennel and lemon in a roasting pan fitted with a rack. Pour in wine and 1 cup water, then add enough turkey or chicken stock so there is 1/4 inch of liquid in the pan. Place turkey on the roasting rack and brush with oil. Roast for 30 minutes, then cover breast with foil.

Reduce oven to 350 degrees and continue to roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees, 1 1/2 to 2 hours longer. If the bottom of the pan dries out entirely, add a little more stock to keep it from burning. Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes on the roasting rack. Transfer to cutting board and rest another 10 to 15 minutes before carving and serving.
While the turkey rests, make the gravy: Remove the roasting rack and use a slotted spoon to remove lemon slices, onions, shallots and fennel from the pan. Pour in wine and bring to a simmer over medium heat, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Simmer until liquid is nearly evaporated, then whisk in butter and flour. Let it cook, whisking, until flour mixture turns pale gold, about 3 minutes. Whisk in stock. Bring to a simmer and heat until thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes, whisking occasionally. If you want a very smooth gravy you can blend in a blender or pass the mixture through a sieve. Or serve as is. Taste and add salt if necessary.