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It's Not Too Late To Plan The Perfect Thanksgiving Feast

This Oct. 12, 2015, photo shows a roasted Thanksgiving turkey in Concord, N.H. (Matthew Mead/AP)
This Oct. 12, 2015, photo shows a roasted Thanksgiving turkey in Concord, N.H. (Matthew Mead/AP)

Thanksgiving dinner that’s as easy as pie. Sam Sifton and Melissa Clark of The New York Times share recipes to make a great Thanksgiving feast.


Sam Sifton, food editor of The New York Times. Founding editor of NYT Cooking and a columnist for The New York Times Magazine. Author of “Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well.” (@samsifton)

Melissa Clark, food writer for The New York Times, where she writes the popular column, “A Good Appetite.” Author of “Dinner: Changing the Game,” among over three dozen other cookbooks. (@MelissaClark)

Interview Highlights

On how to cook a Turkey 

Sam Sifton: “It’s a big chicken. Just cook it, and everything’s going to be OK. Listen, the way we cook these Thanksgiving birds, it’s not dissimilar to how — if you look through a family yearbook — you see the hairstyles of your brothers and sisters change over the years. How ridiculous your father looked when you were born. How wide the tie was, how skinny the tie was. How short your mom’s skirt was. How permed her hair was. All of these things are trends that come and go. They’re fashion.

“And the same can be said of the turkey. We go through these brine, no brine, roast, spatchcock, fry, steam. There was a steam phase that was super unfortunate. My one piece of advice — and this is in violet, this defies trend — is to make sure you keep track of the interior temperature of the bird. If you have a good, digital oven-safe instant thermometer — and you can make sure you don’t take it past 160 degrees in the oven, and allow it to come up to temperature while it rests — your turkey’s going to be moist, and delicious. So what [if] you burn the skin a little, or it’s a little flabby under the armpits? It will still be delicious in the breast, and in the thigh.”

Melissa Clark: “I don’t take it quite as high. I take it a little lower. Just in the way I seem to have been cooking it, it rises to 165 degrees when I take it out at 150 degrees, 155 degrees … but it depends. I also, I guess maybe I’m not that worried about hitting 165 degrees. Just to be totally honest. … As long as it’s not pink, and visually undercooked, it’s good. I want it to be cooked. But I’m not that worried about the temperature. But otherwise, I would absolutely agree. You don’t want to overcook it. That’s, I think, Sam’s point. And the other thing is you want to season it ahead. I really believe in — even if it’s just an hour ahead. Just get that salt on it. And just let it start seasoning, at least a little bit. Preferably the day before. I think you’re going to really get an improved flavor, if you can manage to salt. And just use salt. If you’re too busy, just throw some salt on it. Dry brine it the night before — ‘dry brine,’ fancy — just put the salt on it, put it in the fridge. And you are going to really have a much more flavorful bird.”

On adding lighter foods to your Thanksgiving meal

Melissa Clark: “I do have a suggestion that Sam is going to absolutely hate. I’m a big believer in adding a salad. … I just need the vinegary dressing, the crisp lettuce to just break it up a little bit. Just introduce other textures, other flavors.”

Sam Sifton: “I get all of that acidity and brightness from the cranberry sauce. And everything else is portion control. … I embrace the richness of the meal. And then rather than have a salad — which is crazy for Thanksgiving — we take a long walk in town, or play a little football outside. Or do something that brings the sort of normalcy back that allows us to consume a lot of pie.”

Recipes From The Hour

From Club Veg: Celebration Roast With Cornbread Stuffing and Gravy” — This is a dish you’ll look forward to all year long, the perfect centerpiece for Thanksgiving and other holiday celebrations. Thanks to Matthew Schmidt, proprietor of the Tofu Shop in Arcata, California for the original version of this recipe, published in East West Magazine in November, 1986. This recipe can easily be made gluten-free by using gluten-free tamari and making your cornbread gluten-free.”

NYT Cooking: “Lemony Cauliflower With Garlic and Herbs” — There aren’t many cauliflower salads as vivacious as this one, which is zipped up with plenty of lemon, herbs, garlic and one minced jalapeño. It is best made a day or two ahead, which gives all the ingredients a chance to mingle, and the raw cauliflower time to soften and absorb all of the dressing’s bright, complex flavors. Although this salad needs no other seasonings, you can add capers, sliced olives or crumbled feta here for even saltier tang. The pinch of red-pepper flakes here is optional, but especially good.


  • 1 lemon, plus more lemon juice to taste
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons fine sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 large head cauliflower (about 1 3/4 pound), trimmed and cut into bite-size florets (about 8 cups)
  • 1 jalapeño, finely chopped
  • 2 scallions, whites and greens thinly sliced½ cup chopped fresh dill or basil
  • ½ cup chopped parsley, leaves and tender stems
  • ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 fat garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
  • 2 teaspoons whole cumin or cracked coriander seeds
  • Large pinch of red-pepper flakes (optional)


  1. Finely grate the zest of the lemon into a large heatproof bowl, then halve the lemon and squeeze in juice. Stir in salt to dissolve it. Add cauliflower, jalapeño, scallions, dill and parsley and toss to combine. In a large skillet, heat olive oil until hot, but not smoking. Add garlic and cumin, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in red-pepper flakes.
  2. Pour mixture over cauliflower and toss well. Let cool completely, then cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 48 hours to let the flavors mingle.
  3. Toss well before serving, adding more salt or a squeeze of lemon to taste. For the best flavor, serve at room temperature.

NYT Cooking: “Thanksgiving Dressing” — “The question has dogged Thanksgiving cooks practically since Norman Rockwell painted “Freedom From Want” in 1942 and transformed the harvest feast into an American ideal: Is it stuffing or dressing? Grandmother knows: it is stuffing only if it is cooked inside the bird. Otherwise it is dressing. This classic version, made with bread, celery, onions, apples, chestnuts, thyme and sage, is relatively simple to execute. It would do well at almost any time of the year as an accompaniment to roast chicken or pork. Crucial is the copious use of turkey broth, or a good chicken broth, to help meld the flavors together. Also necessary is an understanding that the cooking should last long enough to crisp the exterior without burning it, while not going on so long as to dry out the dish. When in doubt, add a splash more broth.


  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large Spanish onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 ribs celery, cleaned and diced
  • 2 apples, preferably tart, like Granny Smith or Cortland, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 cup peeled chestnuts, roughly chopped
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme, stems removed and leaves chopped
  • 1 dozen fresh sage leaves, stems removed and leaves chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 dash hot-pepper sauce, or to taste
  • 1 loaf decent-quality bread, a day or two old, torn into small pieces
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • 1 to 2 cups turkey or chicken stock (see recipe); if using store-bought broth, use low-sodium variety


  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, celery, apples, chestnuts, salt, pepper, thyme, sage, Worcestershire and hot-pepper sauce. Cook, stirring, until vegetables have softened and herbs wilted, approximately 5 minutes.
  2. Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Add the bread, beaten eggs, parsley and enough broth so the dressing is well moistened. Blend well and check for seasoning.
  3. Grease a baking dish with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and put dressing in it. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until the top is beginning to brown. Check to make sure interior is moist. If not, add some more broth and return to oven for 5 to 10 minutes longer.

(Credit NYT Cooking)

From The Reading List

New York Times: “What to Cook This Week” — “Good morning. I was in London a few years ago to watch Yotam Ottolenghi make a feast for a bunch of friends. I wrote about it for The Times, and every time I cook a big meal I come back to the opening scene in the article. That is: How before cooking anything, Yotam hauled out the china he would be using to serve the food and determined which recipes were destined for which platter, which bowl.

“That’s one thing you could do today, in advance of next week’s Thanksgiving. Find all your serving dishes, and label the ones you’re going to use: mashed potatoes in the blue earthenware crock; schmaltz-roasted brussels sprouts on the slate-hued platter; dressing in the copper roasting pan. It’s not cooking. But it’s preparation — and preparation is going to be a big part of your coming week.

“Accordingly, you could make stock today. You could shop for some of the hardgoods and perishables that you’ll need at the end of the week: sparkling cider for the kids; new kitchen towels so you don’t need so many paper ones; compostable takeout containers so you can send people home with leftovers; lots of potatoes and onions and leeks and brussels sprouts and carrots. You might even pick up your bird. It’ll hold in the fridge, first in its wrapping, and then on Tuesday in its cloak of salt.”

New York Times: “Your Thanksgiving May Be Classic, but Your Leftovers Don’t Have to Be” — “My dad always said that the best part of the Thanksgiving turkey was nibbling the crisp, fatty bits of skin that fell off his knife as he carved. The turkey sandwiches the next day were the second best part.

“Sure, he’d say, a plate of dark meat and gravy was all well and good. But those quiet minutes standing in front of the bird — either carving it while it was still hot and glistening, or picking cold meat off the carcass to nestle between slices of bread — were some of the moments he treasured most.

“His sandwiches were straightforward affairs: bread (his homemade anadama), mayo, cranberry sauce, turkey. Maybe a little mustard or sliced onion, but never any stuffing, which he said diluted the pungency of the bird that he’d slathered in garlic and rosemary before roasting.

“Now that I’m the Thanksgiving cook, I agree with him about the joys of crisp bits of turkey skin. But when it comes to the sandwiches, I go my own way, mixing it up year after year.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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