I realize it’s a little late in the day to be giving turkey advice. Every cooking magazine has whole sections, or even issues, devoted to the subject. Sam Sifton, the erstwhile Times critic, has written a whole book on Thanksgiving, and has even made himself available as a kind of one-man holiday hotline. And of course on this very site Rachael has more good advice to share than I could hope to offer in a year. But I have my own niche: the disorganized, the lazy, the indifferent and the contemptuous, people who shouldn’t be cooking at all. At one time or another, I’ve been all of these. On top of everything else, I hate turkey. So what follows are a handful of tips, none of which require you to remember measurements, make special plans, or really, make any effort at all. They are pointers for people who forgot to care or prepare. But they might prove useful to better men as well.
It Doesn’t Matter and Nobody Cares
This should be your motto, whether you are cooking Thanksgiving or, really, any other task. As a philosophy it could hardly be more universally applicable. Not everything came out on time? It doesn’t matter and nobody cares. You forgot to get a can of cranberry sauce? It doesn’t matter and nobody cares. The gravy’s greasy and the stuffing sucks? It doesn’t matter and nobody cares. The open secret of cooking is that most people are just happy to have someone giving them food. Their standards for Thanksgiving food are so low they can hardly be disappointed.
Cook Everything at Once at the Last Minute
Something I always find sort of laughable are recipes that expect you to start planning three days ahead. Who does that? I mean, really. If you’re anything like me you haven’t actually started thinking about what to cook on Thanksgiving until late that morning. Hopefully you have already gotten your turkey. Otherwise, you’re fine. You can get everything you need for a perfectly good Thanksgiving from a 7-11, a bodega, or (it goes without saying) any supermarket of any size, or any quality. The worst Food Lion in America is more than sufficient for your day-of needs.
For what it’s worth, they are as follows:
1 fresh turkey (You don’t have time to defrost one.)
1 box of Stove-Top Stuffing
1 can of turkey or chicken broth
1 package of frozen cranberries
1 bag of potatoes
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1 bag of onions
1 pound of bacon
1 box / bag of brussell sprouts or carrots or mushrooms, or all of them. It doesn’t matter (and nobody cares)
1 half-pint of heavy cream.
A cake or pie
You are good to go, my friend! The only thing I haven’t listed here are two items of such paramount important that I am giving them their own section.
The Careless Cook’s Best Two Friends
Nothing you make can go too far wrong if you have plenty of butter, and plenty of salt. It can’t be any kind of salt; regular table salt won’t get the job done. It needs to be kosher salt. And it has to be real butter, not some kind of half-assed “buttery spread.” If you’re going to use that stuff, you’ve already thrown in the towel and might as well order Chinese delivered. And it’s dumb, because real butter and kosher salt work for everything and cover a multitude of sins. You sprinkle the salt, which is too coarse to melt and too fine to crunch, on everything: the turkey, the brussels sprouts, the carrots, the potatoes. Nobody knows. They’ll just say, “Ooh, is this good!” Salt is basically coke for the palate. It makes everything seem inexplicably more exciting, more fun, and just generally better than it really is. Butter obviously is useful for adding to mashed potates, slathering on vegetables before they are roasted, mixing into the stuffing, and shmearing on hot, toasty bread reheated in the oven.
The One Thing You Can’t Blow Off
Your guests, relatives, and friends will give you a pass on a lot of things. But they won’t forgive you if you don’t put a turkey in front of them. That’s the whole point of the holiday, its only real meaning. (Let’s face it, nobody ever feels thankful for anything.) A man that can’t produce a turkey on Thanksgiving is a failure as a man. Get a fresh one, pull the weird stuff out of the middle, spread some butter on the thing and salt it liberally, and set it in a slow oven (300 degrees) for as many hours as the package recommends, minus one hour. If it’s not brown, open the door and turn on the broiler. If you don’t have a top-broiler, close the door and jack up the heat to maximum. Once it’s brown, take it out, let it sit there for half an hour, and then cut it up. And if you do it badly? You know what I’m going to say next.