Expert advice on cooking for a large group
If your trying to create a Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving for the first time, pulling off a meal for a large group of people can be a very daunting task. The DiningOut staff sat down with Tucker Shaw, Editor-in-Chief of America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country magazine, to get some practical advice for crafting an amazing Thanksgiving meal.
Are there time management tips when cooking several things at once?
One of the best things you can do for Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving is to make as much as possible ahead of time. Pies, dinner rolls, stuffing, cranberry sauce, casseroles, even gravy—all of these things can be made at least a day ahead. In fact, some things, like cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, actually taste better a day or so after they’re made. Make yourself an hour-by-hour playbook, and by the time your guests arrive, all you should need to do is maybe toss a salad and carve the bird.
Also, don’t worry about getting everything to the table piping hot. Most Thanksgiving food is very forgiving that way— just warm, or even room temperature, is just fine. Oh, and be sure to have plenty of wine (I like bubbles) on hand. A little buzz makes all foods taste better.
What should people look for when buying a turkey?
Don’t buy a gigantic turkey. Go for a 12-14 pound one, which should serve about 10 to 12 people and leave you some leftovers too. Look for a bird that’s not “pre-basted” or “pre-brined,” and if it’s frozen, be certain to take it out to thaw at least two or three days before cooking it. Thawing takes forever. Then, instead of brining, which can be a messy affair especially in a small kitchen, simply rub the turkey with salt (and a bit of sugar) under the skin and let it sit, uncovered, in the fridge for about 24 hours. This will help you get juicy meat and a lovely brown skin.
What would you recommend in terms of simple sides?
Can’t beat mashed potatoes! And green bean casserole is a must. I always like to serve a fresh salad on Thanksgiving too, maybe something with radicchio, which is such a lovely color. A nice salad freshens up the table and offers people a break from the heavier fare.
What are some main dish alternatives for those working in smaller kitchens?
No reason you need to cook a whole turkey. Most supermarkets sell just a turkey breast and/or turkey legs instead. Both of these options take up much less room in the oven.
Any good cocktail recipes?
Sadly, we don’t do much work with cocktails in the test kitchen, but I always serve bubbles before, during, and after Thanksgiving. Champagne, cava, Prosecco…your choice. Buy the right brand and it can be cheap and festive.