Our editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl was the one who came up with the idea of doing a fast Thanksgiving menu. She had read about a two-hour turkey dinner that Manhattan chef Jonathan Waxman had done, but there was no starter or dessert. It sounded great, but what’s Thanksgiving without dessert or an appetizer? So we stretched ours to four hours, which seemed a little more realistic, if still very fast.
The first thing I focused on was the turkey, because turkey is the part of the menu that takes the longest to cook. I thought back to my mother’s Thanksgiving turkeys, which were always very juicy and flavorful and beautifully tender, and I remembered that she cooked her turkeys covered, in an old aluminum turkey roaster. Then, everywhere I went, I started noticing these inexpensive enameled speckleware roasters with lids—at hardware stores, Kmart, and even some supermarkets around the holidays. These covered roasting pans turned out to be perfect because they’re oval—turkey-shaped—plus, they both braise and roast the bird, so the meat cooks quickly and stays very moist. Taking the cover off at the end ensures that the skin browns up nicely. You’re using more liquid to help the bird cook faster, so you don’t get the crusting in the bottom of the pan that you do with a traditional roast turkey, but there are still enough pan juices to make a wonderful gravy.
To get this meal on the table in four hours, there were two things I needed to do. Flavor-wise, I had to keep things simple. This menu is all about classic Thanksgiving flavors—onion and thyme with the turkey, sage in the buttery bread stuffing, bacon with the haricots verts. I also had to really make the most of the oven. This menu works because we’re dealing with a small bird and a small number of guests. Because the turkey doesn’t take up the whole oven, I was able to jiggle things around—you can cook some things before the turkey goes in the oven and other things while the turkey is roasting, which you can’t usually do with a big bird. You have to think of this is as an orchestrated event, and so following the game plan is really incredibly helpful.
For such a fast-moving menu—my secret nickname for it was Turkey Madness—this meal is actually very sophisticated. Even better, it tastes delicious.