Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Sonoma — Tearing Down Thanksgiving

As my mother, who is sitting in the next room, can attest, I’ve always been a bit of a rebel. If you knew my mom, you would realize I come by it honestly.

Turkey confit on the stove

Turkey confit on the stove

When it comes to Thanksgiving, I’ve certainly got her to thank for my rebelliousness. After years of bucking the standard Thanksgiving traditions — particularly turkey, stuffing, gravy, et. al. — we were dragged back into the fold by partners and family members who favored a classic approach to the holiday. I did manage to produce an interesting German Thanksgiving dinner one year for my wife’s family, who at that early stage in our relationship were already confused and confounded by me.

So heading up to my mom’s this year, it seemed time to mix it up again.

She liked the idea of going non-traditional, and had suggested a Mexican Thanksgiving dinner. The thought of turkey molé and jalapeño cornbread stuffing did hold significant appeal. But I had something else in mind. I wanted to deconstruct the traditional dinner and put it back together in a non-traditional way. So that the components you would expect would be there — turkey, gravy, cranberries, brussel sprouts — but in ways you wouldn’t have imagined.

I would start with the turkey. Often when I cook a chicken — because I find it a challenge to have both the white meat breasts and dark meat thighs and legs turn out well — I will carve the bird before cooking and treat different sections in different ways. This was how I would approach the turkey, as well. The legs and thighs I would cook in the French confit style — brined and then slow cooked in a bath of duck or goose fat — while the breasts I would slice out into large, thin paillards, line with proscuitto and stuff with pecorino romano, roll back up, dip in egg and panko, and pan fry.

I was contemplating what to do about stuffing when a post arrived in my in-box from one of my favorite blogs, Attempts in Domesticity, about Parisian pâte à choux gnocchi. These light herbed dumplings, adapted from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cookbook no less, seemed to provide the perfect inspiration — paired with sausage, fennel, celery and walnuts to mimic classic stuffing flavors. I shared my thoughts about this with Attempts blogger Jessica, and her response was: “That sounds incredible!! I could eat a plateful of that right now.”

Brussel sprouts would be shredded and baked crisp with pancetta; gravy would be made from turkey stock and sweet roasted garlic; Border Grill’s Mary Sue Milliken would come through with the perfect cranberry treatment in the November issue of Saveur, a pureed “relish” of cranberry, walnut and orange zest.

Because I think there are too many things served at the standard Thanksgiving, I would avoid culinary overload by eliminating dishes — green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc. I would add a non-traditional starter in the form of chestnut soup utilizing the turkey stock that I would also employ for the gravy. An avowed pumpkin pie hater, I would give a nod to tradition with a maple walnut acorn-squash pie with sweet cream ice cream.

Pureed acorn squash, ready for pie (Thanksgiving drink of choice, family-owned Wine Guerrilla zins, in the background)

Pureed acorn squash, ready for pie (Thanksgiving drink of choice, family-owned Wine Guerrilla zins, in the background)

Perhaps I would throw some wild mushrooms in somewhere if I discovered any while scouring the woods around the house.

I had my meal. I presented the menu to mom a few weeks beforehand, and got the seal of approval. Now, I had only to execute.

Morning found me pulling my brined turkey legs and wings from the fridge and setting them in duck fat over a slow heat, pounding out breasts and making my paillards, pureeing roast acorn squashes and so forth. Lack of rain would prevent the inclusion of wild mushrooms, and there were a few last minute revisions and additions (a near revolt would necessitate the return of mashed potatoes to the menu, for example, although not without my  infusing them with truffle oil…).

As of press time, the meal was nearly ready and all looked well. I’ll have to let you know if there were any missteps or misfires at a later date. For now, it’s time to eat! Happy Thanksgiving, all!

And now, here’s something nice to do with the turkey stock you make from the carcass leftover from your traditional Thanksgiving. Enjoy!

*    *    *

Roast garlic risotto with turkey stock and crispy onions
serves 4 – 6

1/2 lb. risotto rice
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 quarts turkey stock
4 heads garlic
2 tbsp. cold butter
1 small, sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup ice water
1 egg yolk
1 cup vegetable oil
salt & pepper to taste

Make your roast garlic ahead of time: place 4 heads of garlic in boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove and let cool. Then place in a 325-degree oven and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until golden and soft. Remove, and let cool. With a sharp knife, cut the top 1/4 off each head of garlic to expose the cloves within. Squeeze out all garlic into a small bowl and reserve for later.

Meanwhile, while the garlic is cooking, make your crispy onions. Place oil in a wok or small pan over medium heat. Mix together your water, flour and egg yolk. When oil is hot, dip onion slices a small handful at a time into the batter, then drop into the oil. Use tongs or long chopsticks to separate and turn as the onions cook. When golden and crisp, remove to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and continue cooking in small batches until all onion slices have been cooked.

Make the risotto: heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, and sauté the shallots for one minute, stirring. Add the rice and sauté for another minute, until rice becomes translucent. Turn heat to high and add 2 cups of water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until water cooks off — about 3 to 5 minutes. Add 2 cups of turkey stock and continue cooking, stirring occasionally. Do the same until you’ve used up most or all of your turkey stock and the rice has cooked for about 15 minutes and is creamy and al dente. Add garlic, continue cooking and stirring for another 2 minutes (add more stock if needed). Remove from heat and stir in cold butter until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Scoop a serving of risotto onto each plate, and top with a small handful of crispy onions.

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andy
    Nov 29, 2013 @ 03:33:05

    How did it all come out!!!


  2. Lisa
    Nov 29, 2013 @ 03:35:48

    I did Jalapeno and cornbread stuffing 😉 My turkey was done early so I wrapped it in heavy duty foil and a big towel and put in a cooler…worked wonders. I aced the gravy this year! Slivered Golden delicious apples steamed in OJ and then whole cranberries, orange zest, and cinnamon. Pumpkin pie and rolies (anyone in our family know what rolies are). Lots more stuff…too much to remember (and too much too cook, really)

    Wish we were there!


  3. rachelocal
    Nov 29, 2013 @ 12:36:42

    Happy Thanksgiving! Your menu looks divine.


  4. Jessamine in PDX
    Nov 29, 2013 @ 23:42:20

    OMG! I am SO excited to hear the recap, especially to know if the Parisian gnocchi”stuffing” worked out. It’s such a good idea that if it worked well for you, I’ll have to give it a try myself. I can totally appreciate your spin on the traditional turkey feast. A few years ago we broke the bird down and did turkey leg confit, breasts stuffed with pork tenderloin and sausage, and fried wings. It was magnificent!


  5. Michelle
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 01:30:56

    So, how’d it turn out? I can relate to the “bucking the standard Thanksgiving traditions” thing. In fact, I’ve probably had more untraditional than traditional Thanksgivings. My grandmother hated turkey (I tend to agree) and so we always had chickens instead even in more traditional times. Then my mother went even further as an early adopter of the Calvin Trillin pasta carbonara for Thanksgiving thing. We’ve had everything from French Thanksgiving to rabbit to duck legs to pork to everything in between. This year, it was a standing rib roast. Quite good, I might add. 🙂


    • scolgin
      Dec 02, 2013 @ 02:06:24

      Well, for hewing somewhat to tradition, it was fine. But I agree, turkey is ridiculously bad. And it’s not like an overcooked steak bad — there’s like 50 lbs. of the thing! I’m sure you’re standing rib roast blew my turkey musings from the water. Christmas dinner is another one — ham is turkey’s pig-faced cousin. We’ll be doing standing rib roast knocked over, cut into thick steaks and grilled.


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