On Thanksgiving, even the humblest home cook becomes an overachiever, striving to live up to the fantasy that one person can create a perfect turkey and all the fixings, plus multiple side dishes and desserts, in a brief, 24-hour window.
But after a long day in the kitchen, the exhausted cook often ends up dropping the greasy pan drippings all over the floor, throwing down the oven mitts and wailing, “Where’s my wine?”
With readers’ sanity in mind, we asked Perry Hoffman, the new culinary director of the Healdsburg Shed, to share a few simple recipes and tips to streamline the annual Thanksgiving cooking marathon.
As the youngest American chef to earn a Michelin star, Hoffman has spent his share of holidays working in a restaurant kitchen, but he also grew up as the grandson of Sally and Don Schmidt, founders of The French Laundry. His family, which straddles both Napa and Mendocino counties, has sunk their hands deeply into farming, cooking and gardening, and for them, eating together is a casual, fun affair.
“In my family, half the time the turkey never made it to the dining room table,” he said. “As soon as one person starts picking at it, it’s pretty much fair game.”
Here are nine of the most common pitfalls posed by Thanksgiving, and some simple solutions offered by Hoffman:
Do you have angst about undercooking or overcooking the bird? Join the club. With different cooking times required by the lean white meat and the fattier dark meat, roasting the turkey can be tricky. Too often, the breast turns out too dry or the legs are undercooked. As an alternative to the whole bird, Hoffman suggests buying a double turkey breast and cooking it low and slow, so that it doesn’t lose moisture.
“That classic image with the brown-skinned turkey breast, you have to have that on the table,” he said. “And a really nice rest, after you cook it, is incredibly important.”
But forget about brining the bird ahead of time. Instead, Hoffman likes to dry-cure the bird in the refrigerator with a simple, 48-hour dry rub.
“The first 24 hours, it extracts the moisture, and the next 24 hours, the meat is soaking it back in,” he said. “The result is that you have a dry-cured bird, and you get incredibly crisp, beautiful brown skin.”
Is there too much stuff in your stuffing? Everyone has their own idea of what should go into the stuffing, and it’s often dictated by the flavors of the stuffing you ate as a child.
“Stuffing has always been that one ingredient that’s above and beyond turkey,” Hoffman said. “My mom always made cornbread stuffing from a coarse, ground cornmeal and a mixture of pork lard and good butter.”
If you use high-quality cornmeal, Hoffman said, you don’t need to add a lot of other, fancy ingredients. (You can find a pre-made cornbread mix at Shed, made with fresh-ground cornmeal.) After you make the cornbread, simply flavor it with some aromatics and stock, and move onto the next dish.
Are your potatoes too watery and mushy? One common misstep with potatoes is overcooking them. Hoffman pulls them out as soon as they are cooked, then lets them drain to get rid of extra water. Then he puts them through a potato ricer and adds equal parts butter and cream, melted together and seasoned with salt so the salt can disperse evenly through the potatoes.