When I was nine years old, I announced to my mother that I was going to cook Thanksgiving dinner. I went to the library and checked out some books on cooking: Escoffier, Julia Child, all of the classics. Some people ask how my mother could let me do such a thing. Her response is that she couldn’t have stopped me.
It wasn’t the best meal of my life, but it was a start. Since then I’ve made many Thanksgiving dinners. Perhaps you might even say too many. Everyone loves a traditional Thanksgiving dinner but chefs, particularly home chefs, want to use such a meal as a challenge, to both hone and show off their skills. Making the same thing year after year might taste wonderful, but it can lose its thrill. The great thing is that you can really mix things up with Thanksgiving while still serving up the basics, like we did in our Thanksgiving Stew recipe. Because everyone knows the traditional meal you are referencing, everyone will understand the twist you put on a dish.
This is why I love our carbonated cranberry recipe, which is a riff on our fizzy grapes recipe in Modernist Cuisine. Cranberry sauces come in all sorts of variations, from gelled to spicy. That’s why switching up your usual cranberry dish is a great place to start playing around with Thanksgiving dinner.
Of course, some people still want everything on their plate to be exactly as they remember Grandma serving. There’s nothing wrong with that. But knowing the science behind cooking can help you bake your bird in an oven with excellent results. Your guests don’t even have to know.
Nathan Myhrvold, coauthor of Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home
Five Tips for a Smooth Thanksgiving Day Feast
- Baking a turkey in an oven can be complicated. For one thing, the light and dark meat can be difficult to cook together. We like to cook our turkey piece by piece, sous vide or with a combi oven (in fact, coauthor Chris Young swears by treating the bird as you would its Asiatic relative, the Peking duck).
- If you are going to bake your turkey in the oven, make sure to use a roasting rack, which will allow the liquid to drain. Food submerged beneath the liquid won’t brown or crisp. Even though a metal tray or baking sheet will conduct heat to the surface of the food faster than air can, it captures pools of liquid that quench the temperature to no higher than the boiling point of water. See our interactive cutaway photo below for more!
- While your focus might be on getting everything ready, keeping your kitchen from turning into a giant compost bin, running after little ones, or topping off everyone’s drinks, remember the most important part of cooking: safety. At times like this, it can be easy to forget the little things that can be hazardous–especially if you have less-experienced cooks helping you. Post a sign to aid you and your helpers that lists safety tips like remembering to keep dish towels and pressurized containers away from the stove.
- Try incorporating one new or unusual dish each year or serving both the traditional and Modernist approaches. You could bake your turkey but also cook the wings sous vide. Serve our carbonated cranberries during dessert and a more traditional recipe during the meal. A few Thanksgivings from now, these dishes will seem like they’ve been on the menu forever.
- Many dishes can be made in advance, especially if you are taking advantage of sous vide cooking. Give yourself more time to enjoy your friends and family by doing as much prep work and cooking in advance as you can.
Place your cursor over the white circles in the photo below to learn more interesting facts and tips on turkey baking.
- Because the cranberries need to be cold before you put them in the siphon, this is a good dish to start ahead of time. Cook them sous vide, and then store them in the refrigerator until needed. The juice should be cooled to at least room temperature as well.
- You can also keep the cranberries in the siphon after you have carbonated them for 412 hours or overnight. Do not keep them in the siphon longer than that. They will actually become too fizzy!
- After you remove the cranberries from the siphon, they will retain their fizziness for up to two hours.
- A soda siphon will not work for this recipe because it has a small mechanism that doesn’t allow for solids. Fortunately, you can just add carbon dioxide cartridges to a whipping siphon. We like iSi brand the best.
- Besides using a carbonating siphon, you can also carbonate your cranberries with dry ice. Layer dry ice in the bottom of a container with a cheesecloth, paper towel, or tea towel over it. Add your cranberries, and seal the container for about 30 minutes.
- When traditionally making a cranberry sauce, you know that you are done cooking when the cranberries “pop” or split. In this case, you want the skin on the cranberries to remain intact. We have tested several methods of cooking the cranberries and have discovered that sous vide cooking is the best bet. In other methods of cooking, our cranberries turned out mushy.
- Cranberries float. This is great for cranberry harvesters who flood their fields to skim off the ripe cranberries, but problematic when cooking cranberries sous vide. Weigh down your vacuum-sealed bag of berries with a trivet or tray so that they will cook evenly.
- This recipe calls for store-bought cranberry juice, but if you really want to go the extra mile, follow our directions for Cranberry Consommé in our Thanksgiving Stew recipe to make your own juice!
- Make sure that the isomalt and fructose have completely dissolved before removing the pan from the heat.
- In our tips for making Cranberry Consommé in our Thanksgiving Stew recipe, we explained that frozen cranberries work better because the frozen crystals break down cellular walls and thus yield more juice. In this case, since you are leaving the berries whole, there is no advantage to using fresh or frozen cranberries. They work equally well.
- You can substitute regular sugar for the fructose, but not the isomalt. Isomalt functions like sugar, but is not as sweet, which is good to keep the tartness of the cranberries.
- While we love to serve these before dinner or with dessert, carbonation and meat don’t pair well, so we stick to a more traditional cranberry sauce during meals.