Thanksgiving can challenge even the most accomplished cook. So much food! Such high expectations! I must confess that I find the meal daunting to make, since I’m much more confident as a host than as a cook. (I reveal the embarrassing details of my culinary blunders in my new book, Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen.) In addition to the volume of dishes and the imperative to prepare family favorites, there is another issue: Like a lot of people, I don’t get much practice making Thanksgiving recipes. I never roast a whole turkey at any other time of the year, for example. Nor do I make stuffing, cranberry sauce or gravy. Perhaps I should! It would certainly improve the quality of the meal I serve on the fourth Thursday of November.
This year, inspired by the chefs who helped me master my cooking mistakes for my book, I decided I’d finally learn to make a flawless Thanksgiving meal—and share the lessons. I asked the wizard of great American cooking, chef Jonathan Waxman of New York City’s Barbuto, to teach me. He has a brilliantly simple (and effective) fix for every one of my errors. My favorite trick concerns the issue of lumpy gravy: Jonathan suggests using a sifter to add flour in a light dusting. Read on to find the recipes I’ll be cooking this Thanksgiving, with Jonathan’s advice for avoiding the pitfalls.
My Mistake: When making the topping, I paused for a few seconds after drizzling the hot caramel over the Rice Krispies. To my horror, the caramel hardened. Stirring everything together was impossible.
Jonathan's Lesson: When working with hot caramel, you need to be careful but quick.
My Mistake: I confidently tossed frozen cranberries into the pan with cranberry juice and the other ingredients. But by the time the cranberries began to thaw, the juice had evaporated and the sauce was almost congealed.
Jonathan's Lesson: Thaw the cranberries first, then cover the saucepan to increase the heat and preserve the moisture; this will make the cranberries pop sooner.
My Mistake: My Brussels sprout salad with pickled red onion looked beautiful, and the tangy buttermilk dressing was delicious, but the shredded sprouts were a little tough.
Jonathan's Lesson: But the freshest, firmest Brussels sprouts you can find. Using both hands, crush them as hard as you can with oil and vinegar. This will make even tough sprouts more tender.
My Mistake: I started my gravy with bacon and shallots (no drippings required). Everything went well until I spooned in the flour. The gravy clumped mercilessly.
Jonathan's Lesson: Spoon the flour into a fine-mesh sieve and then sift it into the pan. Since the flour lands in the skillet like a dusting of snow, it's impossible to create lumps.