Don’t stress! Know that you are perfectly capable of making a dynamite Thanksgiving meal. Here are many of common questions that occur in the days before the holiday meal.
Q: How big should my turkey be?
A: The Agriculture Department suggests one pound of turkey per person. We suggest 1 ½ pounds for each diner to allow for leftovers. One of our staple resources is the “Chef’s Book of Formulas, Yields & Sizes,” by Arno Schmidt. The book says one 22-pound turkey will yield 12 pounds of roasted meat, including scraps, which equates to 22 servings — lining up perfectly with USDA guidance.
Q: When should I buy a turkey and how should I store it?
A: When you buy the bird depends on whether you’re going with fresh or frozen. A raw, fresh turkey should be stored for no longer than two days in the refrigerator. In theory, a frozen turkey can last indefinitely. But for the best quality, use it within a year.
Q: Should I brine the turkey?
A: Brining helps poultry stay moist and tasty. (Kosher or self-basting birds should not be brined.) Some people choose to dry brine their turkey — rub it with salt, basically. In that situation, salt draws the meat’s juices to the surface of the bird. The juices then mix with the salt, forming a brine that is then reabsorbed by the meat. If you are using a wet brine, when you remove the turkey from the brine, make sure you pat it thoroughly dry to get crisp skin. But consider this: You can also achieve a moist, flavorful turkey without brining at all.
Q: Should I roast a turkey breast for two people?
A: Size-wise, a turkey breast is definitely a good fit for a small crowd, though for a pair, you’ll probably want to aim for something close to 6 pounds. Even then, you’ll have some extra for subsequent meals. To satisfy those who go for dark meat, consider getting a small whole turkey. You might have especially good luck with a local farmer. If the ideas of a white-meat-only breast or too-big whole turkey don’t appeal to you, there are other options. You might consider a duck breast or whole duck, which is smaller, with rich, gamy flavor. Or go the ultimate route for single- or small-serving poultry and cook Cornish hens.
Q: How do I make a perfect pie crust?
A: A few pointers: Keep things cool. Rotate the crust 90 degrees periodically as you’re rolling it. Make your crusts in advance. And if something does go wrong, roll with it. If pie crust stresses you out, then don’t make it! Try apple crumb bars, pear tarte Tatin made with purchased puff pastry dough, or pumpkin pie made with a (very easy) gingersnap crust. Leave crust out altogether with a pumpkin custard.
Q: What can I make ahead?
A: Cranberry sauce: Most cranberry relishes and sauces can be refrigerated for up to a week.
• Gravy: You can make your gravy (or most of it, minus the drippings) a few days early.
• Bread: Bake your bread or rolls a day or two in advance.
• Pies: Most pies can be made two or more days in advance.
• Turkey: Start brining the day before.
• Stuffing: Advance work depends on the recipe. Some stuffings can be made wholly in advance; others should be made up to the point of adding the liquid. Reheat or finish baking on Thursday.
• Sides: Shred radicchio and slice radishes for a slaw, or roast some squash for a hearty salad; blanch or steam green beans or Brussels sprouts.
Think about elements that can be prepped or finished ahead of time, then do it!