After his two year stint as the restaurant critic for the New York Times, Sam Sifton may be more associated with haute cuisine than home cooking, but his latest book he tackles the Superbowl of home cooking — Thanksgiving dinner.
It's not as odd an endeavor as it may first sound. Sifton is an avid home cook who is especially inspired by the traditional customs and cuisine of Thanksgiving. He has cooked "25 Thanksgivings... for two people and for dozens. I have seen a lot of birds" he explains in his introduction. He also spent several years acting as a one-man New York Times Thanksgiving help line, counseling holiday cooks, answering frantic questions about still frozen turkeys and overly lumpen gravy and it is these queries that set the tone for the book. "It is a Thanksgiving ambulance in book form" he explains. He fully recognizes the stress that holiday cooks are under, and he clearly, calmly and with a dash of good humor and a generous pinch of snark, sets down all of the steps you will need to take to make the day and meal go smoothly. “You are going to page through this book—read and digest, argue and discuss, make plans and write lists—and then you are going to cook and serve a meal that will bring praise down upon you like a shower of rose petals.”
There are rules to follow to get to those rose petals though. First rule of a Sifton Thanksgiving: No appetizers. Sifton maintains that they “take up valuable stomach space... I certainly am not going to spend all day roasting a turkey so that you can come into my home and eat two pounds of nuts and then refuse seconds. That's just rude." Rule number two? No salad. It too takes up stomach room that could be better allocated on this most indulgent day. "You must not serve a salad," Sifton claims. "This is not a place for health. This is Thanksgiving. So let us speak plainly about butter." About that butter: "Let me speak plainly" says Sifton "you are going to need a lot of butter. Thanksgiving is not a day for diets, or for worrying about your cholesterol. It is a day on which we celebrate the delicious. And there is precious little on a Thanksgiving menu that is not made more delicious by butter. " It should go without saying that said butter should be unsalted and Sifton would like for you to count on using two pounds of the sweet stuff during the preparation of this meal. Where does all that butter go? It gets slathered on the turkey to ensure moist meat and crispy skin. It glosses the green beans, enriches the mashed potatoes, and sweetens the butternut squash. Just about the only place butter doesn't have a starring role on Sifton's table is in a lush Brussels sprouts recipe that comes from his dad-- those get doused in cream.
Sifton is a traditionalist when it comes to Turkey day. And make no mistake, turkey it is. His book is "not for those in search of the new Thanksgiving craze...the next big trend in holiday entertaining. There will be no recipes here for ham or lamb, roast beef or swordfish. Thanksgiving is a holiday that anchors itself in tradition. Which means: You will make a turkey. Turkey is why you are here." He does give some leeway in cooking method for the bird, allowing you to get slightly new-fangled if you so desire to deep-fry or grill your bird, though he does share a cautionary tale that involves a deep fryer on a Brooklyn sidewalk. He gives clear, accurate and effective directions to making simple roast turkey, with smart explanations of brineing and guidelines for cooking times. And a three page explainer on how to properly carve your turkey. Yes, you are probably doing it wrong. Trust Sam, he has the answers.