I think of the traditional Thanksgiving meal as one big happy indulgence in my favorite foods — most of which I know by heart and can whip up with little forethought: Sweet potato gratin, mashed potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, Mom's potato dough rolls. Even the pumpkin pie is hassle-free, thanks to its graham cracker crust.
The only thing that truly stresses me out on Thanksgiving is the turkey. Roasting that traditional giant fowl freaks me out — so I have always come up with ways to avoid it. And while my title here is a bit tongue in cheek, I do think that unless you're positively excited to roast an 18-pound bird, there are a few saner, easier, less terrifying replacements for that one big bird.
Here are five options for doing away with the turkey. The first three still give you turkey; for some, this American fowl is simply necessary for Thanksgiving dinner. But if you're willing to get a little more daring, there are a couple non-turkey options too.
Still Want Turkey?
- Cook the turkey in pieces - Honestly, this is my favorite way to cook and eat turkey. I never thought I liked turkey until I had it this way. A few years ago I did this Bittman-style, braising the legs with mushrooms and sausage, and roasting the breast separately. It's still a lot of work, but everything is oh-so-delicious. Roasting just a breast also falls into this category; it's a lot quicker and more manageable than a whole turkey.
• Read more on the Bittman method: Recipe Review: Mark Bittman's Braised Turkey
- Cook the turkey in another form - If you don't need leftover sliced or braised turkey for post-holiday sandwiches, then what about another sort of turkey dish? For a small, casual Thanksgiving try one of these:
• Barbecue Turkey Meatloaf
• Turkey Koftas with Toasted Pita
• Turkey Meatballs over Greens
- Let someone else do the work (a.k.a buy your turkey) - And then there is the option for happy cheaters. Last year, I braised turkey legs, but I bought a smoked turkey breast from a local food truck. This was a smashing success: My guests loved the turkey breast so much more than the home-cooked turkey. It's a great way to support local businesses, and it lets you focus on the fun dishes of Thanksgiving. If this appeals to you, look around for local folks doing smoked or deep-fried turkeys.
Want Something Entirely Different?
- Roast a chicken or two - For small Thanksgiving suppers, a chicken or two will suffice, and they're rather less time-consuming. Here's how to roast a chicken (so easy!).
- Create a new tradition, with another festive food - You could try something really new, too, like this reader who is holding a fish fry for Thanksgiving. You could make tamales or carnitas. If you don't love turkey, then think outside of the box and try a new tradition!
What are you doing for Thanksgiving turkey this year? Is roasting a turkey easy for you? Or does it feel intimidating? If you're determined to tackle that bird for the first time, stay tuned: We have step-by-step instructions coming for any newbies later this week.
(Images: Faith Durand)