"I can’t think of [another] holiday where people who don’t cook, try to all of a sudden," says chef Andrew Zimmern, a man who is far from a first-timer.
Zimmern has been cooking in various kitchens, from his home kitchen as a child to kitchens in some of the most respected restaurants, for more than 30 years. While he’s made his share of mistakes in the kitchen, those years of practice helped him to perfect his Thanksgiving meal.
For one thing, Zimmern knows how to make use of his space (he greets guests at his door with a slow cooker full of oyster chowder and self-serve ladles with mugs) and time.
By Thanksgiving Day, he’s already harvested and frozen the freshest ingredients from his garden months in advance, and has made dishes like his Thanksgiving gravy as early as a month ahead of time.
You’d be surprised how many traditional dishes make an appearance at the Zimmern family table, considering that the host’s reputation for funky foods precedes him from his Bizarre Foods résumé.
"Oh we’ve definitely done dishes like chicken-fried squirrel and smoked geese, which had way too much duck fat to deal with on Thanksgiving," shared Zimmern. "But the family likes the traditional stuff so that is what we do."
Zimmern proves to be a fountain of endless knowledge on all things food, and he provided us with some solid tips (and recipes) for helping the home cook make it through the holiday.
"You have to plan and farm it out if you want it to be a success," he says. "I think people put way too much pressure on themselves and take it way too seriously. My wife will make her amazing cranberry sauce, my mother-in-law will do some of the sides, and we’ll even buy our pies from a great local bakery."
Do Start by Sourcing a Great Bird…
I like the Bourbon Reds because they have the best flavor and largest breast meat of the heritage birds. Brine it, stuff it, and roast according to the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey, Stuffing, and Gravy recipe and you will have a feast for the ages.
Don’t Do It Alone!
If your guests insist on bringing something, consider delegating the dessert. This pecan tart is sweet and gooey, and the perfect end to a Thanksgiving dinner. Serve with rum raisin ice cream.
Do Serve the Ultimate Party Food
My dad’s Prosciutto and Fontina Gougères have been served at every party he ever had in his house. The gougères always disappear fast, and they are delicious and addictively easy to make. I also make these with pancetta and Taleggio, or with a blend of cheeses for my vegetarian pals.
Don’t Forget to Say Thank You
If you’re a guest, don’t forget to say thank you. Hand-written notes are the best, and compared to spending several days in the kitchen for your gastronomical pleasure — it’s the least you can do!