Bourdain Does Thanksgiving

Chef iconoclast Anthony Bourdain has a secret: he loves Thanksgiving—the more traditional, the better. In an exclusive preview of his new cookbook, Appetites, he shares his two-turkey trick and his three-day prep strategy for an epic and foolproof celebration.


By Anthony Bourdain with Laurie Woolever
Photos by Bobby Fisher
Above Image | Thanksgiving à la Bourdain. The host and his wife, Ottavia, make sure the turkey is on point while friends like master chef Eric Ripert (far left) attend to the wine.

ALTHOUGH I GROW INSTINCTIVELY QUEASY AT THE NOTION OF A COZY DOMESTIC SCENE, I am always supremely happy to cook and serve Thanksgiving dinner to the assembled blood relatives, co-workers, sporting enemies, friends and animals I call my family.

I begin preparing for it (making lists, ordering wine, lining up a few good turkeys) about a month in advance, generally while insects swarm around me in a country halfway around the world. When I started writing Appetites and thinking about the meals that mean the most to me, Thanksgiving came first. I love that it's an inclusive holiday, without any overt religious overtones, and I love the taste of well-made stuffing, fragrant with sage and jacked with turkey grease.

Thanksgiving dinner evokes strong sense memories: the smell of onions and celery bubbling gently in butter and mashed-potato mountain majesties. Apart from the radically flavor-boosting addition of Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce to the gravy, Thanksgiving is not the time for innovation, experiments or anything approaching "fusion." Give the people what they want, and make sure it's consistent with what they remember.

Sure, turkey is rather bland—the Céline Dion of meats—but as a medium for good gravy and a foil for tasty side dishes, I love it, and I bet you do, too. My wife, a committed carnivore and adamant carb-shunner, would commandeer both drumsticks and all of the brussels sprouts with bacon if allowed. My nine-year-old daughter is wild about my cranberry relish, a straight-shooting, orange-spiked classic. Every year as I make it, she stands there right next to me, spoon in hand, angling for a sample. Why would I, in the name of ego-fueled creativity, mess with such reliable pleasures?

When talking large holiday meals, logistics—and a cool head—are of the utmost importance. I put this into practice, rather painfully, in the mid-1990s when, in something of a career slump, I agreed to make a Thanksgiving feast for a massive crowd of hard-drinking expats, out of the entirely ill-equipped kitchen of a bar on the French side of St. Martin. The power failed that morning, rendering the electric oven worthless, but I didn't freak out or slink, defeated, to some hidden corner of the island with a gallon of rum and a shotgun (as appealing as that seemed). Instead, I talked the owner of a nearby charter company into letting me roast the turkeys in the galley kitchens of his unoccupied yachts, moving between vessels in a dinghy full of seasoned birds, making the rounds to baste, rotate and retrieve them. It was a sweaty nightmare, but, in the end, everyone ate turkey.

Most of you will never be forced to cook your Thanksgiving dinner across a series of boats bobbing in the Caribbean, but the fact remains that good planning matters, perhaps even more when you're serving friends and family in your home, without the buffer of a front-of-house staff or an impenetrable restaurant kitchen door to hide behind if things go south. This is why I insist you make lists, shop early and, once you have all of your provisions, spread the work out over three days.

Also: Make enough room in your refrigerator and on your counters for two birds, all the trimmings and the wines. If your family is the type that expects two or three home-cooked meals every day, you might suggest they temporarily decamp to someone else's house. Or hand them a stack of takeout menus. Or let them eat cold cereal—all the better to build up anticipation for the Big Event.

You may notice that I have not included a dessert recipe. I know that for the vast majority of Americans, pies, cakes and puddings, all heaped high with whipped cream, are the essence of Thanksgiving, even more so than turkey. Me? I prefer a greedy hunk of Stilton and a bottle of excellent ruby port. But as I know I'm in the minority on this, I call upon my guests to show up with desserts, homemade or professionally baked. I suggest you do the same.

AND, ON THE DAY AFTER THANKSGIVING, I RECOMMEND YOU TREAT YOURSELF TO THE REAL REASON FOR THE SEASON: LEFTOVERS. You won't find me within five miles of the hellscape that is Black Friday, because I am reliably on the couch, in pajamas, eating slices of reheated turkey drowned in gravy with a heap of stuffing alongside, or perhaps a fat turkey sandwich dressed with cranberry relish or mayonnaise. In a cook's life, Thanksgiving Day is for others; the next day is for you.

Thanksgiving: A Tactical Primer

The key to a relatively easy, smooth-running, violence-free Thanksgiving is to adopt the following three-day strategy.

DAY 1

IN THE MORNING (or the week before Thanksgiving), buy everything you'll need, store it in an organized fashion and cross-check it against your recipes to make sure there isn't anything you've forgotten. You'll want both a small "stunt turkey" and a large "business turkey," which, if frozen, will require defrosting immediately.

MAKE YOUR STOCK. This means buying a separate bag of wings and necks to prep the stock that will give the stuffing its essential turkey flavor and provide the base for what you probably call gravy but what is, in fact, a sauce.

LEAVE THE BREAD OUT to get stale for stuffing.

DAY 2

TURN YOUR TURKEY STOCK INTO TURKEY SAUCE or, if you must, "gravy."

ASSEMBLE AND BAKE THE STUFFING, covered, so that it doesn't yet brown at all.

MAKE YOUR CRANBERRY RELISH and store it in a container in the fridge.

KNOCK OUT YOUR SIDE DISH PREP. Trim and halve your brussels sprouts, blanch and trim your baby onions, dice your slab bacon and scrub your potatoes. Label, group and refrigerate everything so you can quickly finish the side dishes tomorrow while the birds roast.

DAY 3

ROAST THE STUNT TURKEY. This is the pretty one that you'll display for your guests. Ready your garnishes and feel free to dress up the bird like a showgirl.

FINISH YOUR SIDE DISHES while the turkey roasts. Potatoes just need to be peeled. You can get everything done on the stovetop while the birds are cooking and hold the sides for quick reheating just before dinner.

ROAST THE BUSINESS TURKEY, then dismantle it.

JACK YOUR STUFFING with turkey grease and brown it, uncovered, in a hot oven.

DISPLAY THE STUNT TURKEY in all its glory, which should elicit much oohing and aahing from your guests. Then whisk it into the kitchen, presumably to be carved.

IN THE RELATIVE PRIVACY of your kitchen, pull out your business turkey, which is ready to slice, and get busy. No embarrassing or inept hacking at a whole turkey while your family looks on with horror. This bird is ready to serve.

Adapted from Appetites: A Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever (Ecco), available October 25.


Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Total | 45 min Serves | 8

Forget a salad on Thanksgiving; this is the only green thing you need on the table.

  • ¾ lb. meaty slab bacon, sliced 1 inch thick and diced
  • 2 lbs. brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1½ Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

  • In a very large skillet, combine the bacon with ¼ cup of water and bring to a simmer. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the diced bacon is browned, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain.
  • Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of fat from the skillet. Add the brussels sprouts and season generously with salt. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes. Add ⅓ cup of water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the brussels sprouts are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the browned bacon, butter and lemon juice and cook, tossing, until hot, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Business Turkey

Active | 15 min Total | 2 hr 45 min Serves | 10 to 12

By the time your guests arrive, this turkey should be ready, which is to say completely cooked and rested, breasts removed from the bone and ready to slice, legs removed, drumsticks and thighs separated and wings good to go with moist towels on top.

  • One 14-lb. turkey, neck reserved for stock and giblets reserved for stuffing
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • Kosher salt and pepper

  • Preheat the oven to 425°. Set a V-shape rack in a roasting pan. Brush the turkey all over with the butter and season with salt and pepper. Set the turkey in the rack breast side up and add 2 cups of water to the pan. Roast the turkey for about 2 hours, basting occasionally, until golden and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the inner thigh registers 165°. Transfer the turkey on the V rack to a baking sheet and let rest for 30 minutes. Pour the pan drippings into a bowl and reserve for the stuffing. Carve the turkey, arrange on a platter and serve.

WINE: Juicy, savory California Syrah: 2013 Piedrasassi Santa Barbara County.

Stunt Turkey

Active | 15 min Total | 2 hr 45 min Serves | 8 to 10

This is the pretty, whole turkey you'll display for your guests. Keep it moist and shiny—with damp towels and a light brush of oil—as it cools out of the way of the action. Dress it up: Embellishments like chop frills, elaborate fruit garnishes, a bed of old-school parsley or kale and a bit of stuffing to obscure the cavity are all totally appropriate visual fireworks to be employed liberally here if you wish.

  • One 10-lb. turkey, neck reserved for stock and giblets reserved for stuffing
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • Kosher salt and pepper

  • Preheat the oven to 425°. Set a V-shape rack in a roasting pan. Brush the turkey all over with the butter and season with salt and pepper. Set the turkey in the rack breast side up and add 2 cups of water to the pan. Roast the turkey for about 2 hours, basting occasionally, until golden and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the inner thigh registers 165°. Transfer the turkey on the V rack to a baking sheet and let rest for 30 minutes. Pour the pan drippings into a bowl and reserve for the stuffing. Transfer the turkey to a platter.

Cranberry Relish

Total | 15 min Makes | 4 cups

This is delicious and truly one of the easiest recipes in the world as long as you use a food processor. It contains a shocking amount of sugar, which you should not balk at. It's a holiday.

  • 1 large navel orange, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 12 oz. fresh cranberries (3¼ cups)
  • 1 cup sugar

  • In a food processor, pulse the orange with the cranberries until very finely chopped. Scrape the mixture into a medium bowl and stir in the sugar. Cover and refrigerate. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

MAKE AHEAD: The relish can be refrigerated for 1 week.

Turkey Gravy

Active | 15 min Total | 1 hr Makes | 6 cups

  • 3 qts. Turkey Stock (p. 129)
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 2 shallots, coarsely chopped
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup reserved turkey pan drippings (p. 129)
  • 1 tsp. Asian fish sauce, plus more for seasoning
  • ¼ tsp. Worcestershire sauce, plus more for seasoning
  • Kosher salt and pepper

  • In a large saucepan, combine the turkey stock, wine and shallots and bring to a simmer. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, about 45 minutes. Strain the stock into a large bowl. Wipe out the saucepan.
  • Melt the butter in the saucepan. Add the flour and cook over moderate heat, whisking frequently, until deep golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Whisk in the strained stock and the reserved turkey pan drippings and bring to a simmer. Cook over moderately high heat, whisking occasionally, until the gravy is thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the 1 teaspoon of fish sauce and ¼ teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce and season with salt and pepper. Add more fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce to taste. Serve hot.

MAKE AHEAD The gravy can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

Mashed Potatoes, Kind of Robuchon-Style

Active | 30 min Total | 1 hr Serves | 8

This is not how the great chef Joël Robuchon makes his mashed potatoes. I have heard how from cooks who have worked for him, but they swore me to secrecy. If I told you, I'd have to kill you. What I do know for sure is there's a lot of butter in them—and that the way Robuchon actually makes them is too hard and too complicated for you (or me) to do sensibly at home. But this will approximate—roughly—the kind of buttery, ethereal suspension that dreams (and Joël Robuchon's mashed potatoes) are made of.

  • 4 lbs. medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and halved
  • Kosher salt
  • 6 sticks cold unsalted butter (1½ lbs.), cut into ½-inch cubes
  • ½ cup heavy cream

  • In a large saucepan, cover the potatoes with water and bring to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and simmer until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain well and let stand in a colander for 3 minutes.
  • Pass the potatoes through a ricer into the large saucepan. Cook over moderate heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the potatoes are hot and steam starts to rise, about 2 minutes; they'll start to stick to the bottom of the pan. Add one-fourth of the butter cubes at a time, stirring constantly until incorporated. Stir in the heavy cream and season generously with salt. Serve right away.

Turkey Stock

Active | 15 min Total | 3 hr 30 min Makes | 4 quarts

  • 5 lbs. turkey wings and necks, plus the reserved necks from the 2 turkeys
  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 5 thyme sprigs

  • Preheat the oven to 425°. In a flameproof roasting pan, rub the turkey wings and necks with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 45 minutes, until golden brown, stirring halfway through. Transfer the turkey wings and necks to a large pot. Scrape the pan drippings into a heatproof bowl, cover and refrigerate (to use for the gravy).
  • Set the roasting pan over moderate heat and add the wine. Cook, stirring to release the browned bits in the pan, until the wine is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Scrape the liquid into the pot and add the celery, onion, carrot, thyme and 8 quarts of water. Bring to a simmer, skimming off any foam as it rises to the surface. Cook over moderate heat until reduced by half, about 2 hours. Strain the stock into a large heatproof bowl and cool to room temperature.

MAKE AHEAD: The stock can be refrigerated for 4 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

Mushroom-and-Chestnut Stuffing with Giblets

Active | 1 hr 30 min Total | 3 hr plus overnight refrigerating Serves | 8 to 10

  • 1½ sticks unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • 1½ cups whole peeled chestnuts (8 oz.)
  • 12 cups 2-day-old country or peasant bread, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 4 cups Turkey Stock (left)
  • ½ cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped thyme plus 6 thyme sprigs
  • 3 Tbsp. finely chopped sage plus 2 sage sprigs
  • 1 lb. mixed mushrooms, finely chopped
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ⅓ cup chopped parsley
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • Reserved giblets from the 2 turkeys, trimmed and cut into ¼-inch pieces
  • 1 cup reserved turkey pan drippings

  • Preheat the oven to 425°. Butter a 4-quart baking dish. Spread the chestnuts and cubed bread on 2 separate baking sheets. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the chestnuts are deep golden and the bread is crisp; let cool. Coarsely chop the chestnuts and transfer to a large bowl.
  • In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer; keep warm.
  • In a large nonstick skillet, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Add the shallots, onion and celery and season with salt and pepper. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped thyme and sage and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Scrape the mixture into the large bowl.
  • Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the skillet. Add half of the mushrooms and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add ¼ cup of the wine. Cook, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet, until almost all of the wine has evaporated, about 1 minute. Scrape the mushrooms into the large bowl. Repeat with another 2 tablespoons of butter and the remaining mushrooms and wine.
  • Add the parsley, eggs, bread and warm stock to the bowl and season with salt and pepper. Mix gently but thoroughly. Transfer the stuffing to the prepared baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Transfer the stuffing to a rack, uncover and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  • Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, cover the turkey gizzards and hearts (reserve the livers) with water and bring to a boil. Blanch for 5 minutes, then drain. Return the giblets to the saucepan. Add the thyme and sage sprigs and enough water to cover and bring to a simmer. Cover partially and cook over moderately low heat until tender, about 2 hours. Drain the giblets and discard the herbs.
  • Preheat the oven to 425°. Drizzle the reserved pan juices evenly over the stuffing and bake for about 40 minutes, until golden, crisp and heated through.
  • In a medium nonstick skillet, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Add the turkey livers and cooked hearts and gizzards and cook over moderately high heat, turning, until golden and the livers are cooked through, about 3 minutes. Spoon the giblets over the stuffing and serve.

Candied Sweet Potatoes with Bourbon

Active | 20 min Total | 1 hr 20 min Serves | 8

Put those goddamn marshmallows away.

  • 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 3 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1½-inch pieces
  • ¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup fresh apple cider
  • 3 Tbsp. bourbon
  • Kosher salt

  • Preheat the oven to 400°. Grease a 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter. In a large saucepan of salted boiling water, blanch the sweet potatoes until barely tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well. Spread them in the prepared baking dish in an even layer.
  • In a small saucepan, melt the remaining 5 tablespoons of butter with the brown sugar. Whisk in the cider and bourbon, season with salt and bring to a boil. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes and gently stir to coat.
  • Bake the sweet potatoes until tender and the sauce is syrupy, 35 to 40 minutes.

MAKE AHEAD: The recipe can be prepared through Step 2 and refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before baking.