Here's an interesting thing about preparing a typical Thanksgiving meal: You can do just about all of it in advance, but you can do all of it mere hours before you serve it.
Most grocery stores are open on Thanksgiving Day, and if last-minute operations are what you need to do, finding the ideal size turkey might be the only tricky part. Even then, you have options; see below.
TURKEY (OR MAIN COURSE)
- If you are dealing with a frozen bird, you don't have to defrost it. Slow-roast it from frozen. If you have a single oven, get the turkey in by 9 a.m., in order to carve it by 4 p.m. Fast ways of handling a fresh bird include spatchcocking and roasting a bird that has been cut into parts.
- Keep a generous supply of warm pan juices or turkey broth on hand to pour over any sliced turkey - especially the white meat. Apply, and reapply. Lay the carved meat on a rimmed baking sheet until just before serving/transferring to a platter. Cover loosely with aluminum foil.
- A vegetarian main should be reheated/kept as warm as possible right up until it is served.
- Strain the pan juices into a saucepan over medium heat. Add a big splash of sherry or Madeira or a nonalcoholic beer or cider (not sweet). Taste for the level of salt before you add any seasoning. Pour a quarter-cup's worth into a small bowl; whisk in flour or cornstarch, then whisk that mixture into the saucepan, until smooth. Or use Julia Turshen's stress-free method: Whisk sour cream or creme fraiche into strained/warmed pan juices.
- Treat it like a side dish instead of serving it in a separate course. That way, you can assemble it up to 30 minutes before serving.
- Arrange the undressed salad on a platter instead of in a salad bowl; the components will stay crisp longer, and any weightier components, such as chunks of roasted squash and nuts, will remain more evenly distributed.
- If you don't have stale/dried bread to use for stuffing, cut or tear the fresh bread you have into bite-size pieces, spread on a baking sheet and toast in a 300-degree oven for about 30 minutes. (First, drizzle with a little olive oil and season them, for extra flavor.)
- If you have a potato ricer, you can skip peeling those spuds because that piece of kitchen equipment will help strain out the skins. (But do scrub the potatoes well, and cut out any eyes.) Cut your white- or yellow-fleshed potatoes into same-size chunks for cooking under an inch or two of water. This should take about 25 minutes. Drain and return them to the hot pot they were in. Immediately add liquid, butter or olive oil, then season them with salt and pepper. They will be ready for a quick mashing - when you are.
- Don't cook your green vegetable. Instead, peel and slice broccoli stems, separate Brussels sprouts leaves or cut fresh green beans into bite-size pieces; toss them with dried cranberries and a good vinaigrette. Serve as a fresh salad (see above).
- Wrap in aluminum foil and reheat in the oven while the uncarved turkey is resting. During that time, bring out the butter so it warms up to room temperature. That's a good time to transfer cranberry sauce to a serving bowl, if it isn't in one already.
- Doctor store-bought rolls or baguettes by brushing them with olive oil or melted butter, then sprinkling the tops with flaky sea salt or za'atar (a Middle Eastern seasoning blend). Wrap in foil and warm in a 325-degree oven for 20 minutes before serving.
- Buy a pie (or two). You can spend a lot or a little. When the one you bring home is housed in a disposable pie plate, use an offset spatula to coax it out and onto one of your own ceramic tart pans or pie plates; this will dress it up and make it easier to serve.
- Whip up some heavy cream with a light amount of confectioners' sugar; it will hold in the refrigerator for several hours, or up to a day or two. It can dress up just about any dessert, as well as slices of fresh fruit.