Our contributing editor Emma Freud celebrates Thanksgiving with deep-fried turkey and legendary sandwiches stuffed with leftovers.
Thanksgiving: the fourth Thursday in November, during which Americans give thanks for their blessings (while overlooking the fact that the day was originally a celebration of the massacre of 700 Native Americans in 1637) by eating and playing with as many family members as planes, trains and automobiles can convene. Our problem: we are living in New York for a year and don’t have family here. Luckily we know other orphaned Brits in New York, so we pretend that we are related, and spend the day together trying to understand this new-fangled festival.
A big fuss, I mean – a REALLY big fuss – is made about the Thanksgiving meal, which is basically just a roast dinner. This makes it a slightly underwhelming feast for any Brit raised with Sunday lunch, but still delicious if you can get your head around the lack of roast potatoes, and the omnipresence of sugar.
The classic menu is roast turkey, American stuffing (chunkier, crisper and more deconstructed than ours), mashed potatoes (yup – shocking), a soupy green bean & mushroom casserole topped with crispy onions (as unappetising as it sounds), roast veg glazed with maple syrup, and a dish of puréed sweet potatoes covered in a layer of melted marshmallows (seriously, what is that about?), after which comes the holy trinity of pecan pie, apple pie and pumpkin pie. Not either/or – all three. The food is followed by the official giving of thanks at the table. In proper American homes, this involves heartfelt statements, deep gratitude to family members, religious appreciation and often actual tears. We tried to keep straight faces while thanking the food for not burning (me) and the Xbox for having been invented (my 12-year-old son).
But despite the big side dish of British awkwardness, once the giggling had subsided this public display of gratitude was actually a humbling ritual. As befits the occasion, I embrace the new American custom of deep-frying the turkey.
A vat of oil is heated in a massive stockpot over a camping stove, the bird is lowered in using a coat hanger, it stays there for around five minutes per 500g and is hauled out, bronzed and crispy-skinned, looking like an audition for a high-class TV food advert. The following day is all about the leftovers: they go large on turkey chilli, turkey Bolognese and turkey pot pie as well as deep-fried green beans (got to do something with that casserole that nobody ate). The key leftover dish though, is the turkey sandwich – and here we need to take our cooking hats off and hand them over, with humility, to the Americans.
Their leftover sandwiches are mini-legends. Sometimes they combine turkey slices with cranberry jelly and melted brie. Occasionally they mix the cranberry sauce with mayonnaise and pile it on top of turkey breast and a layer of cold stuffing in ciabatta. They have been known to squidge together a bowlful of chopped turkey, stuffing and parsley, mould it into patties, shallow fry it, then serve it in pitta with a harissa-cranberry sauce and call it turkey falafel.
But just when you think their sandwich skills are worthy of an entire column, they go and blow it all with this: The Stuffed French Toast Turkey Cranberry Waffle. Turkey breast and Swiss cheese are piled up in between two waffles, the whole thing is dipped in beaten egg and fried in butter, then the top is spread with cranberry sauce and served with icing sugar.
The one sadness is that there are no crackers. The Pilgrims didn’t bring any – and nobody seems to have told the Americans that they’re compulsory when eating turkey, so if you’re coming to America in November, bring your own. As it also means New Yorkers have never known the joys of The Cracker Gag, I leave you with my current favourite… Why did Adele cross the road? To say hello from the other side. I’m here all week.
Why not try Emma's fig & pancetta American stuffing?