Thanksgiving might seem like it’s defined by turkey, but with smaller or even virtual celebrations this year, the need for a big glossy bird isn’t as necessary. Take this opportunity to rethink the traditional centerpiece and who knows: You might make a new holiday tradition. Here are 16 ideas.
This perfectly golden roast chicken from Mark Bittman captures the theatricality of a roast turkey on a smaller scale. Surround it with sprigs of rosemary or thyme and even some roasted vegetables, if you’d like to parade it to the table. For the simplest gravy, whisk some butter and flour into the pan juices and simmer until creamy. You can brush up on your poultry skills with our guide on how to roast chicken.
Yotam Ottolenghi calls this classic British dish “humble food, made with purpose and perfectly executed.” He swaps in pork-and-pancetta meatballs for sausages, surrounds them with a beer batter that is airy and crisp, and serves it with onion gravy.
Recipe: Meatball Toad-in-the-Hole
Gabrielle Hamilton doted on details for this deeply complex, vegetarian side-turned-centerpiece. She roasts the mushrooms, while simmering black lentils with onion, fennel and bay leaves, but says it’s the toasted brown-butter croutons that are the “serious scene stealer.” Depending on who is coming to dinner, you can even make this dish vegan by swapping in vegan butter or olive oil.
Mrouzia is a Moroccan tagine often enjoyed on holidays or special occasions. Nargisse Benkabou’s recipe combines lamb shanks with a syrupy sauce of honey and raisins, seasoned with saffron and ras el hanout. It’s a sweet, subtly spiced centerpiece that can be prepared a day in advance.
This dish from Melissa Clark encapsulates many Thanksgiving flavors in just one skillet: creamy and caramelized potatoes, wilted spinach, fresh herbs, sautéed onions and garlic — everything but the turkey. She uses ground beef, but you could substitute ground turkey, ground chicken or even sautéed mushrooms for a vegetarian take.
Recipe: Meat and Potato Skillet Gratin
This sophisticated roast chicken dish comes together in just 40 minutes. Start with a whole chicken and cut it into pieces, or to make life easier, purchase any combination of drumsticks or thighs. Slip some potatoes into the pan as the chicken roasts, get some stuffing going on the stovetop and you’ll have a full feast in under an hour.
Recipe: Roast Chicken With Fennel
Sam Sifton once called my mushroom Wellington “beautiful and fancy, Idris Elba in black tie, the perfect Thanksgiving guest.” It is no easy feat — there is no shortcut to be taken here, beyond preparing the separate components a day in advance — but set it in front of guests and it can compete with any turkey on any table, unifying vegans, vegetarians and omnivores.
Recipe: Vegetarian Mushroom Wellington
Slightly more homespun than the option above, this root-vegetable-and-mushroom potpie offers lots of options: Bake it in a large cast-iron skillet or cook it in individual ramekins. If you’re serving both vegetarians and meat eaters, divide the filling between two pie plates, and add rotisserie chicken, bacon, lardons or even duck confit to one before covering each with a blanket of puff pastry.
Recipe: Mushroom Potpie
A French bistro staple from the chef Adrienne Biasin, this dish “pairs well with a glass of Beaujolais and dreams of travel” wrote Sam Sifton. It is dead simple: Sear a seasoned pork tenderloin alongside some onions until browned, simmer it gently in milk until tender, then whisk in cream for the simplest, richest gravy.
Recipe: Roast Pork With Milk
Roasting chicken is a smart option for a small-scale Thanksgiving, but if you want something a bit more interesting, try this recipe from Yasmin Khan. Mussakhan is a beloved Palestinian dish that is brightened with lemon and sumac, but also rich with warming spices like cumin, allspice and cinnamon. It will feel right at home on your Thanksgiving table.
This cozy, one-skillet supper from Aaron Hutcherson delivers maximum comfort with minimum effort. One reader said it was “about the best dish” from The New York Times that he’d ever cooked. It’s perfect as-is, but to take it over the top, tuck in some fresh sausages to imitate cassoulet.
J. Kenji López-Alt takes an affordable piece of beef (any inexpensive, lean meat like top round or tri-tip will do), seasons it generously with salt and pepper and refrigerates it for one to two days, then gives it the reverse-sear treatment: roasting then searing until browned. You’ll end up with moist, succulent meat, but you can whisk together a pan sauce or gravy if you’d like to give it the traditional turkey treatment.
Some items on the Thanksgiving shopping list are obvious, but there are several other ingredients that will prove invaluable to have on hand. See our full guide on How To Cook and Plan Thanksgiving and our list of staples below.
- Butter, lots of it. Choose European-style high-fat butter for pie crusts, and regular unsalted butter for everything else.
- Stock. If you haven’t made your own, look for homemade stock at the same butcher shop where you buy your turkey, or in the freezer section of your supermarket. The canned and boxed stuff should be a last resort.
- Fresh herbs. Not only do they add freshness and flavor across your Thanksgiving table, but they’re also pretty, lending a touch of green to a meal heavy on earth tones.
- Garlic, onions, leeks, fresh ginger, shallots. An assortment of aromatics keeps your cooking lively and interesting. You’ll need them for the stuffing, for stock and gravy, and for many side dishes.
- Fresh citrus. Lemon, lime and orange juice and zest contribute brightness to countless Thanksgiving dishes, from the turkey to the gravy to the cranberry sauce to the whipped cream for pie.
- Nuts. These go a long way to give crunch to otherwise texturally boring dishes. (Ahem, sweet potato casserole.)
- White wine/vermouth/beer. Even if you’re not drinking any of these spirits before or during the meal, they can be splashed into gravy or vegetable dishes, or used to deglaze the turkey roasting pan. (Bourbon and brandy work well as deglazers, too.)
- Fresh spices. If you can’t remember when you bought your spices, now is a good time to replace them.
- Light brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup. These sweeteners are more profoundly flavored than white sugar, and they have an autumnal richness.
- Heavy cream, sour cream, crème fraîche, ice cream. You’ll need these for topping pies and cakes.
- Please, wear a mask. It protects both yourself and others from coronavirus, and aim to maintain several feet of distance from other shoppers in stores whenever possible. If you opt for grocery delivery, tip as generously as you can.
- See all of our Thanksgiving recipes.
Recipe: Slow-Roasted Beef
Gabrielle Hamilton calls this recipe from André Soltner “the very definition of an enduring classic.” It requires a few modest ingredients — primarily butter, onions, flour and cream — and a bit of work, but the results assimilate seamlessly with any Thanksgiving spread.
Recipe: Onion Tart
Melissa Clark calls these “the essence of winter comfort food,” and we trust her. Spiced with nutmeg, allspice and ginger, these Swedish meatballs are a natural on the Thanksgiving table, served with lingonberry jam or cranberry sauce. (We’ve also got a vegetarian version from Kay Chun.)
Recipe: Swedish Meatballs
Duck is richer, and perhaps even more regal than a Thanksgiving turkey, and this pan-roasted version from David Tanis is easily scalable — one breast easily serves two if your celebration is cozy this year. This dish is served with a rich pan sauce using fresh and dried mushrooms, red wine and herbs. It’s fancy and festive.
This stunning tart from the pastry chef Natasha Pickowicz has it all: a buttery, homemade pâte brisée base topped with creamy potatoes, which melt into a layer of ricotta and provolone, all crowned with a pile of acidic, just-dressed fresh radicchio. This recipe makes two crusts — so you can use the second to repurpose Thanksgiving leftovers.
Recipe: Potato-and-Radicchio Tart
Thanksgiving will be different this year. Here are hundreds of our best Thanksgiving recipes from NYT Cooking to help.