Sam Sifton's Tips For A Happy, Delicious Thanksgiving For All

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Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst's roast turkey. (Jesse Costa/Here & Now)
Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst's roast turkey. (Jesse Costa/Here & Now)

It's hard to believe, but there are just two days left before Thanksgiving. Maybe you're already in the kitchen getting started on your cooking. Or maybe you're at the other end of the spectrum, and haven't even done your shopping yet. Either way, Sam Sifton, the food editor at the New York Times, has this advice for you: Take it all in stride. Everything is going to be just fine.

Sifton talks with Here & Now's Indira Lakshmanan about his favorite Thanksgiving dishes, old and new, and how to make everyone at your table - including the vegetarians, the vegans, the gluten-free - feel welcome and included, without going crazy.

Interview Highlights: Sam Sifton

What do you mean when you tell people to be 'zen' on Thanksgiving?

“I’m advocating a policy of radical acceptance this year. I think we too often think ‘Oh, I’m going to put all this stress on myself. I’m going to try new things. I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that. This will be different. Aunt Sally won’t drink this year.’ Aunt Sally’s going to drink this year. Face it.”

How do you deal with the various demands from people with dietary restrictions?

"Don’t argue at Thanksgiving this year - accept."

“It used to bother me a great deal. I used to think ‘Look, I’m going to create this Norman Rockwell tableau for my table, and if you have decided in your journey in life that you are now vegan, you know, I don’t know what to do. So now, I’ll make something special and something on the side.’ And there were all these little bubbles that were created around the table where I really was trying to make everyone feel welcome, but no one was interacting with anyone else, at least in terms of the food. And so this year, what I wanted to do – and what my colleagues and I at the Times did – was to explore recipes that were vegan that would please meat eaters. I wanted to put a vegetable in the center, so I created this recipe for these stuffed Delicata squash that we stuffed upright so they have some of the kind of showy aspect of a full bird... And I just think don’t argue at Thanksgiving this year - accept.”

How complicated is it to roast a turkey?

“It’s not complicated at all. It’s the job of the food media to tell you that it’s complicated and to come back each year with a new and different way of roasting the turkey with a tamarind glaze or in a bag, or this, or that. But folks, it’s just a big chicken. You’ve done it before. There’s no mystery to it. You only need to know that when that internal temperature gets to 164 or so, it’s time to get it out of the oven, it’ll warm up a little bit more as it rests, and it won’t be overdone and everything’s going to be fine.”

How has the typical American Thanksgiving dinner changed and evolved?

"Folks, it’s just a big chicken. You’ve done it before. There’s no mystery to it."

“It’s constantly changing. It’s been changing since 1621, and I think that’s great. It’s a magical thing when a family welcomes a new family member in the form of a daughter-in-law or son-in-law, and that person brings with him or her the food of his family’s homeland and that changes what was a traditional meal. But we have seen a big spike in interest in vegan Thanksgiving dishes for this year in particular. It’s the largest kind of single-issue spike I’ve seen – more than gluten free – and that’s kind of fascinating.”

What are two of your Thanksgiving standards - and something new you're trying?

“I love to have mashed potatoes and I like those mashed potatoes to be - I say this facetiously, but maybe not really - I like it to have about equal parts potato and butter, and then a floater of cream on there and plenty of salt. So it’s always a good thing to have the mashed potatoes, in my mind. Likewise, there’s a cornbread dressing that a buddy of mine has made for years and year and years, and it’s always on our table and I would feel bereft without seeing it. I, however, am really excited to serve these giant stuffed Delicata squash alongside the turkey this year.”

Any advice for people cooking their very first Thanksgiving meal?

“I’m sure they're nervous and I kind of wish I was with them to help. My message, though, is you don’t need me to help. It’s really quite simple. The basics are you’re going to cook the smallest turkey you can get away with, you’re going to cook some potatoes, you’re going to cook something green, maybe something orange if you’re feeling good. Let’s get some cranberry sauce on the table, a little bit of gravy. All of the instructions for doing that are on the site of the New York Times and we can help you through it, and it really is going to work. I mean, if you start at 9 a.m. – you could start at 11 a.m. – but if you start at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning with a basket of supplies in front of you and some basic recipes from the Times, you’re going to be eating like a great, giant, delicious feast by 3 and it’s going to be fantastic.”


This segment aired on November 24, 2015.


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