Thanksgiving is the celebration of friends and family, home, and the bounty that harvest brings. We often capture the conviviality of the holiday but miss out on what makes the Thanksgiving meal special - cherishing the passing of fall to winter flavors - in favor of a stable of rote dishes planned around the navigation of a frenetic holiday kitchen. This fall, rethink the generally accepted preparation of the Thanksgiving centerpiece and accoutrements.
Grilling turkey - slowly roasting it beside a fire and seasoning it with the subtle flavors of mellow smoking woods like apple, hickory and pecan - brings out the best in the bird. A brine of cider, cloves, allspice and honey and the addition of shallots, sage and butter under the skin before grilling are the foundation for a perfectly moist and flavorful turkey. Tart cranberries, sweet apples and pears, and a hot habañero create a sauce that will change the way guests think about gravy.
As the turkey rests, use the fire to assemble a rustic, cast-iron-skillet dressing. Grilled bread, salty bacon, earthy mushrooms, leeks and Brussels sprouts - one of the season's best, yet overlooked, vegetables - make a soul-satisfying side dish. Finish covered on the grill in the fire's dying embers for the perfect ending to a reinvigorated Thanksgiving.
Indirect vs. Direct Grilling
- For indirect grilling, the fire is built to the side of the item being grilled, allowing for low and even cooking without burning the exterior before the interior is fully cooked.
- For direct grilling, the fire is built in the middle of the grill and food is heated directly above it for quick cooking and searing.
Turkey and Sides Wine Pairings:
Napa Valley Unoaked Chardonnay
This is a great opportunity to revisit Chardonnay and include a fine New World example at your holiday table. Chardonnay works perfectly with this menu lineup. Chardonnay that hasn't been aged in oak can express its true varietal characteristics of apple, citrus and tropical fruit, and its full-bodied nature can enhance many vegetable dishes. Paired with the grilled turkey, it lends acidity and depth of flavor to seasonings and accents the resulting juiciness of the grilled bird. An unoaked Napa Chardonnay highlights the earthy yet creamy nature of the lentil soup and the green bean casserole and heightens the smoky flavor of the Salade Lyonnaise's bacon.
Central Coast Zinfandel
Central Coast California boasts many examples of fruit-forward, moderate-alcohol Zinfandels that make an excellent match with this Thanksgiving menu. Zinfandel's typically spicy, black-peppery and cherry/raspberry/blackberry profile, as well as its high acidity, works well with the relatively mildly spiced poultry preparation, heightening the smoky nature of the bacon or guanciale.
Produced from Gamay grapes in southern Burgundy, Beaujolais are juicy, fruity and somewhat spicy medium-bodied wines. They fit Thanksgiving dinner well because they're so versatile with savory dishes without adding too much spice, heat or seasonings. Beaujolais from many crus, or designations that produce superior wines, are often an excellent value, and they work well with vegetable side dishes. Beaujolais don't undermine the season's signature flavors, such as cranberries, sweet potatoes and baking spices. In addition, Beaujolais don't have high tannins that would squelch the holiday's traditional, rustic preparations of lower-fat, high-protein meats.
MORE TURKEY DAY DISHES
Looking for more Thanksgiving recipes? Be sure to visit the Let's Eat section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch!