Stressed out about pulling off the perfect Thanksgiving dinner? The once-a-year, mess-it-up-and-everyone-hates you epic gobblefest instills fear in the hearts of cooks across the country, but it shouldn’t. George Pagonis, executive chef and partner of the modern-minded Greek restaurant Kapnos in Washington, D.C., knows how to do it and has been kind enough to share his tricks and techniques to ensure your feast goes flawlessly.
1. Think about the time and space required to store, prep, refrigerate, and cook every item on your menu. It helps to create a master shopping list and a timeline. That let’s you know what you need to do and when and don’t get caught with your proverbial pants down on the big day.
2. Make anything you can in advance. A lot of items, such as cranberry sauce, pies, and mac ‘n’ cheese, taste just as good if you make them a day or two beforehand and simply warm them up right before you serve them. Other dishes, like salads, can be prepped the day before by chopping all the vegetables and assembled just before the meal.
3. Only do recipes you know and have made before. If you screw up, you screw up on a large scale. You don’t want to ruin anyone’s Thanksgiving. If you do want to try something new, do a test run beforehand so you can figure out any issues and troubleshoot when there isn’t a table full of hungry people watching your every move.
4. Clean as you go. As soon as you’re done with something, wash it. Not only will your sink fill up quickly, but you’ll find that as the day goes on you’ll need a pot or a piece of equipment and not have one because it’s dirty. Also, it’s easier to clean pots when they’re still warm, because food will come off them easily.
5. Let the turkey sit for at least half an hour after it comes out of the oven before you carve it. Cut into it too soon and all the liquids inside will just come gushing out, which will dry out the meat.
6. Stuff your turkey with aromatics, such as fresh thyme, fresh bay leaves, and fresh oregano. Fresh herbs make all the difference. Don’t settle for dried ones. Halved oranges – or other citrus – or pomegranates also work well as aromatics.
7. Don’t overlook the “oysters,” the tastiest and most tender parts of the turkey. The pair of succulent morsels is located in the small hollows on either side of the backbone. Dig them out with your fingers and enjoy them as a treat for all your hard work.