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Salad with Thanksgiving dinner -- should I bother?

I'm so excited that I get to host my second Thanksgiving dinner of the year (Canadian Thanksgiving in October and now U.S. Thanksgiving in November). I'm having 16 - 20 people over and doing a pretty traditional meal. My question -- do you think it's worth including a salad amongst the side dishes? I personally think a salad is a waste of stomach space on Thanksgiving, but am wondering whether some people would like to have an option that is cool and fresh? I'm having a hard time envisioning putting something on my plate that I can't pour gravy over. :)

If I did a salad, I'm thinking an arugula, fennel, roasted pear and caramelized pecans.

The rest of the menu:

- a few small nibbles with cocktails before dinner

- turkey (spatchcocked -- I will never roast a turkey any other way again!)
- honey-glazed ham
- classic herb stuffing
- roasted garlic mashed potatoes
- roasted brussels sprouts
- balsamic glazed roasted onions
- biscuits with honey butter
- cranberry chutney
- gallons of gravy
- roasted veggie torta w/mushroom gravy (for my vegetarian friends)

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  1. You menu looks devine. Salad is served so often in my house, I don't include it in my Thanksgiving Dinner. I do eat lots of it, the whole weekend afterward though. ; )

    What is spatchcoked turkey? Thanks.

    19 Replies
    1. re: mcel215

      Spatchcocking is simply taking the backbone out of the bird and flattening it out. When cooked this way, it roasts quickly and evenly and you never have to worry about dried out breast meat or undercooked thigh meat. It's also so fast, you wouldn't believe it. My 16 lb. turkey roasted in exactly 2 hours. And you don't have to mess with all the other techniques for keeping the breast moist (trust me, I've tried them all) -- flipping the bird, icing the breast, brining, butter under the skin, etc.

      Here's a good recipe to follow for cooking instructions (regardless of whether you use the rest of the recipe):


      Note that my bird was at room temperature when it went into the oven.

      1. re: TorontoJo

        I sense a revolution in turkey roasting here. I'm intrigued and will spatchcocke this year!

        1. re: serious

          Ok, I went to my pretty sedate butcher shop, ordered my turkey today for Thanksgiving and asked them to cut out the bone as described in directions. Then I asked that it be flattened. Three of them laughed out loud. I didn't loose my confidence. Report after the holiday.

          1. re: serious

            Good luck! I salted and herbed my turkey for 2 days before Thanksgiving. Delish. Do report back!

            1. re: serious

              The probably laughed because you made the same request twice. Not very polite of them I'd say.

              I've been barbecuing and roasting flattened chickens for years. Swift, even cooking that also allows one to easily marinate an entire bird if you wish. The only time I leave it "as is" is when there's stuffing to be made.

              1. re: serious

                I 'spatchcocked'. The turkey was a good as any I've made although the carver had a few complaints. The ease in dealing with this flatter bird was appreciated. Carved it b4 bringing to the table and no one felt deprived of the pre carved 'show.' And there was room in the oven for other things.

                1. re: serious

                  Will you do it again? Or go back to roasting an intact turkey?

                  BTW, here's a recent "how to" on Martha Stewart on carving a spatchcocked turkey.


                  1. re: TorontoJo

                    I would do it again, easier to store b4 cooking and easier to handle during the roasting. (Ask the butcher for the removed bone to add to soup stock.)

                  2. re: serious

                    We carve our whole turkey but prying the breasts away from the bone and then slicing across the grain. I think you could easily do the same with a spatchcocked (doesn't that sound like an offensive act?) bird.

              2. re: mcel215

                mcel, just wanted to add to Toronto Jo's great explanation for you that you may have heard it referred to as, "butterflying", which is the informal term for spatchcocking. You may have seen it done with chickens, especially (though not only) for broiling.

                1. re: Normandie

                  good for cornish game hens on the barby.

                  1. re: alkapal

                    Oh, yes! (How soon will they be ready, alkapal????) ;-)

                    1. re: Normandie

                      pretty soon, my friend. what if i'm using a "mojito" type marinade? http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/gu...

                      you got a good wine pairing? ;-)).

                      1. re: alkapal

                        Oh, yum... I hope these babies held well, alkapal! I just found the post. :-(

                        Well....you know, I don't drink alcohol; I only cook with it. I'm perfectly willing to make an exception for some good grilled hens, but I may not be very good at pairing. So here goes nothing. I say some good Kentucky Bourbon instead of wine, straight up, to go with the mint. We can pretend it's Derby Day. I know it's probably not a good idea to mix the rum in the marinade with the Bourbon, but give me enough of it and you'll get to see me in my big crazy Derby Day hat.

                        1. re: Normandie

                          ok, scrap the rum component in the hens altogether. sub bourbon. maker's mark -- make my day!

                  2. re: Normandie

                    Thanks Norm, I have heard of butterflying.

                    1. re: mcel215

                      But isn't "spatchcock" so much more delightful?!

                2. definitely have a salad. you need something crunchy and uncooked.
                  i like your idea, because i love arugula. some people don't.

                  you could go retro, and do iceberg wedges with a nice creamy gorgonzola dressing, or roquefort.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: alkapal

                    Hmm... maybe some crisp apples instead of roasted pear to up the crunchiness factor?

                    1. re: alkapal

                      I wouldn't do a salad too much food. And Brussell Sprouts?? Bleh..Are you allergic to Green Beans?

                      1. re: Woof Woof Woof

                        As one of the guests at this particular Thanksgiving dinner, I would like to express my support for the brussels sprout. Carry on.

                        1. re: Wahooty

                          Ha, thanks, Wahooty! But do you want salad? ;)

                          1. re: TorontoJo

                            I was trying not to chime in since I'm just so happy someone is making me dinner! Let me put it this way - I am thrilled to be having a Thanksgiving dinner at all since I have to work that day, and I will gladly eat whatever is put in front of me. Your menu sounds absolutely fantastic, as does the hypothetical salad. I am one of those weirdos that does appreciate a little something light and fresh amongst all of the gluttony. I would, however, have to eat around the pears, due to my stupid fructose problems. So I think I kind of cancel myself out. :)

                    2. I wouldn't . Every other meal of the year family demands salad, but it isn't missed at this one. Only if it was the only green sidedish, if some giant catastrophe occured (like last minute blackout) and it was the ONLY option. But that's just my family.

                      1. Rather than a traditional salad, have a relish tray that includes celery, carrots, radish, sliced Asian pear and/or apple, or other crunchy produce suitable as finger-food (cherry/grape tomatoes too), and a creamy dressing/dip. You can have this out before the meal, along with drinks and nibbles (limit the latter so people don't fill up before dinner), then move it to the dining room table for anyone who wants something raw on their dinner plate.

                        Although your arugula salad would be good with a plainer entree and sides, if I DID serve a proper salad with a big feast like this, it would be a simple mixed green salad with a vinaigrette, so as not to add a whole other collection of distinctive flavors to the meal.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: greygarious

                          yes, i meant to mention the famous (and beloved) relish tray. that's the solution for necessary crunchiness and some pickle-y flavors to counteract all the rich, soft roasted vegetals and meat otherwise dominating the OP's menu. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/569828

                          1. re: greygarious

                            i agree about the relish tray. it's kinda retro and crunchy. i do buttered radishes with sea salt in addition to carrots, celery, pickled cauliflower and olives.

                            your salad sounds good on another menu, but you already have LOTS of sweet dishes on the table.

                            i'd add bacon to the brussels sprouts. :)

                              1. re: greygarious

                                Another vote for the relish tray. That was a tradition in my family--celery stuffed with cream cheese, green and black olives, and carrot sticks.

                                1. re: greygarious

                                  We do the relish tray,too. Do not serve a green salad, but do serve cabbage salad

                                  1. re: greygarious

                                    I'm casting my vote for a bountiful relish tray -- in addition to a dark green salad featuring red leaf, arugula and a little escarole, with a simple vinaigrette containing a bit of minced onion.

                                    I love gregarious's idea for the Asian pears in the relish tray. I'd stick 'em next to the cucumber spears.

                                  2. I always make a small salad, but I'm pretty much the only one who wants it -- then most of the other people usually end up eating it as well. I like a little bit of crunchy refreshing greens to wash down all that heavy food, but then again, I am the sort who prefers to use EVOO instead of butter, even on Thanksgiving. Except for the pie, of course!

                                    I just make a mesclun salad (easy) with a light mustard vinaigrette, and maybe throw in a handful of chopped pecans and some apple slices or a grated carrot.

                                    This is probably a dumb question but: can you stuff a spatchcocked bird? BTW LOVE that word! I want to spatchcock the turkey now just so I can say it!

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: visciole

                                      there's no "cavity" to stuff with a spatchcocked bird (think of "spread eagle" ha ha) -- but you can spread it out over your dressing to cook -- best of both worlds, 'cause you get the turkey drippings down into the dressing, but the turkey doesn't take so long to cook. using foil covered oven bricks to press down on the bird will roast it even faster, because of the direct contact with a hot brick surface vs. circulating oven air (less of a heat conducter).

                                      here's a look at a spatchcocked chicken: http://retorte.blogspot.com/2009/10/m...

                                      1. re: alkapal

                                        Thanks, that is very interesting! You know, I have to admit I'm pretty set in my Thanksgiving turkey cooking ways, but this looks seriously good, and I love the idea of the stuffing under the spatchcocked bird -- yum!

                                        SPATCHCOCK, SPATCHCOCKED, SPATCHCOCKING.

                                        That is such a spatchcockingly excellent word.

                                        1. re: visciole

                                          v -- next you'll be donning a "spatchcock u." sweatshirt. ***

                                          *** sounds vaguely naughty, huh?!

                                          1. re: visciole

                                            If you decide to try it, have your butcher take out the backbone (save it for stock, of course!). It's unwieldy to try and do it yourself.

                                            1. re: TorontoJo

                                              The family have nixed the spatchcock -- they want traditional. But I will spatchcock on my own soon! Probably best to try first on a chicken, anyway.

                                              And yes, I do want a "Spatchcock You" (not "U") sweatshirt!

                                              1. re: visciole

                                                i actually was thinking of doing that "spatchcock u." sweatshirt, and on the back, or as a logo on the front, a big ol' chicken waving a little flag.

                                        2. re: visciole

                                          Ha, I know -- it's a great word. What alkapal said is exactly right -- you can just lay the bird on top of the dressing. Fair warning about a spatchcocked turkey, though -- it's funny looking. One guest told me the turkey looked like it was about to have a OB/gyn exam. :) So if your family has the tradition of bringing the grand, roasted bird on a platter to the table to "oohs" and "ahhs" and carving at the table, this kinda kills it. But we always carve in the kitchen and place the slices on a platter, so it works great for us.

                                          Thanks for all the thoughts about the salad, everyone. I'm leaning towards "no" on the salad and putting together a raw tray of some sort.

                                          1. re: TorontoJo

                                            go with the "relish tray" -- if there are leftovers, it makes for easy mixing into salads the next day.

                                            the neat thing about the relish tray, most of the things are easy to put together -- often just opening a jar of pickles or olives, or washing some baby carrots or grape tomatoes, laying out some artichoke hearts and hearts of palm, or giardiniera. (ps, save the glass jars for storage of "leftovers" from the tray in the fridge).

                                            raw cauliflower, broccoli florets, fennel chunks or celery sticks, iirc, are really the only thing one has to "do." also -- for "pretty" get the whole radishes with the greens attached, and also the radicchio or red endive.

                                          2. re: visciole

                                            As for salad, I'd serve one last if at all. There's too much other stuff competing for plate and stomach space, and it seems unlikely people will want to have a salad as a separate first course. But after a heavy meal, something light and crisp might be just the thing to refresh the palate before subjecting it to dessert.

                                            As far as stuffing the bird, if I'm taking the Thanksgiving bird apart ahead of time, I like to use Julia Child's recipe for "laid back turkey." To prep, remove not only the backbone, but also the ribcage, pelvis, and thigh bones. It's easier than it sounds, and makes carving a snap. Plus, you get bones and trimmings for stock ahead of time.

                                            Once you've removed all the bones except the wings and the drumsticks, lay the bird skin-side down on a broiler pan and run it under the broiler until the flesh is nicely browned. Flip it over onto a big mound of stuffing and arrange it so that it's vaguely turkey-shaped again, then back into the oven at 350 until done.

                                            While I like the Norman Rockwellesque presentation of the whole bird, the laid-back version certainly saves oven time, and makes carving at the table a much more viable option.

                                          3. I vote yes, Jo, mostly because the salad you propose sounds lovely, simple and special according to the occasion. ;-)

                                            1. Every year I make a salad because I think someone will want it, and every year I wrap it up and store it for a few days in the fridge and toss it.

                                              If I make any salad this year it will be a fruit sald like my mom would make, perhaps not her traditional Waldorf, but something similar. Refreshing and a palate cleanser.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: chef chicklet

                                                Good point - if you go with a bowl of salad, it will likely go to waste if you dress the whole bowl, unless you get inventive and add it to soup or a side dish. If you keep the dressing on the side, at least you can keep the leftover salad longer.

                                                1. re: greygarious

                                                  So sorry I should of been more clear. I do make an undressed salad, and every year the undressed salad and the handmade salad dressing both lounge in the frigde for about a week and then I toss them out. I usually have so much food left over that the salad is the first to let go.

                                                  I vow to not cook so dang much food this year.

                                                2. re: chef chicklet

                                                  The Naked Salad by Shuna Lydon aka eggbeater is definitely my Thanksgiving fave. It's a beautiful salad of persimmon and pomegranate:

                                                3. My family demands the same usual and familiar Tgiving menu every year and whine/complain if I leave out any element. Quite a few years ago when I began our tradition, we started in the living room with cocktails and a few well chosen appetizers. The next course, served in the dining room, is a mixed green salad with radicchio, toasted pecans, blue cheese and roasted apples dressed with a raspberry vinaigrette. I have often wanted to cut out this course, because we follow with turkey and roasted fish, 5-6 side dishes, rolls and then a choice of 3 desserts. Everyone in my house vetoed cutting out the salad, they like the lightness of the course and the vinaigrette. If you want the dressing recipe, let me know.

                                                  6 Replies
                                                  1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                                    I, for one, would love to have the salad AND vinaigrette recipe. TIA.

                                                    1. re: walker

                                                      For 10 people:

                                                      2 oz good blue cheese crumbled
                                                      1 cup whole pecans, toasted in oven for 5-7 min @ 375
                                                      assorted mixed lettuce (6-8 cups)
                                                      1 small head radicchio, cored and chopped up
                                                      3 Granny Smith apples, pared, sliced and roasted for 10 min @ 375 w/ a little oil or butter

                                                      Raspberry Vinaigrette
                                                      1 c. raspberry vinegar
                                                      2 c. extra virgin olive oil
                                                      1/4 cup pure maple syrup
                                                      3 tbsp. Dijon mustard
                                                      1 tbsp. whole grain mustard
                                                      1 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
                                                      1 tsp. salt
                                                      1/2 tsp. freshly cracked pepper

                                                      This makes a lot of dressing which keeps for a long time in the fridge. Shake well before using.

                                                      1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                                        Thank you, sounds great. Although, 4 T of mustard sounds like a lot to me.

                                                        1. re: walker

                                                          We like it spicy. My suggestion is cut mustard in half, taste and adjust. You can always add more. Bon appetit!

                                                        2. re: Diane in Bexley

                                                          you know a neat presentation would be to lay the uncut radicchio leaves in a sunburst design on the mixed greens, then do a composed salad type of application of the toppings on each leaf of radicchio.

                                                          i think the mustard looks about right. after all, this serves 10 -- using a cup of vinegar and 2 cups of oil.

                                                          1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                                            Last week I made your salad, minus the apples -- I just made some slices of fresh (uncooked) red pear, instead. I made the dressing as you wrote it, was not too much mustard but maybe I prefer the amt of olive oil increased next time. I let the store suggest a mild blue cheese -- they rec one from Wisconsin. (I was going to toss in a few dried cranberries and then forgot.)

                                                            I think it's a really good idea to serve this salad as a first course -- that's what I'll do for the next big dinner.

                                                            Thanks a lot for the recipe.

                                                      2. The salad sounds nice and it will go great with the torta for your vegetarian friends.... another option...

                                                        1. For many years I have served a small salad after the soup course. I make the salads on individual plates in the kitechn and serve as a seperate course. Pears sliced on top of lightly dressed arugala topped with walnuts and with blue cheese passed seperately (we have vegans in the family) has been very popular. This year it will be roasted beet and orange slices I think. Everyone seems to like the salad and I enjoy making it. I must stress the salad is very small but I try hard to make it look very pretty. When I have served a salad along with the main and sides - never gets eaten.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: Fiona

                                                            Your salads sound delicious, too. What kind of dressing do you make?

                                                            1. re: walker

                                                              I used olive oil very lightly and then a dribble of very good balsamic. I keep the dressing very simple and light because of the big dinner to come.

                                                            2. re: Fiona

                                                              oh, fiona, that reminds me of a beet and blood orange (?) salad someone mentioned a while back here on chowhound. i seem to recall it had red onions and a sherry vinaigrette, too.

                                                              (or was it done with fennel? hmmm, well, it'd be good either way....). http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/576330

                                                              1. re: alkapal

                                                                Our traditional salad for Thanksgiving is sliced cucumbers and red onions salted and marinated in sour cream for at least a few hours. Wonderfully tart and tangy and rich all at the same time. Refreshing.

                                                            3. I wouldn't bother. There is so much other food, and no shortage of veggies. It will just go uneaten.

                                                              1. can you tell me how you do your balsamic glazed roasted onions? Thanks.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: KellBell

                                                                  Here's the recipe for the onions. They aren't pretty, but they are delicious! Note that I roast the onions at 400 instead of 500. I tried once at 500 and ended up with blackened onions.


                                                                2. Normally I'd say it would be a waste to serve salad during one of those few occasions where you get to eat like a child. However, the interplay between your chosen salad ingredients and the rest of the menu should make it worthwhile. Perhaps a small salad to act as palate opener.

                                                                  1. We do soup instead of salad at Thanksgiving. I make a curry pumpkin soup that simmers all day and people can just help themselves and sip while waiting to sit down to dinner. I also make little toasts spread with a roquefort mixture and topped with a thin slice of pear to nibble with the soup.

                                                                    Seems more seasonal to me than salad. Especially at a meal where we have so many vegetable side dishes as I see you are also planning.

                                                                    1. Just to report back, I did end up making a salad of arugula, fennel and granny smith apples. I have no idea whether people enjoyed it or not, but it was gone by the end of the evening, so I guess no one objected to having it!