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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):

      http://projects.washingtonpost.com/re...

      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.

                  http://www.marthastewart.com/how-to/h...

                  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.