As I’ve said before, Thanksgiving is a lot; you’re entertaining family and friends, watching football, possibly decorating for the holidays and of course cooking up the main event: the turkey. But how do you deliver a delicious meal for your guests and ensure everything is hot? The key is to learn what to make ahead, and how to reheat and preserve the food so it’s as good as if it were fresh.
You saw a few weeks ago a video where I made my Thanksgiving soup ahead. Minus the dairy, we froze the soup. A few days before Thanksgiving, I’ll move the containers to the fridge to allow them to thaw. On Thanksgiving, all I need to do is heat the soup on the stove, add the cream, serve, garnish and enjoy! Simple enough. But what about other things that need to be hot – all at the same time as you’re carving the turkey and getting everything on the table? Enter make ahead wonders. Here’s a few things I like to make ahead:
Mashed Potatoes – what? Mashed potatoes made ahead? Yes, absolutely yes. There are two tricks:
- You need to add more moisture (queue the cream and butter), and
- Prepare the mashed potatoes like a casserole – especially if you’re cooking for a crowd like I am for Friendsgiving on Sunday!
I boil the potatoes in 1″ cubes as normal. I normally leave them unpeeled, but I think there is something traditional about peeled potatoes for Thanksgiving. When the potatoes are fork tender, I strain them and cover the strainer for 10 minutes with a kitchen towel. This lets them steam and become extra tender (and easier to mash). PRO TIP: save some of that potato water; I often throw some potato water in my gravy and let the natural starch help thicken the gravy. When the potatoes have steamed, transfer them back to the pot. From there, I add cream, white pepper, salt, cream cheese (this is my secret to delicious mashed potatoes), and of course butter. You want the mixture to be slightly more loose than normal since it will tighten back up when you reheat. Taste for seasoning and transfer to a buttered baking dish. Allow the potatoes to cool. When cooled, place tablespoons of butter (I do about 1 tbsp about every 3-4″). Cover the potatoes with foil and refrigerate. Two hours before serving, take the potatoes out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature. When you take the bird out of the oven to rest, put the potatoes in at 350F for 45-60 minutes until they are hot and bubbly. If you want a browned top, remove the foil for the last 20 minutes. And there you go – mashed potatoes ahead.
Dressing (or Stuffing) – let’s be honest, what is stuffing (if in the bird, dressing if not) other than soggy bread? Right, it’s delicious soggy bread. Since it’s going to get soggy anyway, I prepare my stuffing up to 1 day in advance. Just follow your recipe and keep the prepared stuffing in the fridge covered. Again, allow to come to room temperature before stuffing the bird or cooking, and cook as normal. You may want to add slightly less moisture when you prepare ahead (no one wants baby food), and then add the last bit of butter, stock or whatever just before preparing.
Gravy – If you’re leery about pre-making your gravy, I’m with you; I will admit, I’m on the fence about this one myself. While it can be stressful to pull the meal together in the time the turkey rests, if I’m not cooking for a big crowd I generally just make the gravy then and don’t bother pre-making. That said, especially if you’re cooking for a crowd and you need like, a gallon of gravy, it can save you time to get everything else on the table. If you pre-make the gravy, I recommend making a roast chicken a few nights before so you can use the drippings from that. Otherwise, you can use the strategy I’m going to use for Friendsgiving, which is to make about half my gravy ahead (with no drippings), then make the other half while the turkey rests (with drippings), and just mix them together. To pre-make your gravy, use whatever recipe you normally do. Thicken as normal, cool and refrigerate. Same story – bring to room temperature, reheat slowly on the stove. Delish!
Casseroles – the only difference with casseroles versus potatoes or stuffing is casseroles by nature tend to be more moist. That being true, you can actually pre-make your casseroles like sweet potato and green bean even earlier – I would say 2-3 days ahead. Talk about getting ahead!
In addition to the above, I think pre-making salads (minus the dressing) and storing them in the fridge in zip top bags can help save time on the big day. I also always pre-make my dessert, since they normally need to cool/set anyway.
And there you have it! If you follow the above, by Thanksgiving day you will have already made your soup, potatoes, casseroles, stuffing, gravy, and dessert. That doesn’t leave much to do on the big day other than enjoy your day, make the bird and pull everything together. That’s what I call stress-free Thanksgiving!