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Talking Turkey (And Pie) In 'Thanksgiving'

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Talking Turkey (And Pie) In 'Thanksgiving'

Author Interviews

Talking Turkey (And Pie) In 'Thanksgiving'

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Pick up a newspaper, go online right now, a few days before Thanksgiving, and here's what you can find: recipes for deconstructed pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes with blue cheese, instructions on steaming your turkey in addition to roasting it, advice on how have the fanciest, fussiest, most over the top Thanksgiving ever.

Sam Sifton of The New York Times has some advice of his own: calm down. He is the author of a new book, "Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well." Sam Sifton thinks nothing is better than a straightforward traditional Thanksgiving meal.


SAM SIFTON: Glad to be here.

WERTHEIMER: So one of the major themes of your book is forget innovation, be conservative, the old ways are the best. Does that mean no swordfish for Thanksgiving?

SIFTON: There should be no swordfish at Thanksgiving. There should be no beef tenderloin at Thanksgiving. Ham is an abomination at Thanksgiving. There should be a turkey. Turkey is why you are here.


WERTHEIMER: Now, your suggestions, you begin with the basics. The one I liked was gather up enough pots. And it may be necessary to borrow from friends and family. And then stock up on the basics, especially butter.

SIFTON: Butter is an incredibly important part of Thanksgiving. I like that moment during my gambol through the supermarket in advance of Thanksgiving, when I load in the two pounds of butter and then think, well, maybe I'll take a third pound of butter. You never know when you can put it into something. You can add it to your dressing at the last minute because it seems somehow wan. You should have a lot of butter.


WERTHEIMER: Chapter Two of the book is "The Turkey." Now, you offer a basic simple roast turkey and talk us through that. And then you offer an even more simple roast turkey. There's a format at work here in the way you've written this book.

SIFTON: Yes, I'm trying to underscore the argument that I make at the beginning, that this is a stressful holiday and there is no real reason to make the cooking more stressful than that. Remember that Thanksgiving in America is set against the memory of that Norman Rockwell painting, "Freedom from Want." And no matter whether we're new Americans are lifelong Americans, we somehow on a cellular level think back to that image of that burnished bird. And I want to make the argument that achieving that bird is enough.

WERTHEIMER: But the idea is that you could start simple and then perhaps after you gain more experience escalate?

SIFTON: Yes, you could even end up frying a turkey.


WERTHEIMER: Not me, man. I think someone would be killed if I tried to fry a turkey.

SIFTON: Well, if you YouTube frying a turkey and disaster, you will find just an enormous number of terrifying and, at the same time, hilarious videos. But if you follow my simple instructions and don't drink to excess, and wear shoes, you can end up with a really delicious bird frying.

You have this oil that is bubbling along - at 350, 360 degrees - and you lower into it a turkey the size of an infant. And it cooks it at this ridiculous rate of like three and a half minutes a pound. You're done...


SIFTON: that.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I like your sides chapter, 'cause that's my favorite part of Thanksgiving. But I must say that I especially like the chapter on dessert. Now, you have a hard and fast rule for dessert.

SIFTON: Yeah, there must be pie. A lot of people feel, having been traditional about the turkey, having been traditional about the sides, they feel that dessert is the time to go hog wild and create some kind of parfait, some chocolate extravaganza, and I'm not sure that that's the right way to go. Remember that every family will bring to the Thanksgiving table something of its own cultural past and something of its own cultural present, because your parents happen to be Armenian or your parents are Guyanese - and that's going to be reflected in the meal that you cook.

But having that apple pie, American as apple pie, on this most American of holidays, it's just terrific. And, I declare, a must.

WERTHEIMER: "Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well" - it's a primer on maybe the best meal of the year cooked by you. Sam Sifton, thank you very much.

SIFTON: Thank you for having me.

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