Anyone who knows American sitcoms knows Thanksgiving Dinner – a time when family and friends get together for a big meal with a well-brined, stuffed roast turkey as the centerpiece in late November.
However, celebrating “Thanksgiving” as fall gives way to winter is not unique to North America. Recently, Japan, China, and the Republic of Korea celebrated their versions that respect ancestors, harvest, and ancient legends.
The Gulf News food team decided to dig in and find out where the American Thanksgiving turkey tradition came from, and ultimately took on the role of the forerunner of the family Christmas celebration.
The very first turkey
Initially, a Thanksgiving meal did not include turkey at all.
It is an annual national holiday in the United States and Canada, celebrating the harvest and other blessings of the past year. The tradition apparently dates back to the Pilgrims or the first English settlers, who helped establish the colony of Plymouth in Massachusetts in the 17th century. Native Americans came to teach struggling settlers how to survive in the “new world,” as they called it. This quickly resulted in a three-day rally where everyone gathered to celebrate with a feast. However, the peace did not last very long.
For meat, the people of Wampanoag brought deer, while the pilgrims brought in “poultry”, which could easily have been turkeys, native to the area. However, historians believe it could also be ducks or geese. According to History.com, “… while there is no record of the exact rate, columnist Pilgrim Edward Winslow noted in his diary that the governor of the colony, William Bradford, sent four men on a mission” to hunt ‘in view of the three day event.
Besides poultry and game, the feast included shellfish such as lobster, clams and mussels, nuts, corn, fruits and other vegetables.
Over the years, roast turkey has become a popular dish, much loved by Americans, especially since a single bird is the size of a serving for an entire family. Additionally, the turkeys were made with a traditional stuffing that included bread, butter, onion, celery, chicken broth, eggs, and spices like salt and pepper. It didn’t stop there.
If you’ve ever read Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel, “A Christmas Carol,” you know the novelist and playwright played a major role in the turkey becoming a regular at the holiday season. This played a central role in transforming Ebenezer Scrooge’s character into a more cheerful person, rather than the cranky miser he usually was. Plus, readers thought, well, why not try the turkey on Christmas.
However, it wasn’t until 1864 that US President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday, after American writer and activist Sarah Josepha Hale campaigned for a “national day of thanksgiving” for 40 years. Although she is known for many literary works, Hale was the woman behind the popular nursery rhyme “Mary had a little lamb”.
This is the story of the bird on the table at Thanksgiving and later at Christmas….
Toppings are more than sides
While the turkey is undoubtedly the center of attention at a table, the side dishes spread out on a Thanksgiving table are just as important. It is said that eating a turkey alone can make you drowsy, which is why sides or toppings were introduced as sides to go with it. Because of the tryptophan (an amino acid) content in turkey, opting for a high-carb side with dessert might help prevent that feeling of fatigue after Thanksgiving.
Like turkey, adornments have evolved over time to include bread, potatoes, pumpkin pie, stews, soup and candied yams, as well as cranberry sauce.
So how would you organize a Thanksgiving table in true UAE tradition? We had the help of Factory Outlet Chef Giovanni Lapid of Basilico Restaurant at The Cove Rotana Resort in Ras Al Khaimah, to create an Italian-influenced version for you, dear reader.
Why? Because the UAE is a mixture of cultures, nationalities and traditions, especially when it comes to food.
1. Il Tacchino or Slow Cooked Turkey Breast Roll with Sausage Stuffing
- 500 g turkey breast, with the skin on
- 250 g chicken thighs, skinless
- 250 g butter
- 200 g cooking cream
- 250 ml white bread, crust trimmed
- 10 pieces of dried apricots, finely chopped
- 5 pieces of chicken sausage, finely chopped
- Salt to taste
- ½ teaspoon white pepper powder
1. To make the stuffing, mix the ingredients with the seasoning. Place the turkey breast on a flat surface covered with cling film. Soak the bread in the cream, crush it and add it to the stuffing.
2. Pour the stuffing on the breast side. Gently roll the turkey breast using cling film. Secure the roll with butcher’s twine by tying it around the roll. To make the roll firm, wrap it again with cling film.
3. If the roll becomes too long, cut it into small rolls.
4. Place each roll in a vacuum bag and seal it tightly. To cook the turkey breasts, set up a vacuum circulator at 65 ° C. Immerse the turkey breast in the water and cook for 4 hours.
Note: Alternatively, if you don’t have a vacuum circulator, wrap the turkey rolls in foil after wrapping them in cling film. Arrange the turkey rolls on a platter and cover with foil. Preheat the oven to 170 ° C in “steam roasting” mode. If you do not have this cooking method, add water to the same container and cover with aluminum foil. Cook the turkey rolls for at least 25 to 30 minutes. Using a probe thermometer, check the core temperature and it should read 75 ° C and above.
5. To prepare the dish, remove the turkey breasts from the vacuum bags and pat dry. Remove the cling film. In a hot pan with olive oil, sear the skin side of the roll until golden brown. Remove the butcher’s twine before cutting the turkey roll.
2. Zucca or Spicy Pumpkin Velouté
- 1000g butternut squash, peeled and cubed (300g reserved for garnish)
- 3 pieces of garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 250 g white leeks, washed and chopped
- 5 pieces of carrots, peeled and chopped
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 6 pieces of star anise
- 9 cloves
- 4 bay leaves
- Salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- Cold butter, diced
- 1 cup of cream
- Mascarpone cheese, drained overnight
- Pumpkin seeds, toasted
- 3 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced
- The water
- White sugar
- Focaccia bread, thinly sliced and baked at 180 ° C for 8 minutes
1. On a hot pan, brown all the vegetables. Simmer the vegetables until tender with the dry spices and herbs tied in a sheer cloth.
2. When tender, remove and discard the herbs and spices. Pour into a mixing bowl and mix until smooth. Season it with salt and sugar and smooth it with cold butter and cream, mixing it hot.
3. When ready to serve, dilute the pumpkin soup with vegetable broth and finish with salt and sugar if necessary.
4. To crystallize the ginger, place the ginger in a saucepan with 2 parts water and 1 part white sugar. Let it boil until the ginger is translucent. Once the syrup has reduced, remove from the heat and place on a flat tray lined with waxed paper and store in a dehydrator.
Note: As a replacement for a dehydrator, the same oven can be used. Reduce the temperature to at least 40C to 60C, keep the ginger pieces inside for at least 2 to 4 hours or until the syrup is dry. It does not have to dry out completely so that the sugar can stick to the pieces of ginger.
5. After the sugar syrup has dried, gather the ginger and mix it with granulated sugar until the ginger becomes crumbly. Store in an airtight container away from moisture and heat.
6. For pumpkin seed dust, use high speed mixer; blend the toasted pumpkin seeds in a blender after they have cooled. Then sift the dust and set aside.
7. For the crostini, line a baking sheet with waxed paper, top and bottom. Place another flat platter on the focaccia with waxed paper. Bake at 180 ° C for 8 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.
3. Il Fico or Braised Figs in Prune Syrup and Raspberry Sorbet
- 6 pieces of fresh figs, tips trimmed
- 750 ml apple juice
- 100 g of white sugar
- 6 pieces of cloves
- 12 pieces of dried prunes
- 15 g ground cinnamon
- 24 pieces of dried prunes
- 1 liter of apple juice
- 6 pieces of cloves
- 200 g of white sugar
- 30 g of dried Roselle or Hibiscus petals
- Small basil leaves
- Mint leaves
- Raspberry sorbet
1. Cut the figs three-quarters down to the base. Place them in a saucepan covered with apple juice. Add the figs between the cloves, cinnamon powder and sugar. Cook over low heat until the figs are tender but not soft. Once cooked, carefully remove liquid and set aside.
2. To prepare the dish, heat the braised figs with the prune syrup. Arrange three figs in a shallow bowl and pour the prune syrup over the figs. Garnish the figs with meringues, basil leaves and mint leaves.
3. For the prune syrup, cook the prunes in a saucepan with the apple juice and the rest of the ingredients until the liquid has reduced. Once reduced, remove all the ingredients and let reduce to a syrup that coats the back of a spoon.
As for the pies, here is the editor’s recipe for making a traditionally hot, spicy and sweet homemade apple pie.
Do you know of any other holiday recipes? Tell us about them at [email protected]