Timing Your Thanksgiving Side Dishes

by Jane Wangersky | November 21st, 2014 | Cooking Basics

Thanksgiving dinner (400x400)As Thanksgiving gets near, there’s a lot of cooking advice being sought and given out, most of it about turkey – understandably. But let’s not forget the side dishes that are some people’s favorite parts of Thanksgiving dinner, and that are too easy to overlook in the quest for the perfect turkey.

Of course, the dinner does revolve around the turkey, so timing for the side dishes and everything else will have to be based on its schedule. The first thing to do is figure out when you want dinner, then count back to when you’ll have to start the turkey, remembering to add 20 minutes at the end for it to rest before carving. (Don’t worry, it won’t get cold. When we’re done with dinner, what’s left of our turkey is usually still steaming.)

Word to the wise: Eat Thanksgiving dinner at your usual dinner hour. It’s hard to calculate for 5:00 or 8:00 when your mind is used to 6:30, and you’ll get hopelessly mixed up on at least one dish. Also, whatever you can possibly make the day before – cranberry relish, homemade pie – do it then! If you do end up baking a pie on the big day, put it in the oven with the turkey at the beginning of its cooking time, so it’s cooled down enough to eat at dinner.

So say you’re going to sit down at 6:30 for dinner. At 6:10 the turkey will come out of the oven. If you’re serving plain baked potatoes or sweet potatoes, they can come out at the same time – they’ll also retain heat. If you’re doing something like partially cooking the sweet potatoes, then cutting them open for topping, plan on the process taking an hour before dinner, because they’ll get cold quickly once so much of their surface is exposed to the air.

If you’re having mashed potatoes, start peeling and cutting up about half an hour before you take the turkey out. They should be ready to mash while the turkey’s resting. To keep them hot, mash while they’re still in the pot and cover until serving time.

You’ll probably want gravy to go with the mashed potatoes. This can also be made while the turkey is resting, but it’ll be better if you start a couple of hours in advance by putting the turkey neck on to simmer in a pot of water. The broth, plus some drippings from the turkey pan and a little blending flour, makes an easy base for homemade gravy. If you’re getting out the gravy boat for the occasion, warm it up just before dinner by filling it with hot water, then pour out, of course, before you put in the gravy.

Green vegetables can be steamed while the turkey is resting. Vegetables like carrots and squash taste better roasted along with the turkey like the sweet potatoes – give them 45 minutes to an hour, and keep them warm by leaving them in the turned-off oven.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

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