From brown butter to small-batch ciders to versatile cauliflower, a trendologist gives the scoop on the hottest holiday trends to grace the Thanksgiving table this year.
Spatchcocked or splayed turkey
Behold two similar methods that not only cook a turkey at record speed but also increase the meat’s juiciness. The first, spatchcocking, requires cutting and removing the poultry’s backbone before pressing the meat down to create an even layer. There’s also the slightly less involved (and beginner- friendly) splaying technique, which involves slicing through the skin connecting the turkey legs on both sides, popping out the thighs, and then pressing the entire turkey down. Both spatchcocking and splaying provide the same effect — creating an environment that lets the dark meat cook slightly faster than the white meat, and reduces the chance that the white meat will overcook.
The exploration of vegetables continues apace. Nielson says that, like last year, beets, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower continue to fascinate. Food blogger Krysten Dornik notes that dishes made popular thanks to certain diets or food allergies — zoodles (zucchini noodles), mashed cauliflower, and nut meal pie crusts — have become mainstream. “People with food allergies will make them because of the obvious reasons, but everyone else will make them too because they are ‘healthy’ and trendy,” she says. “Everyone wants to be healthy year-round, even during the holidays, so making mashed cauliflower instead of potatoes eliminates the unwanted carbs that everyone seems to be avoiding more than ever.”
Brown flavor boosters
Brown is in this Thanksgiving, courtesy of seasonal flavor enhancers such as maple syrup, bourbon, caramel, and brown butter. Trendologist Kara Nielson, who tracks food buzz through various data sources, says the ingredients add a deep, rich flavor to many dishes. Ways she would incorporate them into the meal include adding brown butter into a pastry crust, swirling maple syrup over roasted carrots, or pouring splashes of bourbon into cornbread stuffing.
Apple roses and the Pinterest treatment
Nielson says there is a rise is the “Pinterest effect,” which encourages cooks to take plating to the next decorative level. “This is the high holidays for entertaining and making things look fantastic. While you can’t do this for every dish, maybe pick one or two to be stunners,” she says. Examples include decorating a pie crust with cutouts or the very Pinterest-popular apple “roses.”
Nielson notes the popularity of Israeli-born British restaurateur and cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi has infused Middle Eastern flavors into recipes, especially vegetables. There’s also a heightened excitement over Asian ingredients like miso paste, fish sauce, and soy sauce — think miso glaze brushed onto a turkey, for an Asian spin on Thanksgiving. The executive chef of Dos Caminos, Ivy Stark, recommends embracing nontraditional sides: “For instance, doing a Mediterranean-style dinner, with healthy and delicious mezes like spice-grilled eggplant and cumin-roasted carrots, or doing a Latin-style dinner with roasted corn and green chiles, or sweet potato and black bean salad will be popular as well as vegetable mash-ups, celery root and apple puree, potato and carrot, sweet potato and pear.”
Regional hard cider
While pumpkin beers are still as popular as ever, Nielson says specifically that artisan regional ciders beyond the big brand names (such as Angry Orchard) will be on trend for the holiday. Not only are ciders seasonal and gluten-free, but she says the 750-milliliter bottles look great on the Thanksgiving table. But don’t just use them to drink; she advises adding a drizzle to roasted root vegetables like carrots or parsnips, boiling it down for a glaze to brush over a dessert, or even stirring into pancake batter for the next day’s breakfast. “Beer and cider with a cheese plate are also a fantastic pairing for general holiday entertaining,” says Nielson, principal of Kara Nielson Food Trends.
Don’t worry about wine pairings with the meal. Instead, Nielson says cocktails will have a home on the Thanksgiving table with store-bought or homemade cocktail syrups or shrubs as the base. She also notes that a homemade drink kit with shrubs could be the hostess gift of the year.
Thanksgiving takeout or meal kits
Executive Chef Duane Owen at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif., has had phenomenal success with a Thanksgiving to-go option which has spread via word-of-mouth since starting three years ago. “People say they love our Thanksgiving to-go because it allows them more time with family and friends during the holidays,” Owen says. “There is absolutely no cooking or cleaning, so the hours you would normally spend doing that, you’re now spending with your loved ones. Really, that’s the whole point of holidays.” Nielson also points to an increase in meal kits, like the Thanksgiving ones offered by the New York Times. Not only do they take some of the stress out of holiday cooking, but they also allow you to skip a trip to the packed grocery store.