A bird in the Tuthahn
November 16, 2009 12:19 PM   Subscribe

What are some good alternatives to turkey for a thanksgiving main dish?

My parents are coming up for my first hosted thanksgiving and I am looking for options of dishes to make instead of a turkey. I'm not a vegetarian, I just don't really like turkey enough to buy a giant bird and be forced to plow through the leftovers resulting. My ideal dish would be:

- Large and impressive
- Not super complicated
- Delicious
- Somewhat hearth-y and home-y
- Not super-big on fowl

Possibilities I've been banding around:

- Fresh ham, brined and glazed
- Crown roast of pork
- Beef wellington
- Sausage stuffed lamb belly

Has anyone had any success with an impressive non-turkey centerpiece? Or should I just give in and order one? Can I have thanksgiving without a big ole bird?
posted by CharlesV42 to Food & Drink (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you can find a spiral-cut ham, that's an appealing alternative and really easy for thanksgiving. Maybe roast a small turkey, and serve a ham on the side?
posted by jenkinsEar at 12:22 PM on November 16, 2009

I should add that I love to cook, so I'd rather do something along the lines of getting a fresh ham and do the brining and glazing myself.

It's only four people (parents, girlfriend and me), so two dishes may be a bit overkill. :)
posted by CharlesV42 at 12:25 PM on November 16, 2009

You said you're not big on fowl, but Cornish game hens meet your other requirements, if you make one per person.
posted by amro at 12:28 PM on November 16, 2009

Steak au poivre is delicious and fun to make (you get to smash peppercorns with a hammer, AND deglaze a pan!)
posted by oinopaponton at 12:31 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I did beef wellington on Thanksgiving a few years ago. It was delicious and had enough wow factor to work for a holiday meal. It was also much easier than I expected and practical because I could do so much of it in advance and then just bake it last minute.
posted by mostlymartha at 12:31 PM on November 16, 2009

My first thought, leaving aside poultry, would be a lovely pork roast. Otherwise, game hens or a beautiful roast chicken (both of which I've done for small Thanksgivings in lieu of turkey).
posted by scody at 12:31 PM on November 16, 2009

Another vote for pork. Most of my family are Germanic and i like to grill, so, although not real traditional, a heap of ribs and bratwurst goes over real well
posted by Redhush at 12:38 PM on November 16, 2009

Prime rib!
posted by Mjolnir at 12:43 PM on November 16, 2009

Ham is the way to go. Attach some pineapple rings and cherries with toothpicks and you'll have a nice homey old-fashioned looking presentation worthy of June Cleaver.
posted by The Deej at 12:44 PM on November 16, 2009

Baked ham is decidedly the traditional turkey "alternative" for holiday dinners, but I am throwing my lot in with the people calling for pork. A crown roast of pork would be most impressive and a fun cooking experience, since it's the sort of thing most people never do.

My wife is trying to get me to do a roast leg of lamb for Thanksgiving, which is another thing you might consider.
posted by briank at 12:49 PM on November 16, 2009

Go with a salt-crusted prime rib. It is delicious and impressive! Some anti-turkey friends did this for Thanksgiving one year and it was wonderful.
posted by onhazier at 12:53 PM on November 16, 2009

French Canadian meat pie (tourtiere) is quite tasty and a common holiday meal (in some places).
posted by miss tea at 12:57 PM on November 16, 2009

Duck may be a good choice, because ducks are definitely smaller -- and you'd have plenty of duck fat left over to use in other recipes. Which is in and of itself the only reason some people make roast duck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:58 PM on November 16, 2009

If you want to go the lamb route, maybe a small stuffed boneless leg would do? We're trying something different/other than turkey this year, because my wife has gotten to the point that she can't stand turkey and has a small issue with nitrates (so no ham).
posted by Gingercat at 1:05 PM on November 16, 2009

I second pork, though if it were me I might do a stuffed loin or boneless roast. You can butterfly them dead easy and fill with a seasonal appropriate stuffing, then rub on a paste of garlic, salt and rosemary.
posted by Diablevert at 1:18 PM on November 16, 2009


Impressive. Delicious. Infinitely adaptable for your own tastes.

Though, a nice roast is a nice roast.
posted by Seamus at 1:40 PM on November 16, 2009


I know it sounds super-cheezy and gimmicky, but I swear it's one of the best things you'll ever taste! It's not just the birds...it's layered with different kinds of stuffing and everything together is all warm and wonderful...I'm getting hungery just thinking of it!

Also, it's reallyreallyreally easy to make. You buy frozen and then stick it in the oven for a couple hours.

You might be able to get it at a specialty grocery store or even your local grocery, or you can order online.
posted by radioamy at 1:46 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Bone a Chicken
This is a great tutorial on boning a chicken Italian style (the joke possibilities are endless)
Stuff the meat sleeve with a sausage stuffing (bulk sausage, salami or mortadella cubes, cheese chunks, nuts, fruit, olives)
Then roast until done.
Make a gravy from the drippings.
Serve over something pureed or mashed.

The sausage stuffing overshadows the little poultry flesh, especially in the ass end of the bird.

The Turducken link made me think of this, but this is the best way to bone a bird.
posted by Seamus at 1:53 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was going to come on and recommend the Turducken, and you can buy one here, and they have a four pound roll for small groups... but there are also a few recipies online, I saw it first on Food network.

I know you said that you weren't big on fowl, so my second offering is a good pork roast. My family loved it.
posted by patheral at 2:50 PM on November 16, 2009

Dad didn't like poultry in general, so we rarely had turkey/chicken/goose/duck for T'giving. Mum usually did a beef roast, although she sometimes did a pork roast -- all depended on what looked good at the market on Monday. For larger gatherings, the extended family usually had a turkey and a spiral ham.

The advantage to pork (either a roast or a ham) over beef is that the "traditional" turkey sides work well with pork. Roast beef doesn't work all that well with apple-cranberry stuffing or apple sauce or homemade cranberry sauce.
posted by jlkr at 2:57 PM on November 16, 2009

You can make impressive little personal Beef Wellingtons from Tenderloin.
I really like that idea too. Presentation would be plate by plate and not family style, but definitely looks good.
posted by Seamus at 3:00 PM on November 16, 2009

Beef wellington, yes, absolutely. But it's the sort of thing you should practice beforehand.

Instead of a pork crown roast, go with lamb. Much meatier and earthier and yummier and come here little sheep I want to eat youuuu..

posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:01 PM on November 16, 2009

Salmon en croute? Big chunk of salmon, pastry decorated to look like a fish.
posted by emilyw at 3:08 PM on November 16, 2009

A story: My grandmother does not eat poultry in any shape or form. One autumn my aunt's new husband mentioned to my grandmother that he was looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner at her house and joked that he was going to eat BOTH turkey drumsticks.

And so on Thanksgiving day, she pulled a standing rib of beef out of the oven with two turkey legs sewed to it. While everyone else ate lovely prime rib, he got stuck with the turkey.

That said, I'm surprised no one has suggested a goose.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:17 PM on November 16, 2009

Anything tasty and festive would work out just fine.

If you wanted to go fowl but just not with turkey, you could do something with a chicken, duck, goose (a bit of work though and not to everyone's taste) or Cornish hens. There is a recipe in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (Volume One) called 'Casserole Roasted Chicken' (pp. 249-251) that is just dandy with either a chicken or Cornish hens. I may do it this year with hens for my little Thanksgiving dinner party.
posted by SuzB at 3:39 PM on November 16, 2009

The "big chunk of salmon" would be my first alternate but the crown roast/prime rib is a close second.

Actually, a pork loin roast is up there, too.
posted by bz at 3:49 PM on November 16, 2009

Sounds like Ham is going to be the way to go. Ended up ordering one from the new butcher today... Going to try this recipe from St├ęphane Reynaud's Pork & Sons. SHOULD BE GOOD.
posted by CharlesV42 at 4:23 PM on November 16, 2009

Beef wellington, yes, absolutely. But it's the sort of thing you should practice beforehand.

I made individual beef wellingtons a few weeks ago for my mother in law. From scratch. Specifically because they kept fucking them up on Hell's Kitchen. They were actually really straightforward, despite the prep process being pretty long.

So my vote would be for wellington(s). But the OP already ordered a ham.
posted by Netzapper at 7:43 PM on November 16, 2009

Heh. That is totally an awesome reason to make them! Tell me, did you make them better than a dozen c-list actors and a couple of chefs? ;) I only said practice b/c I've found with Wellington that timing can be an issue.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:45 AM on November 17, 2009

My wellingtons were straight awesome. I was shooting for medium rare, and they did come out rather more medium, so I guess Gordon Ramsay would've thrown them at my face. But they were delicious.

As for timing, I just devoted the day to it. The individual jobbies only take about 25 minutes to cook. So, I spent the day prepping them (and dessert), and then threw them in the over just as I started on appetizers.
posted by Netzapper at 3:47 PM on November 17, 2009

This is a little bit iron chef, but how about a salt crust fish. Very impressive, but I'm not sure how hearthy/homey it is.
posted by jefftang at 10:03 AM on November 18, 2009

Nthing roast pork loin. Very fall dish, excellent with standard Thanksgiving sides (apples, cider-y things, squash, hearty mashed potatoes/root veggies) and gravy. Here's one version.

Note: this was a messy amalgam of like 4 or 5 pork loin recipes I scoured the internet and my cookbooks for. I synthesized what to me seemed like the best parts and the common ground of all of them, and tweaked a little with actual trial and error. I've continually edited for clarity's sake since then, since being a composite there was a lot of confusing redundancy and contradiction in my original Master Recipe Dump. Hopefully it's clearer now.

This makes the best easy loin sauce I've had, which is saying something considering my dad was Master of the Loin. It's a more unique, brighter flavor, but no less rich and savory either. Perfect. The texture of the pork, provided you marinate and brown thoroughly and properly, is amazing.

The sauce is tangy and rich, and would be heaven-sent with some smashed Yukon Gold potatoes. SO good.
Roast Pork Loin in Beer Sauce

Notes: This dish involves overnight marinating and takes over an hour to cook.

Tying loin is easy and kind of fun, once you get the hang of it. Here's a guide. Always use butcher's twine.

I've used Dos Equis and Yuengling Lager, both to great effect. The Dos Equis in particular is a great choice.

The pan you choose to sear the pork in is important--it needs to be wide enough to properly, evenly, quickly "crust"/brown the pork, deep enough to hold the marinade for the final sauce, and able to collect brown bits for deglazing (so not too non-stick, and able to withstand high flame).

Serves 6.

2 tablespoons butter
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 (12 ounce) bottles beer (not dark)
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup honey
1 (3 1/2) pound boneless pork loin, tied (see above notes)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon all purpose flour (you could probably also use Wondra to insure no grittiness or dissolving issues)

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until tender and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, cinnamon and allspice and stir 1 minute. Add beer, mustard and honey and bring to boil (sauce will foam).

Remove this marinade from heat. Puree in batches in blender (an immersion type works well) until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

In a large heavy resealable plastic bag combine pork and marinade and seal bag, pressing out any excess air. Turn to coat, put bag in a baking pan, and marinate pork, chilled, turning bag once or twice, at least 8 hours and up to 24.

Let pork in marinade come to room temperature, about 40 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Remove pork from marinade; pat dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Reserve marinade. In a flameproof roasting pan heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and brown pork on all sides. Transfer to baking sheet with rim. Roast in oven for about 1 hour or until thermometer inserted into thickest part registers 155 degrees F.

Transfer pork to a work surface/cutting board, draining and reserving juices from the baking sheet into the roasting pan and discarding string, and let stand, covered loosely with foil, about 15 minutes. While pork is standing, skim and discard fat from roasting pan and add remaining marinade. Over moderately high heat, bring to a boil and deglaze pan, scraping up brown bits. Reduce heat to simmer. Mix butter and flour in small bowl until smooth paste forms. Whisk this beurre manie in, bit by bit, until sauce is combined well and thickened slightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cut pork into slices and pour sauce over pork.
posted by ifjuly at 10:57 AM on November 25, 2009

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