By Michelle Konstantinovsky
The tricks have been played, the treats wolfed down—this could only mean one thing: Turkey Day is nigh. And if you’re on a mission to prove yourself as the ultimate host or hostess (or just outdo your competitive siblings), then you might be nearing panic mode. Don’t let the pressure bring you down; take a deep breath, and a lesson from chef Sarah Rich. She and husband Evan—the culinary masterminds behind Hayes Valley hotspot Rich Table—know a thing or two about entertaining. In addition to serving up locally sourced delicacies nightly (try the porcini doughnuts), the duo host a highly anticipated potluck for about two dozen employees and friends at the restaurant every Thanksgiving.
But you don’t need an industrial-sized kitchen or three decades’ worth of combined culinary experience to serve an unforgettable meal. With Sarah’s advice, you’ll soon win praise from loved ones—even the most competitive of the bunch.
Grilled, roasted, deep-fried: everyone has a method. So what’s the number one, hands-down, best way to cook a bird? “I’ve cooked it two ways and both have their advantages and disadvantages. I have, of course, cooked it the traditional way, and brining it before roasting helps to keep it moist and flavorful. I’ve also taken off the thighs and legs, deboned them, and filled them with a farce, then roasted the breast and stuffed legs separately. That was really nice, but you lose the drama of showing off the huge, whole-roasted turkey. Maybe this year we’ll try cooking it on our rotisserie at our new restaurant, RT Rotisserie.”
It’s about time.
Some people start eating before noon. Others prefer a traditional dinner event. But the Riches believe there’s a sweet spot to maximize caloric goodness while sidestepping total burnout. “We usually have people over around 2 p.m.,” Sarah says. “That gives us time to serve cocktails and snacks before the actual meal. I like having an afternoon meal, but be careful not to start too early or it’s a really, really long day.”
Preparation is everything.
“We try to have the sides prepped a day ahead as much as we can,” Sarah explains. “For example, the dressing is already made and in roasting pans so that when it’s time for the dinner we can just pop it in. We’ll get the turkey at least three days ahead. That gives us time to brine it, then let it air dry in the walk-in before roasting. The oven generally goes on early because there’s so much to be cooked—pies, rolls, sides, etcetera.”
“I try to always offer three pies, since that’s how we always did Thanksgiving growing up,” Sarah says. “My mom and grandmother would make an apple pie, pumpkin pie and pecan pie and we would all argue over which was the best. Personally, I love apple pie and pecan pie the most. One year we got a bunch of tarts from Belinda [Leong] at b.patisserie. They were perfect and delicious and I would totally do that again.”
To stuff, or not to stuff?
It’s arguably the best side of any complete Thanksgiving meal, but should it actually reside inside the main event? “I don’t stuff,” Sarah says. “I’ve only been served actual stuffed turkey twice and both times the stuffing was really soggy and undercooked.”
Less is more: Part one.
Stop stressing over finding the perfect decorative gourd—in the Riches’ view, less is more. “Flowers are always nice, but we honestly don’t put much effort into decorating,” Sarah maintains. “The table is always so full of plates that we don’t have much room for anything else. We let the cooking speak for itself.”
Less is more: Part two.
“Trying to do too much—I know this one from experience,” she confesses. “I always end up trying to make too much, and offer too many choices and it just ends up being way too much work. Keep it simple and delicious!”
Any other secrets to playing the perfect host? “A good stiff martini before everyone shows up helps.”
Sarah’s Thanksgiving stuffing
Still not sure you have the chops to pull off a flawless feast? Try whipping up this delicious stuffing recipe from Sarah’s family cookbook:
5 cups French bread cubes
5 cups crumbled cornbread
1⁄2 cup butter (= 1 stick)
3⁄4 cup minced onion
1⁄2 cup minced green pepper
1⁄2 cup minced celery
1 chicken bouillon cube
2⁄3 cup hot water
1⁄2 pound bulk sausage
1⁄4 teaspoon salt or to taste
1⁄8 teaspoon black pepper or to taste
1⁄2 teaspoon poultry seasoning or to taste
2 eggs, beaten
3⁄4 cup chopped pecans
The day before, cut the French bread into half-inch cubes and spread out to dry overnight. On the day of preparation, place the cubes in a 400° oven for 12–15 minutes until they’re thoroughly dry. Set aside.
The day before, crumble the cornbread and spread it out to dry overnight. On the day of preparation, make sure it’s dry (or dry it out in the oven). Set aside.
In a large skillet, sauté the onion, green pepper and celery in the butter until tender.
Place the bread cubes and crumbled cornbread in a very large container. Dissolve the bouillon cube in the hot water and then sprinkle over the crumb mixture. Then add the sautéed vegetables.
Using the same skillet, sauté the sausage until brown and finely divided. Set aside.
Add the salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, eggs, and chopped pecans to the crumb mixture. Then add the sausage and the pan drippings and mix well.
Bake in a large greased pan, covered, at 325° for 30 minutes. Then uncover and bake an additional 10–15 minutes until the top is nicely browned.