Every other Friday, we reach into our deep freezer and reheat an episode to serve up to you. We're calling these our Reheats. If you have a show you want reheated, send us an email or voice memo at firstname.lastname@example.org, and include your name, your location, which episode, and why.
We discuss the beauty and tyranny of tradition, as well as the Wheel Of Infinite Thanksgiving Anxiety, with legendary food writer Mimi Sheraton, Milk Street Kitchen's Christopher Kimball, and cookbook author Kian Lam Kho. And yes, we're serious.
This episode originally aired on November 13, 2017, and was produced by Dan Pashman, Anne Saini, and Margaret Kelley. The Sporkful team now includes Dan Pashman, Emma Morgenstern, Andres O'Hara, Nora Ritchie, Jared O'Connell, and Julia Russo.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Still In Love With You" by Stephen Sullivan
- “Summer Of Our Lives” by Stephen Sullivan
- "I Still Can't Believe" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- "Nice Kitty" by Black Label Productions
- "Soul Good" by Lance Conrad
Photo courtesy of Mimi Sheraton.
Dan Pashman: Hey, it's Dan dropping into your feed with something special. Now this past summer, Stitcher Premium went away. R.I.P. There's been no access to The Sporkful's archive and we have a big archive — this has been going on for nearly 14 years. So many of you have written in saying, "Well, how do we get these episodes?" Well, we've decided — here's the exciting announcement part — that we're going to start releasing episodes, one by one. Every other Friday, we're going to dig through The Sporkful deep freezer and pull out one episode to reheat. Get it? It's not a repeat, it's a Reheat.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, I'm still excited about that. Now, here's a part where I need your help. I want to know what episodes you want us to reheat and serve to you. So drop me an email at email@example.com and let me know what episodes should come out of the deep freezer and why. Voice memos are great. Emails are good too. Send them all to hello@Sporkful.com.
Dan Pashman: Now this week, just in time for the holidays, we're reheating "The Last Sporkful Thanksgiving Special Ever", which aired back in 2017. Now you'll have listen and decide if reheating this episode means we've broken our promise to never do another Thanksgiving special. I think not. Either way, this one's a real classic and should get you in the mood for turkey day. Thanks, and Happy Thanksgiving.
Dan Pashman: What are your feelings about Turkey, Mimi?
Mimi Sheraton: I don't like it.
Dan Pashman: This is legendary food critic and writer Mimi Sheraton. She doesn't like turkey. So one year at Thanksgiving, she decided to serve young pigeon or squab.
Mimi Sheraton:Individual squabs for each guest — about ten times more expensive than a turkey. Not only did I have to pay more for the squab, but I had the butcher bone the breast, so that I could stuff it. And he charge $2 each, to bone the breast — [LAUGHING] —plus the high cost of the squab.
Dan Pashman: I love that you remember that how much of that cost. [LAUGHS]
Mimi Sheraton: I remember very — as though it were yesterday. And that I made a very Italian stuffing with porcini and Italian sausage and almonds and stuffed each little bird. What I liked about it, though it was a little more difficult to tend while cooking, is you didn't have to carve. You just plopped one squab on each plate and you were home free. But the guests were stunned. No turkey on Thanksgiving? Little children almost cried.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Mimi Sheraton: And, well, you have to have to ... I thought, well, the hell with that. This costs so much, it was back to turkey.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING]
Dan Pashman: Today on The Sporkful, it's a Thanksgiving variety show. We'll talk about the best way to cook a turkey ....
Mimi Sheraton: Brining it all doesn't sound memory to me. It's so wet. And what kind of vessel do you put a huge turkey in to brine it?
Dan Pashman: A five-gallon bucket from Home Depot.
Mimi Sheraton: Oh my God.
Dan Pashman: Plus cookbook author Kian Lam Kho is Chinese but on Thanksgiving makes the exact meal his husband Warren grew up with in New England.
CLIP (KIAN LAM KHO): Every year, it's the same thing over and over and over again [LAUGHS] with no changes in the in the menu.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Why was it important to you to learn how to make Warren's mom's Thanksgiving dinner?
CLIP (KIAN LAM KHO): I had no choice.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN):[LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: And I'll explain to Milk Street's Christopher Kimball why this is the last Sporkful Thanksgiving special ever. That's all coming up. Stick around.
Becky Moreland: Hi, my name's Becky Moreland and I'm from Lincoln, Nebraska. And the way I know that Thanksgiving is in my house is because my husband and I have a battle of the birds every year. I maintain the oven method and he believes in the grill method. We both make a turkey and then we let the guests vote.
Melissa: My name is Melissa, I'm from Virginia. The Black side of my family's from South Carolina. My mom is 100 percent Russian-Jewish, but she didn't cook much before she got married, so everything she learned, she learned from my grandmother. So she's been cooking African American food for about 60 years. And I know it's Thanksgiving in my house when you smell all kinds of yummy African American foods. We have cornbread, the ham, the turkey, the collard greens, and definitely the mac and cheese.
Sadie: Hi, this is Sadia from Ashland, Oregon. I know it's Thanksgiving when I've been in my kitchen all day on Wednesday, baking and cooking. And by late evening, the 20 or so of the most beloved people in my life begin to slowly trickle in the door from points north and south. I lay out a taco burrito bar spread, and all the hungry travelers fill plates and find places to perch in the kitchen, and we begin the kickoff to my favorite weekend of the entire year.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful. That's not for foodies, it's for eaters. I'm Dan Pashman. Each week on our show, we obsess about food to learn more about people. Thanksgiving's always been my favorite holiday. You know, there's a lot of holidays that include a big meal, but at Thanksgiving, the big meal is the whole point. This year, though, for the first time, I found myself starting to dread Thanksgiving.
Dan Pashman: I have a lot of family come into my house, and even though I've cooked many delicious turkeys in my life, the more I learn about all the options for how to cook the bird, the more I panic. Wet brine or dry brine? Basted? Cooked upside down the first half of the time and then flipped? Stuffed or dressed or both? Braised? Roasted? Deep? Fried to spatchcock or not to spatchcock? Covered her uncovered? On a rack or right in the pan? Cooked whole in parts? To what temperature??! And I haven't even gotten to the seasonings ... Breathe. Okay. We did a Thanksgiving special a few years ago, and in it I talked with Sam Sifton, editor of The New York Times Food Section, and he said something that really stuck with me.
CLIP (SAM SIFTON): The food media, of which I am a part, each year comes to Thanksgiving with a new idea. Here's a new way to make the turkey. Here are seven great appetizers to change your Thanksgiving feast. And that creates pressure on those of us who are cooking Thanksgiving because we think, well, I guess I do need something new. I can't make my mom's brussel sprouts again.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, that's right. It's food media's fault. Except now I'm part of the food media. So as long as I keep coming out with Thanksgiving shows, I'm part of the problem. And it feels silly to keep trying to reinvent a holiday where most people just want it to be like it was when they were nine. So food media is stressed, home cooks are stressed, and it's created this phenomenon that I have dubbed the Wheel of Infinite Thanksgiving anxiety.
Dan Pashman: Well friends, after this year I'm stepping off the wheel. Because in putting together this year's show, we realized that just wasn't much new we had to say beyond exploring our own mixed feelings about tradition and innovation and holiday stress. And that made us realize that maybe after this year, it's time to stop doing Thanksgiving episodes. I told legendary food writer Mimi Sheraton about my plan, and she was skeptical.
Dan Pashman: So what you're telling me is that making this the last Sporkful Thanksgiving special might be a business mistake?
Mimi Sheraton: I think so.
Mimi Sheraton: Depending on the popularity of this one.
Dan Pashman: Okay. [LAUGHING]
Mimi Sheraton: You know, completely new and different.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Mimi Sheraton: Thanksgiving, where we eat something else.
Dan Pashman: Right. Well, maybe I won't do one for, like, five years, and then I'll come back for the return of the Thanksgiving special.
Mimi Sheraton: Right. This year, Thanksgiving will mean more than ever.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] Oh, I like that. See, that's good. That's some good marketing right there. Yes. I feel like there's this ridiculous pressure to have something new to say every year when really all anyone wants is the same.
Mimi Sheraton: Well, that's how I feel about all of the recipes that appear for Thanksgiving. Something different for Thanksgiving. Or they will say something different for a Passover Seder. These are things that come around once a year. They are vivid parts, especially of children's memories that always on this day, this was here on the table, that was here on the table. And I don't think there's a reason to change that, that you have to search and search for something new and different. I used to have a party, an open house every New Year's Day, my husband and I. We had 75 people and it was a big buffet. And one of my friends came once and said, "No matter what happens during the year, I know the gravlax is going to be on the carved glass platter at the front of the table with this on one side." And like, for 15 years, that's exactly what it was.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Mimi Sheraton: It's reassuring.
Dan Pashman: I know you mentioned that you incorporated Italian components into some of your Thanksgiving dishes because your husband was Italian.
Mimi Sheraton: Right.
Dan Pashman: Are there other specific memories you have of him from Thanksgiving?
Mimi Sheraton: Oh, of course. I mean, he shopped with me. He helped with the cooking. He helped open this table — opens to see 12 people — and, you know, getting all the preparations. He also took care of the wine, making sure we had the right one and tasting all day long as things were cooking.
Mimi Sheraton: So I stopped while he was alive, but he's now gone three and a half years. So right now I wouldn't have the heart to do it.
Dan Pashman: Clearly, Miami has hosted a lot of memorable Thanksgivings, and she's not totally against Turkey.
Mimi Sheraton: What I do like about the turkey is the carcass. I then make a basic broth that I can make into three or four different kind of soups later on.
Dan Pashman: My mom's favorite part of the turkey — her favorite thing at Thanksgiving is just to stand in the kitchen over the carcass and to pull shards of meat off of the bones and shove them in her mouth. That is her Thanksgiving feast.
Mimi Sheraton: I love it all. You know, come down at night and just pull out — or it for breakfast, even.
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Mimi Sheraton: And I always wonder about all of these articles about what to do, complicated recipes for the leftovers. I love a turkey sandwich.
Mimi Sheraton: And I love the cold sliced meat. Why would I start grinding it all up and doing something all over again with it?
Dan Pashman: Mimi says some of her most memorable Thanksgivings have been ones she spent outside the country, including one in Cuba in 1955, before Castro came to power.
Mimi Sheraton: On Thanksgiving Day, we were at the National Hotel and they said, you know, for Americans, we have big Thanksgiving dinners, which we wanted no part of. So there was a restaurant in the country that friends of ours who lived down there knew where they roast chicken and do pigs under the ground in pits lined with leaves, and we went out for a feast there. So I remember that. Another one that was very memorable was in Istanbul, Turkey. I was on a four-month trip around the world to gather material for a book called City Portraits. And as I was planning my time, I thought, "Well, it looks like I could be in Turkey on Thanksgiving." And I thought that was funny — being in Turkey instead of Turkey and me, it was a little joke for me.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Mimi Sheraton: Cheer me up.
Dan Pashman: Well, as long as you appreciate it, Mimi.
Mimi Sheraton: Right.
Dan Pashman: Tell it to everyone else.
Mimi Sheraton: Right, I tell myself jokes.
Mimi Sheraton: But the third one was in Milan. I was there doing research for an exhibit on Italian design that I curated. And we were there — I was there with the director of the gallery for a month to gather the designers and the pieces we would show. And the woman who was going to organize it in Italy for us gave a big dinner. And knowing it was Thanksgiving, she did turkey, but they were little turkeys. I mean, there must have been 50 people, 60 people at this party — cut up and cooked. I would say the closest comparison would be coq au vin. They were braised in red wine with porcini mushrooms, and they were little and tender and cut in chunks, served with soft polenta. And I must say that's probably the best turkey meal I have ever had in my life.
Dan Pashman: Wow.
Dan Pashman: That's food writer Mimi Sheraton. She's the author of numerous books. Her most recent is 1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die. Coming up, Chef Kian Lam Kho tells us how to put a Chinese spin on Thanksgiving leftovers. And Milk Street Kitchen's Christopher Kimball and I discussed the "Wheel of Infinite Thanksgiving Anxiety".
CLIP (CHRISTOPHER KIMBALL): I've done 34 different ways to cook a turkey. 34 years, once a year. It's like this karmic turkey wheel. It just keeps turning and you can't get off. You have to do a turkey.
Dan Pashman: Stick around.
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful. I'm Dan Pashman. And hey, quick note before we get back to the Reheat, starting this Wednesday, major Black Friday, Cyber Monday deals on pasta and on signed copies of my cookbook all through Sfoglini. 20 percent off on pasta. 20 percent off on the gift set of the variety pack of pasta, that includes the signed copy of my cookbook to come and a sneak preview recipe from my cookbook. These are great holiday gifts for the eater in your life, and they're on special discounts starting next Wednesday only at Sfoglini.com. That's S-F-O-G-L-I-N-I.com. All right, back to the Reheat.
Marcos Roman: Hello, this is Marcos Roman from Kansas City, Missouri. I grew up in Ponce of Puerto Rico and I moved to the United States when I was a little boy. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States. And, you know, Thanksgiving is still a national holiday theres. So we kind of embraced that but we also added things that we eat every day. So I know that it's Thanksgiving in my house because I smell turkey roasted with sofrito and stuffed with mofongo, which is the smashed plantains, rice and beans instead of potatoes, yukon root roasted with garlic and olive oil. And then for dessert, flan, then blacke, which is a coconut custard. Arroz con dulce, which is the rice pudding sweetened with coconut milk and raisin. And then Coquito, which is an alcoholic eggnog made with coconut milk.
Lauren: Hi, my name is Lauren, and I live in New York City. And I know it's Thanksgiving time because I receive a text, a photo from my mother of her soup canned turkey project. It's this craft project that she picked up in Highlights magazine in like the craft section in 1981. And it's Cover soup can with brown construction paper. And you make like a head and you put googly eyes on it and feathers and stuff. And my whole life when I was a little girl, we would make it together. We looked forward to it. But as I got older, we stopped looking forward to it so much. But we still made it every year, but it would get like — we'd start fighting about it. We delayed it until like the day before Thanksgiving. It became this bird — and we were afraid what would happen to the universe when we stopped doing it. So we did it every year. And you know, I am 33-years-old and I don't live in the same city as my mother anymore, but she still makes it every year, and I get a picture. Mom, if you're listening, I love that you still make that turkey for me. And maybe someday if I have a kid or something, maybe I'll feel obligated to make one also.
Dan Pashman: So as I think I made pretty clear, Thanksgiving has become a source of stress for me. But do other folks in food media feel the same way? I decided to ask my friend Christopher Kimball as the founder of America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Illustrated. And now is the man behind Milk Street Kitchen, Chris has done a lot on Thanksgiving over the years.
Dan Pashman: So, Chris, here at Sporkful headquarters, we Googled Christopher Kimball Thanksgiving, and we — like our ...
Dan Pashman: Smoke started coming out of the computers. There were so many results and a lot of them had titles like "Rethinking Thanksgiving", "Giving Thanksgiving Classics A Makeover." How do you feel as the figurehead and leader of this food media empire when Thanksgiving rolls around at this point in your career?
Christopher Kimball: Well, it's interesting because about six months ago, we sat down thinking about the November, December issue, right? The one that always has a turkey in it. And so I said, "Okay, I'm done." You know, I'm just I cannot do another turkey. The next week, we said ... [LAUGHS] had another meeting and the turkey was back on the menu because we realized it's like this karmic turkey wheel. It just keeps turning and you can't get off. You have to do a turkey. But to my great surprise and pleasure, I would add, we did actually come up with a fresh take on the turkey. We went through, like, nine or ten different disastrous forays into the world of Thanksgiving turkey, but we ended up taking some smoky tea, lapsang souchong, and grinding it with salt and using that as a rub, a little bit of a maple glaze, and it was great.
Christopher Kimball: There is some benefit, I think. I mean, being creative, the more — is like writing a song, right? The more you restrict yourself, sometimes the more creative you are. So I think that's a — turkey's the ultimate testing ground for someone who develops recipes. If you can come up with a fresh recipe for turkey, then you know you're working pretty hard.
Dan Pashman: Chris, do you recognize your role in the wheel of infinite Thanksgiving anxiety as both a perpetrator and a victim?
Christopher Kimball: I'm not a victim. I have a different point of view about victimhood here.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Christopher Kimball: My feeling is ... my feeling is that I don't really care what the food media says about Thanksgiving because I'm going to make my menu my way. Thanksgiving's in charge. It's in charge of me. It's in charge of my family guests and we're all just slaves to Thanksgiving, which is very comforting.
Dan Pashman: Why?
Christopher Kimball: [LAUGHS] Should I get on the couch for this, or what?
Dan Pashman: Yeah, make yourself comfortable Chris, take as much time as you need here. We can go over this session.
Christopher Kimball: Is this one of these psychoanalyst Sporkful deals? What?
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Christopher Kimball: Because ... Because, you know why? Because I spend so much of my life thinking I'm in charge, which, of course, not true. Believing I'm in charge, having to make decisions and Thanksgiving — on Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving's in charge. Things have to be done at a certain time, in a certain way. It's the same every year. It's sort of like digging a hole. I mean, you have a shovel [LAUGHS] and you have a hole you got to dig and you don't have to think about it, you just got to dig the hole. So Thanksgiving's like digging a hole. You're on autopilot. And I think that's comforting.
Dan Pashman: How old are your kids now, Chris?
Christopher Kimball: 29, 27, 22, 19, and five-months.
Dan Pashman: Okay. And do you every — because one of the things that I find that is so contradictory to the wheel of infinite Thanksgiving anxiety is that most of us just want to eat the thing we ate when we were nine at Thanksgiving.
Christopher Kimball: Yes, exactly.
Dan Pashman: And I feel a lot of pressure because I have a four-year-old and a seven-year-old and I feel like I am creating those formative Thanksgiving memories right now. And I need to settle on a recipe of the major classic Thanksgiving dishes and do it the same every year so that I can form that memory, that taste memory for them. And I don't want them going to their in-law's house for Thanksgiving 30 years from now. [LAUGHS] I want them to come back for my turkey. And if I've done a different every year that what good is that?
Christopher Kimball: Oh, no, no, Dan. Dan ... Dan, I stop you. Now I'm the psychiatrist and you're on the couch.
Dan Pashman: All right.
Christopher Kimball: Here's the deal. No matter what you do, trying to form perfect memories for your children, [DAN PASHMAN LAUGHS] it's not going to work. I can just tell you. Just give up on that idea that somehow, in the formative years, you're creating the perfect, you know, future. My suggestion would be make half as many dishes as you think you need to make, and then every year you have your menu. Done.
Dan Pashman: Okay.
Christopher Kimball: And just relax. And then every year people know what to expect.
Dan Pashman: You don't think that it will increase the odds that my kids will come to my house for Thanksgiving if my turkey is better?
Christopher Kimball: I think I think all you — I think all you do is relax and try to be a good dad and don't worry about it. And that will increase the odds of them coming back.
Christopher Kimball: Because they're going to tell you're anxious around Thanksgiving, so Thanksgiving will become an anxious holiday and that's what they don't want. If dad's happy and the mashed potatoes are okay, then you're good. Are you — did you feel better?
Dan Pashman: You know, this is the first year that I have really identified this issue, that I'm in danger of not liking Thanksgiving anymore because I get so stressed about trying to do it a certain way and feel overwhelmed by the number of options. And so this is the first year that I'm going to try to just go in with the most zen possible approach. Because I do think your advice is sound, and I feel like I've cycled through a lot of the turkey techniques that people talk about, and I've decided that I don't really need them, but I'm still very stuck on whether I should wet brine or dry brine.
Christopher Kimball: And that's my fault, probably.
Dan Pashman: Yes, exactly. Yes.
Christopher Kimball: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Christopher Kimball: The father of brining. Well, I don't brine any more. I know this is a great shock to you, but I braise it now. I actually — I know this is anathema to you. Probably, but I dismember the turkey before. The dark meat, the bottom of the roasting pan with a bunch of liquid and leeks and stuff, and then the two breasts on top I roast it low and slow, and then when the white meat's done, I take it out and continue cooking the dark meat. I make — it makes its own gravy. It's moist and the white meat does not overcook. So it really solves the overcooked breast meat problem because you can take it out before the dark meat.
Dan Pashman: Well, it's funny you say this because I was contemplating something along these lines because I wanted to make the meat soft and tender. And I was talking to my mom, who's coming for Thanksgiving, and I said, "You know, I was thinking of cutting up the turkey and then cooking it." There's a long silence on the phone and then she goes, "I don't like that."
Dan Pashman: Another issue, a lot of people put emphasis on getting crispy skin on the turkey. What's your take on crispy skin?
Christopher Kimball: Well, I'm in a 12-step program now ... [LAUGHING] .... to get rid of …
Dan Pashman: We're getting a lot out here today, Chris.
Christopher Kimball: Brining a crispy skin.
Dan Pashman: Okay.
Christopher Kimball: I've spent my whole career a slave to crispy chicken and turkey skin. And I've just decided I don't care anymore because the problem is the skin is the tail, the, you know, that wags the dog. You have to do a lot of things that get crispy skin. It's not worth it. I really like to focus on the quality of the meat.
Dan Pashman: Well, and also the other thing about crispy skin, I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that once the turkey is out of the oven and sitting for 45 minutes before you carve it ...
Christopher Kimball: It gets soggy.
Dan Pashman: Right. Because of steam coming out of the meat, going through the skin. So whatever crisp you had in the second you took it out of the oven, half of that's gone by the time you go to carve it.
Christopher Kimball: Yeah, any relative who's smart will be standing there waiting for the turkey to come out to eat the skin then.
Dan Pashman: See? Listening to this turkey strategy talk, aren't you starting to wonder whether maybe you should be doing something new and different and better with your turkey? Welcome to the wheel. And you thought you were immune?
Christopher Kimball: Look, as careers go, they have to come up with a new turkey recipe every November, I'll take that as one of the tragic aspects of my job. Now, if you're saying doesn't that create anxiety in the part of the home cook because they feel they have to keep up with the Joneses, there's always something new? Yeah, maybe. That's a good point. I mean, can you imagine the cover of Bon Appétit every year, which says in big, you know, 76-point type that says "The Same Old Bird Every Year"?
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Christopher Kimball: I mean, come and get it right.
Dan Pashman: Right. Well, you know what, Chris? We're doing an experiment here on The Sporkful because that's why this is the last Thanksgiving special. I'm going to break the trend in foodie media. I'm setting a new course and we'll see find out in ... we'll find out in a few years if this blog has has gone out of business and that'll be why.
Christopher Kimball: You know, Dan ... Dan, [DAN PASHMAN LAUGHING] I always knew you were self-delusional, but you know that's not going to happen.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Christopher Kimball: Come on.
Dan Pashman: We'll see. You think I'm kidding, Chris? You think I'm not going to follow through on this?
Christopher Kimball: As we speak, I've already placed the date on my computer calendar to be on your Thanksgiving special next week.
Dan Pashman: Okay. [LAUGHS]
Christopher Kimball: Every November, it'll be ... it'll go time for Dan's Thanksgiving special.
Christopher Kimball: It's going to happen.
Dan Pashman: That's Christopher Kimball. He's the man behind Milk Street Kitchen. Check out his excellent podcast, Milk Street Radio, which I'm often a guest on. And check out his brand new cookbook, Christopher Kimball's Milk Street: The New Home Cooking.
SPEAKER 1: I know it's Thanksgiving in our home when the whole house smells like caramelized onions, saffron and barberries. This is what we use to make the [PERSIAN DISH], which is a Persian dish. It tastes delicious and is one of my favorites because I can see my old home place in this new home that I'm living in now. So I'm bringing Iran to America, and I love it.
Gypsy: It's Gypsy from Portland, Oregon. And I know it's getting to be Thanksgiving when I'm wandering around singing the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" theme. My family lives a full continent away, ao the way that I usually spend Thanksgiving is in front of a live stream of the MST 3K Turkey Day Marathon eating my own homemade — because let's face it, I'm a snob — roast turkey, breast and homemade cranberry sauce and homemade green bean casserole. That's me and the cat sitting there watching TV. That, to me, is the perfect Thanksgiving.
Larry: This is Larry from New Jersey. I know it's Thanksgiving when I look down at the plate in front of me on the table and there's a humongous portion of mashed potatoes. And right next to that, a giant portion of stuffing. And in front of those two portions, a mound of turkey. And all of it is smothered in gravy. And it's enough for three people. That's how I know it's Thanksgiving.
Dan Pashman: Kian Lahm Koh is a cookbook author and chef. He grew up in a Chinese family in Singapore. Kian's husband, Warren, is New England through and through. His mother's family actually came over on the Mayflower. Throughout the year, their different food cultures take turns at the dinner table. But on Thanksgiving ...
Kian Lam Kho: The menu actually is based on Warren's mother's Thanksgiving dinner. And we'd definitely we'll always have a roast turkey with oyster stuffing, and it's accompanied with mashed potatoes and mashed squash, green peas and onions and also cranberry sauce, of course, and also pickles, homemade pickles.
Warren Livesley: And Kian make Parker House rolls from the Parker House Hotel in Boston. And he makes a fabulous apple pie. And he's not allowed to change anything. Like, people nowadays want to put like, horseradish in the mashed potatoes, and that's simply not allowed.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Warren Livesley: It has to be exactly what it is. And we're celebrating our 40th anniversary next July. And so that means he will have done this meal 40 times.
Dan Pashman: You don't — you do the cooking?
Kian Lam Kho: I do the cooking. [LAUGHS Yes, Warren doesn't cook.
Dan Pashman: But you're doing Warren's mom's food?
Kian Lam Kho: That's right.
Dan Pashman: Okay. [LAUGHS] Why was it important to you to learn how to make Warren's mom's Thanksgiving dinner?
Kian Lam Kho: I had no choice.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Kian moved to Boston in 1971 for college. The first time he tried Turkey, he expected to hate it because it has a bad reputation in Singapore. But actually, he liked it.
Kian Lam Kho: And after a couple of years, you know, I started learning from Warren's mother and ... because she was getting a bit frail and so I have to help her in the kitchen and I learned from her and she gave me not really a full recipe, but showed me how to do it, and I just sort of took it from there. And after Warren's parents passed away, we continued to host Thanksgiving dinner. And so that's sort of the tradition, I got stuck with that.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] Warren, what did it mean to you that you learned how to make all these dishes exactly the way your mom made them?
Warren Livesley: It means continuity that someone is carrying on the tradition and that it's not going to change.
Kian Lam Kho: What I found it fascinating is, is how tradition bound it is. Like every year it's the same thing over and over and over again with no changes in the in the menu. And also in the whole ritual, basically, like, you know, people arriving at two or three in the afternoon and sitting down for dinner at 4:00. And so it's a full day's ritual of eating. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Have you come to find comfort in that ritual or do you ...
Kian Lam Kho: I do actually.
Dan Pashman: Or would you change it all if you could?
Kian Lam Kho: No, I find it — I do find it and find it very comforting in the sense that it's a family gathering. It's similar to many Chinese holidays, I think. Almost all the Chinese celebration, we also have big meals. So that probably that's the reason why I find it very comforting. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: But do you ever feel — because, you know, as a as a chef and a person who loves to cook, you must at times be like, I wonder what would happen ...
Kian Lam Kho: Well, you know, Warren allows me for Christmas to vary the menu at Christmas.
Dan Pashman: Oh, how generous, Warren.
Kian Lam Kho: So I do become a little bit more creative for Christmas. But that Thanksgiving dinner? That never changes.
Dan Pashman: Do you get to get a little funky with the Thanksgiving leftovers?
Kian Lam Kho: Well, yeah, but — no, leftovers' is a different story. I can do whatever I want with the leftovers.
Dan Pashman: Oh, all the rules are off. Okay, okay. Tell me about some of the things that you do with pumpkin.
Kian Lam Kho: Oh, yes, the leftover pumpkin. I make it into this pumpkin pancake, this Chinese style where I would add some sticky rice flour to it, so it becomes almost like a mochi. Really, it's a it's a pumpkin mochi and I coat it with either breadcrumbs or sesame seeds and then just pan fry it. It's absolutely delicious.
Dan Pashman: That sounds really good.
Kian Lam Kho: And sometimes I would instead of just plain mochi, I would stuff it with sesame paste in it, flatten it, and again pan fried it. Oh, it's so good.
Dan Pashman: And Warren, are you an adventurous eater?
Warren Livesley: Absolutely not.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Warren Livesley: I think Kian and I got together because he was going to try to change my eating habits.
Dan Pashman: And how has that panned out?
Warren Livesley: Not so well with Western food, but since I didn't eat much Chinese food when I met him, then I could be more adventurous. We did spend a year in Singapore, and so I've lived in a — surrounded by a Chinese culture. And if you're a couple from to two different cultures, you have to really work hard at understanding the other culture deeply enough to relate to your spouse.
Kian Lam Kho: And I may add that during the year that we were in Singapore, I made the traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Dan Pashman: So Warren you've experienced all different kinds of foods that maybe you didn't like before. Kian, you have experienced the classic Yankee Thanksgiving. Is there anything around the holidays where food wise there's not a middle ground?
Kian Lam Kho: Well, because I am the only one to cooks at home, [DAN PASHMAN LAUGHS] so usually I have the last say for any particular holiday.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Kian Lam Kho: No, we, so far — I mean, we try to maintain closer to the tradition of any particular holiday. Even at Christmas, I would serve Western style food. Even though I can be a lot more creative with that, But it's it's mostly a Western meal. And you know, for Chinese New Year, I would definitely only serve Chinese food. So, you know, we try to stick to the cuisine of that particular holiday. Regular meals, sometime we if I want and Warren doesn't like, I would actually cook two separate kind of stuff. So I would pick stomach soup and then I would eat it on my own and Warren wouldn't eat that because he doesn't like to pig stomach. [LAUGHS] things like that.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Kian Lam Kho: So then I would cook something different for him, maybe like I would make a sandwich instead.
Kian Lam Kho: So I'll get the real meal and he at least eat the sandwich.
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS] And is it a good sandwich or is it a little bit of a sad sandwich?
Kian Lam Kho: [LAUGHS] How about a turkey breast sandwich?
Dan Pashman: Kian Lam Koh is the author of Phenix Claws and Jade Trees Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking. And if you want that recipe for sesame coated pumpkin pancakes, we'll link to it on Sporkful.com. Thank you to all of you who sent in Thanksgiving recordings for this episode. Oh, look, there's one more.
Janie Pashman: Hi, Dan, it's Janie, your wife. I know it's Thanksgiving in our house when you've been drinking since about 9:30 in the morning. But mostly, I feel like I know it's Thanksgiving in our house when the kitchen is pretty much off limits to everyone except Dan after 9 a.m., and the house smells amazing all day. But seriously, Thanksgiving is a great holiday in our house. It's one of my favorite days of the year. I know, Dan, that you get really excited and plan the meal for a long time and it definitely pays off. Dan, you make a great Thanksgiving meal and everyone has a great time getting together and eating delicious food.
Dan Pashman: Aw, thanks, Janie. I appreciate it. And I think this year's Thanksgiving is going be the best ever because I'm going to take Chris Kimball's advice. I'm going to focus on having a good time with my family and I'm going to cook a turkey and it's probably going to be good. It may not be great, but that's going to be okay. Right? So they have a friends, the last Sporkful Thanksgiving special ever. Next week on the show, I'll argue about Muffins with Slate's Julia Turner, co-host of the Culture Gabfest.
CLIP (JULIA TURNER): I basically don't think that muffin tops should be that big. I like a smaller muffin that doesn't have that wedge.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Wow. I'm not sure where to begin responding to that. Do you not agree that the muffin top is better than the muffin bottom?
CLIP (JULIA TURNER): No, I like the whole thing together.
Dan Pashman: That's next week. Again, please subscribe to this show and give us a good review on Apple Podcasts while you're at it. That helps other people find us and it makes sure that you don't miss an episode. Go ahead, you can subscribe right now. Leave that review while you're listening. Thank you.