Like everything about 2020, this year’s Thanksgiving might look a little bit different. If any year requires a change to the traditional order of things, this might be The One. While the American commitment to turkey in November cannot be questioned, there are plenty of reasons to venture out of one’s comfort zone at the holidays. Game birds can provide different flavors, different textures, and even different portion sizes. In a year when families may not be congregating en masse, it’s worth considering options that fall outside of the classic boundaries of the American Thanksgiving.
Chef Michael Rozzi of East Hampton’s 1770 House offered several suggestions for bypassing turkey this holiday season, starting with capon. “Capon is a castrated male chicken,” he said. Capons, which are fed milk and other dairy products, are fattened far more than turkeys and chickens, causing them to grow large and juicy. “[T]hey have a fuller flavor than chicken or turkey would. They’re a really gorgeous choice,” he said.
“[T]he best part of capon is that it’s still neutral enough that you’re not trying to pass goose or venison or any of those choices off on maybe some members of your family that maybe won’t be in tune with that stuff,” Rozzi said, acknowledging that certain game birds can be a challenge for some finicky family members. Capons can be sourced from high-end online distributors, like D’Artagnan and Schlitz Foods. They run about 6 to 8 pounds in weight, so if you’re planning a small-to-medium gathering, you may need several in order to feed a crowd.
If you do want to tack toward a more adventurous Thanksgiving, quail, a tiny game bird that is often served medium, can be an excellent choice, too. “Quail is one of my favorite birds,” Rozzi said. He suggested cooking these birds “wall-to-wall medium, from one side to the other of the bird.” Because of their size, each family member will require their own bird. Feisty Acres, on the North Fork, sells pasture-raised quail, or you can source them from D’Artagnan or Fossil Farms online.
A natural alternative to turkey on Long Island, of course, is duck. Chef Rozzi recommended using a rotisserie for whole Long Island ducks, roasted low and slow. But if you have no rotisserie (or rotisserie attachment on your grill), a deep roasting pan and an oven works fine. “Ducks, because of their size, you might have to do a couple,” Rozzi said. “I think that would look really neat, plattered up. Crescent Duck Farm has sold magnificent ducks on Long Island since 1908. The Calverton-based Will Miloski’s Poultry Farm also carries Crescent Farm’s ducks.
Perhaps his favorite “other” fowl, chef Rozzi said, is squab, which he lovingly described as “the king of all birds.” Squab is technically a type of pigeon, and it gets roasted on the bone and then cut off of it, much like a turkey. Cook it until medium-rare or “medium-pink.” “A wonderful flavor,” Rozzi said. “That is definitely an acquired thing.” Birds average 16 to 18 ounces, or a little over a pound, and are suitable for one person. They can be ordered online from high-quality purveyors, like D’Artagnan.
For smaller gatherings, Arie Pavlou of Watermill’s Bistro Eté suggested the Cornish game hen, the perfect bird for two. For a slightly larger get-together, though, don’t be afraid of the traditional: roast chicken. This bird is large enough to feed a small family of four. Like chef Rozzi, chef Pavlou sees the Long Island duck as an ideal centerpiece for those looking for a little bit of wow without a turkey on this year’s table. And for those going for chicken this year, Iacono Farm in East Hampton, and Browder’s Birds, in Mattituck, are two stellar local choices.
Departing from fine, feathered friends, Pavlou said, is also an option. “Suckling pig is a fantastic alternative,” he said. He noted that he has received great feedback from this menu item from guests in the past and that he will be serving a limited number of suckling pigs on his Thanksgiving menu at Bistro Eté this year.
His smoked pork chop with a sauce made from chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms is a pristine autumn choice, too, and looks amazing on the holiday table.
“This is a perfect time of year to forage your own mushrooms for Thanksgiving,” Liz Pavlou, co-owner of Bistro Eté, added. Mecox Farms, in Bridgehampton, and Goodale Farms, in Riverhead, are local purveyors that offer pork chops, should you wish to head in this direction for Thanksgiving.
On the North Fork, at Greenport’s Green Hill Kitchen, chef Matty Boudreau is full of turkey-less inspiration this year. His restaurant will be cooking up “the traditional, old school, pineapple, brown sugar-glaze spiral ham,” he said, which reminds him of his grandmother, Edith, a Dorchester, Massachusetts native who always kept ham in her refrigerator. Hams will be brined in apple cider vinegar, pickling spices, salt, and sugar for several days, and then smoked over apple and cherry wood.
Chef Boudreau will also be smoking venison and partridge and turning it into Kielbasa-style sausages, which will be used in a holiday stuffing. But if sausage-making feels like too complicated an at-home project, a partridge on your plate is well within the bounds of Thanksgiving possibility.
Partridge, Boudreau said, can be used as a turkey alternative, for those interested in a bird that is smaller, different, and that can be served as a per-person option. Like Cornish game hens, these birds should be roasted and cooked all the way through, offering guests the opportunity to have their pick of dark and white meat. Wild Scottish red-legged partridge (among the more common partridge sold in the United States) can be found online through D’Artagnan. Feisty Acres also raises Chukar partridges.
In the end, though, ham is Boudreau’s pick for a turkey alternative this Thanksgiving. “Ham, to me, still is a holiday meal,” chef Boudreau said. With its festive presentation, a ham is still a roast, though a smaller one; while most turkeys average 12 to 16 pounds in weight, an average bone-in ham is closer to 10 pounds, yielding only about 7 pounds of meat, meaning less to deal with. Plus, Boudreau noted, there are no headaches, in terms of dividing white and dark meat. A ham is an equitable division of assets.
And, when it comes to leftovers, ham is a strong multi-tasker. Use it in breakfast sandwiches, crisped up as bacon, or as the base for split-pea soup. “I think the lifespan of a ham is a little bit longer,” he said. “It’s really good leftover stuff, and Thanksgiving is the holiday of leftovers.”
As for where to find that ham, don’t rely on the grocery store just because you can. Dickson’s Farmstand Meats sells 10-pound bone-in ham from pastured pigs, and D’Artagnan sells a bone-in Berkshire pork spiral ham, as well as a bone-in Berkshire pork smoked ham, the better to feed you with.
Roasted Long Island Duck with Orange and Star Anise
By Chef Michael Rozzi of the 1770 House
1 4 to 5 lb. Long Island duck
1 orange, cut into slices, skin on
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise, cracked open
1 white onion, rough cut
5 cloves of garlic
2 sprigs rosemary
1 jar orange marmalade, warmed
Salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Wash the duck and pat dry. In a deep roasting pan, season the whole duck inside and out with salt and pepper. Fill the duck’s cavity with the remaining ingredients.
- Place duck breast side up in the middle rack of the oven and roast for about 70 minutes, checking every 15 minutes or so. Baste often with the rendered juices. Once the thighs reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees, remove and continue to baste for 15 minutes while the bird rests. Serve with warmed orange marmalade.
Smoked Pork Chops with Chicken-of-the-Woods Sauce
By Chef Arie Pavlou of Bistro Eté
1 large onion, diced
3 oz. brandy, bourbon, or whiskey
4 oz. white wine
1 to 2 cups stock (can be any type, but duck stock is preferred)
1 to 2 cups heavy cream
1 stick plus several tablespoons unsalted butter, for sautéing
6 sage leaves, cut into a chiffonade
2 2”-thick-cut pork chops, brined overnight or up to 48 hours
1 lb. Chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms, cut into ¼” strips*
- Season the pork chops with a rub of your choice or, alternately, pick up Bistro Eté’s herbal rub, used in the restaurant’s smoked and roasted dishes. Smoke the chops at 180 degrees for approximately two hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. If the weather is cold, you may need to smoke these longer.
- Prepare the sauce by breaking apart each segment of the chicken-of-the-woods mushroom (you should have already confirmed the safety of your mushrooms; please see note). Cut away any blemishes and use a paintbrush or pastry brush to brush it clean. Do not wash your mushroom. Sauté the onion in several tablespoons butter until golden-brown. Set aside.
- Sauté mushrooms in a full stick unsalted butter until wilted. You may need to add extra butter, as mushrooms tend to be very absorbent.
- Deglaze the mushrooms with the brandy, bourbon, or whiskey. Add the white wine and reduce by ¾. Add the previously sautéed onions and enough stock to be level with the mushrooms. The boiling of the stock and the mushrooms ensure any toxins have been neutralized. Add cream to be level with the mushrooms.
- Add the sage leaves and reduce the cream sauce by half. The sauce should be thick and creamy. If you’d like it thicker, you can reduce it more, but don’t overdo it, as the sauce will separate. If you happen to find the “mother load” in terms of mushrooms, adjust your recipe accordingly and freeze your sauce for future use. It freezes very well.
- Once the cream is reduced by half, your mushroom sauce is ready for your smoked pork chop. Serve with roasted vegetables, or other festive foods, like a roasted pumpkin filled with sautéed spinach.
*Note about chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms: These are foraged mushrooms. Chef Arie suggests the following: Wake up early, go for a walk, and forage chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms. Please make sure that any foraged mushrooms are confirmed by a knowledgeable person. You can check with chef Arie at Bistro Eté, or contact your local mycology club. If you don’t have any luck finding mushrooms, check out Jon’s Gourmet Mushrooms, which offers a great selection.
If chicken-of-the-woods are found on any kind of conifer, they are toxic. These mushrooms are best if they are found on oak or maple. They are also toxic when eaten raw. Please do not ingest any raw mushrooms.
Edith’s Sugar-Glazed Ham
By Matty Boudreau of Green Hill Kitchen
For the Ham:
1 spiral cut ham with bone-in (7 to 9 lb. smoked or baked ham)
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
¼ cup pineapple juice
6 pieces of cloves
For the Brown Sugar Glaze:
½ cup pineapple juice
½ cup brandy
½ cup brown sugar
2 Tbsps. Dijon mustard
¼ tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. cornstarch
- Preheat oven to 325°.
- Combine Dijon mustard and pineapple juice. Spike the cloves all over the ham. Brush juice all over ham.
- Place the ham in a roasting pan, bone side up, and cover tightly with foil. Roast 12-15 minutes per pound.
- Meanwhile, combine glaze ingredients and bring to a boil, being mindful of the flames from the brandy. Turn the heat down and simmer for two to three minutes. Let cool.
- Fifteen minutes before the ham is done, remove it from the oven and turn the oven up to 425. Brush the ham with glaze and return it to the oven until the glaze has caramelized and the ham has reached an internal temperature of 140. When carving and eating, make sure not to eat the cloves, as they are not edible.