When Sam Sifton was The New York Times restaurant critic, he spent many Thanksgiving days at the office running the paper's holiday helpline. He answered panicked questions from readers about thawing rock-solid turkey and rescuing lumpy gravy or mushy pies. He's also cooked the meal for more than 25 years, asking experts for advice and testing theories.
Now he has released a book, Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well. A wonderfully concise 125-page handbook, it is a must-buy for anyone who has or will ever cook on this holiday. "Thanksgiving, after all, always brings questions, doubts and emergencies," Sifton writes. "This book exists to answer and assuage them, and, if necessary, to apply electric paddles to chests."
The author delivers on that promise with a perfectly reasonable, not overwhelming number of recipes (and isn't that nice to see from a cookbook!) and tips in chapters dedicated to the meal's basics. His cooking knowledge is authoritative: Sifton explains exactly how to make gravy — correctly. He knows when to brine a bird and when it doesn't make sense. He knows what makes a good pie crust.
Best of all, though, is Sifty's sass. From the proper way to set the table to where and when to carve a turkey, he has an opinion about everything.
On setting the table
"No plastic should appear on your Thanksgiving table, no jugs of juice or soda or milk. There should be candles and flowers if you can manage, and, if possible, all the food should be served on warmed platters, family-style."
On mashed potatoes
"The only trouble that should ever present itself when the subject comes to mashed potatoes and Thanksgiving is should someone demand that garlic or basil be added to the mix. Your response to this heresy should be brief and unequivocal: NO."
On creamed Brussels sprouts
"Thanksgiving is not a day to consider healthful eating. This dish explains why in a pool of thick milk and cream."
We asked Sifty to lay down his six most important rules in a video. Enjoy it. Buy the book. But then, for the love of god, stop messing around on the Internet and order a Thanksgiving turkey.