Our Newlywed Thanksgiving: cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for two

Thanksgiving, whether Americans realize it or not, is when we celebrate food. As such, Thanksgiving is the closest thing to professional cooking that home cooking gets. It’s the only time in a home kitchen environment that you have to take into account things like: How many guests will I have? What’s my service time? How many dishes am I making? What are my resources? What’s my “labor” force? And you still have to have it all hot and on the table at the same time. That’s what a professional chef does all day, every day.

For this particular Thanksgiving, duck was the featured poultry of the meal (I’ll explain why, later), and the preparation required a complete de-boning of the bird, to be brined without bones — but keeping it whole and intact.

Take out the inside bits. These can be placed on a tinfoil-lined tray to be roasted.

The goal here is to remove the meat and skin from the carcass and then roast the bones which then get used to make stock.

Once you finish de-boning the duck, roll it up and place it in a container with the brine.


Bring all ingredients to a boil, and then chill.

42g. Brown sugar or honey
42g. Salt
840g. Water
1 bay leaf
5g. Peppercorn
4 Whole cloves
2 Thyme sprigs
Cinnamon stick (optional)

What I tend to do, is I only use half the water in the recipe (420g.) in the pot to boil. Then, once I’ve made sure the salt and sugar have dissolved, I will then add to the pot 420g. of ice. Effectively, it’s the same amount of water, but you don’t have to wait for it to chill with a different method.

Now, the timing of this process winds up working out perfectly. Since the duck needed to brine for 36-48 hours, I needed to do this butchery task a couple days before T-day. This allowed me time to use the duck bones and oafel to make a nice, rich, dark stock.

This is the before & after of the roasting tray of the innards and bones. 45 minutes in a 400ºF oven gave me the results I was looking for.



Orange, fennel, sausage stuffing:

Ingredients (I’m estimating, but I think it’s pretty spot-on):

  • 1 lb Bulk Italian sausage
  • 4 oz brandy
  • one onion, small-diced
  • one fennel bulb, small-diced
  • the white from one leek, small-diced
  • one shallot, fine diced/brunoise
  • 1 oz Orange juice (from a slice)
  • Flavor with various spices of your choosing
  • A couple slices of sourdough bread – cubed

Brown off the sausage in a pan.

Remove the meat and strain it using a colander and small bowl.

Pro tip: let the meat stand so that browning can occur. This leads to the browning on the bottom of the pan, known as “fonde” — AKA: tangible flavor.

Caramelization is done. Using a slotted/perforated spoon, remove the meat to a paper towel-lined plate.

Turn down the heat and add the onions and fennel first. The idea is that you want the natural liquids from the vegetables released, then (using your wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pot) you can deglaze the pan with the vegetables cooking in it.

Now add in more tender veg (in this case, leeks & shallots), and sweat them for another few minutes.

Next, grab an alcohol with a flavor profile of your choice: I went with brandy (but could have chosen Gran Marnier). Splash in about a half-cup. If it catches fire, don’t panic! — that’s just the alcohol cooking off. Just allow it to burn until the alcohol is gone, and the flame extinguishes itself.

Pour in some of the duck stock.

Through a chinois, squeeze the juice from an orange in. Cook it down further (aka: reduce) on medium heat stirring occasionally.


Add herbs of your choosing and stir.

Add diced bread and stir until all the liquid is absorbed.

Fold in the cooked meat.

At this point, I decided to add more bread slices since the initial batch got absorbed by the liquid.

The main goal of stuffing in a bird is to absorb the liquids and provide flavor. You want it to be moist, but not mushy.

By now it should look like this:

Lay the final, cooked product out on some kind of flat surface to cool (doing so increases the surface area, and its exposure to cold air). A 16×9 baking pan lined with wax paper works well.

The main event: DUCK!

Here we go! The main Thanksgiving meal of newlyweds: duck!

Unfortunately, our first Thanksgiving as a married couple couldn’t involve travel, because my wife’s job required her to be at work the next day. Considering there would only be two of us, I didn’t want to cook a turkey (the customary centerpiece of an American Thanksgiving meal), as even the smallest of turkeys would yield way too much meat for two people. Duck is a much more reasonably-sized bird, and the flavor is much better besides!

As opposed to just stuffing it and roasting it whole (which is a perfectly acceptable method of cooking a bird of any kind), I decided to have a little fun, and experiment. My plan was to completely de-bone the bird (typically when deboning, you still leave the leg bone in and the “drumstick” intact),

gently loosen the flesh from the skin (except in certain places like the spine and the shoulder areas),

line the meat with our stuffing,

roll the meat around the stuffing, leaving as much of the skin out of the roll as possible, then wrap the skin around the roll, covering the meat entirely, and then truss with butcher’s twine.

Giving you a nice, little package of meat and stuffing, wrapped in duck skin! Who isn’t excited about that?!

The next step is to sear the parcel on all sides. Keep in mind, duck skin is basically un-rendered fat, so you only need to add a little bit of oil to your pan to start, as fat will render out as it cooks.

Sear on all sides, while being careful not to undo the twine. Once it is crispy on the outside and the skin is more brittle, it will be less precarious to handle. As more fat renders, you can also get fancy and tilt the pan so the juice/fat pools toward you, and use a spoon to baste the duck with it.

Once the skin is crisped on all sides, cook in the oven, in the pan used to sear it, at 400ºF for about twelve minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 145ºF

To finish, remove the butcher’s twine, and (using the very sharpest knife you have) slice to serve (picture at the end!).

Cranberry sauce

My brother-in-law sent me a recipe, that I put my own twist on.


  • Port wine
  • Red wine
  • Brown sugar
  • Cloves
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • 2 bags of cranberries

Kitchen Tools

  • Cheesecloth
  • Butchers twine
  • Zester

Chef decided to take many liberties here. Replacing granulated sugar with brown sugar.

And instead of grinding cloves we wrapped them up in cheesecloth with the cinnamon sticks.

Replaced orange juice with grapefruit juice.

Wildly improvising, I know (says my wife).

Let juice and sugar simmer long enough for sugar to begin caramelizing . Add Port (about 3 oz.). Plus an extra 2 oz of red wine.

Dump in cranberries and water to almost cover, and a healthy-sized pinch of salt.

Allow to simmer until cranberries are tender. Add additional salt, if necessary, remove the cheesecloth “bouquet” and serve.

Cauliflower mashed potatoes

Since my wife realized this was a thing (and was in fact NOT just mashed cauliflower), the dish is a huge hit at our house all year round.


  • Stem of cauliflower (cut no less than 3/4″ segments down the stem)
  • Potatoes (Idaho/russet) (peeled and large-diced, to roughly a similar size to the cauliflower, but not smaller).
  • Butter/cream
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Nutmeg

What’s the ratio of cauliflower to potatoes? You can play around with it, but I’d suggest roughly a 3:2 ratio of potatoes to cauliflower.

*note: it is very important to cut across the length of the stem, as the stem has very tough fibers that will not become very tender during the cooking process.

Cover the potatoes and cauliflower stems with water in a pot, and cook on medium until both are tender (but not overcooked). Strain, move to a stand mixer with whisk attachment (or regular mixing bowl, if you don’t have one), add butter/cream, salt and pepper to your liking. The nutmeg is a bit of a secret trick to great mashed potatoes that few people are privy to, but a few passes with a whole nut on a microplane provides a great, subtle depth of flavor to an otherwise plain-tasting dish.

Whenever mashing potatoes, it’s important to take care not to over-mix. Too much mixing releases the starches in potatoes, and causes your end product to be too stiff (“wallpaper paste”, as my first sous chef declared it).

Pearled onions

The next piece

Regretfully, I can’t seem to find this recipe, but it’s a pretty straight-forward béchamel sauce, poured over blanched pearl onions, topped with crushed ritz crackers, and baked. Nod to 20th century American “cuisine” right there!

The final product & our presentation

Leave a comment below with what you’re making this year. I’m open to answering any questions you may have.

Happy cooking!

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