Last year we saw an influx of ginger, soups, and vegetarian entrées on Thanksgiving Day menus. This year, the country’s changing demographics mean a wider variety of culinary traditions are influencing U.S. cuisine at large — resulting in even more aromatic, exciting fall feasts. Whether you’re looking to add flair to a classic menu or go in an altogether new direction, we have your inspiration right here.
Sweet Potatoes. Sweet potatoes have always been a Thanksgiving Day staple yet they seem newly fascinating to home chefs this year, as evidenced by dishes like Alton Brown’s chipotle smashed sweet potatoes or this simple camote — a Mexican sweet potato preparation with honey, butter, and cinnamon. Sweet potatoes are finding their way into baked goods, too. Sweet potato doughnuts are a delicious way to start Thanksgiving Day and sweet potato and honey rolls are perfect for the grand feast and next-day turkey sliders. Sweet potato dishes taste wonderful paired with a good Pinot Noir like our 2010 J Russian River Valley Pinot Noir —with vibrant cherry aromas and flavors of vanilla, clove, and nutmeg.
Turkey Confit. Curing and cooking turkey legs and wings in duck fat renders them incredibly succulent and this year we’re seeing recipes for confit turkey legs everywhere we look. We like Saveur’s straightforward approach, which entails roasting the cured legs in the oven afterward — adding a nice crispy layer atop the melty, buttery one. We recommend pairing turkey confit with a clean, dry Chardonnay — such as our 2010 J STRATA Chardonnay — the bright minerality of which will provide balance to the richness of the dish.
Caramel Sauces. Whether for a savory dish like Roasted Butternut Squash w/ Caramel Chipotle Sauce or a sweet one like Bobby Flay’s Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Spiced Caramel Sauce, caramel sauces abound in 2012. A lively sparkling wine — such as our J Cuvée Brut — goes well with earthy bread puddings. As with sweet potatoes, a good Pinot Noir like our 2010 J Freestone Hill Pinot Noir would make an absolutely delicious pairing for a butternut squash dish — especially if served with an herb-rubbed, grilled turkey.
Cornbread Stuffings. Some of the highest-rated stuffing recipes this year are cornbread based, such as this recipe for blue cornbread shrimp stuffing, meant to be served with wild turkey. Bourbon, thyme, sage, and serrano chile make this a particularly aromatic preparation — “the most interesting and flavorful stuffing I’ve ever made,” says one reviewer. We also love this cornbread, bacon, leek, and pecan stuffing from Martha Stewart. As for wine pairings, look for a bright, minerally Chardonnay like our 2010 Jewell Ranch Chardonnay. Its clean, vibrant characters of Meyer lemon, pineapple, and lime provide perfect counterpoint to the rich, moist cornbread.
Mediterranean Influences. Mediterranean influences have been popping up on menus all over the country this year and are finding their way into Thanksgiving Day menus, too — from starters like Saveur’s cippolini hummus or this rustic baked feta and walnut salad to entrées like this roast turkey with sausage fennel stuffing and madeira gravy. This trend may also serve as permission to depart from turkey altogether and go for a fish or lamb entrée. Anise-scented spice rub and aromatic olive oil can turn lamb into a festive holiday dish, especially served with an elegant Pinot Noir, such as our 2009 J Pinot Noir Barrel 16 — with subtle aromas of cherry, violet, plum, and blueberry and long lingering finish of cinnamon and clove.
Citrus-Tinged Cranberry Sauces. Last year, chefs were all about adding ginger to cranberry sauces, but this year they’re more in the mood for citrus influences, such as this refreshing recipe for cranberry orange relish with mint from Bon Appetit or this lemon marmalade cranberry sauce from Saveur. Less citrus-centric, this pear honey cranberry sauce nevertheless caught our eye, too, especially for how well it would work with a Mediterranean influenced menu.
Pumpkin Beyond the Pie. Chefs looking for something a little more interesting and unexpected than pumpkin pie this year seem to be in the mood for torte-like dishes such as Ina Garten’s pumpkin roulande with ginger buttercream, this pumpkin tira misu with caramel sauce, or this silken pumpkin torte from the LA Times. The thick, creaminess of these dishes would be fantastic with a sparkling wine like our J Vintage Brut — with aromas of ripe pear, honeysuckle, and butterscotch and flavors of taffy apple and citrus.