Holiday tips from Greenport’s own (and NY Times food editor) Sam Sifton

Sam Sifton inside his Greenport kitchen. (Credit: Madison Fender)

Despite the excellent farm-to-table restaurant scene on the North Fork, Thanksgiving Tradition (that’s with a capital T) still dictates that we put our own feast on the table. New York Times Cooking founding editor and part-time Greenporter Sam Sifton offers his expert tips for the perfect North Fork tradition.

What does your Thanksgiving look like?

I’ve been a part-time Greenport resident since 1999 and I’ll be cooking Thanksgiving dinner in Greenport again this year, as I do every year. We’ll have something like 20 people, give or take. There’ll be plenty of family and friends from in and out of town, lots of children and dogs, and we’ll try to time everything so we can have a sunset walk down to the harbor between turkey and pie.

How can people modernize traditional Thanksgiving recipes but still keep Grandma happy?

I think people generally do want a traditional Thanksgiving meal built around turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce and all the fixings. The issue is, “all the fixings” means different things to every person, or at least every family. For some, there has to be mac and cheese. For others, Brussels sprouts with cream and bacon. For still more, sweet potatoes — sometimes with marshmallows (though never in my house!). Mashed potatoes will always be on my table, but some people must have scalloped potatoes. It gets complicated very quickly if you have a big Thanksgiving. It’s generally best to make sure each person at the table gets to eat the thing that’s most important to them about the feast and, if you’re smart about always inviting new people, you’ll get new flavors every year. On top of this, I always try to introduce one new recipe just to keep things interesting. If it’s a success, you can make it in following years, or if it’s not, you can laugh about it forever.

What about pot luck? Do your guests dare bring food to a food editor’s Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving in my house is a group effort, always. There’s Ricky the Potato Master and Jen the Pie Queen and many, many more. What you’re good at making, you’re good at making, and it’s welcome at the table even if it’s lime Jell-O, even if no one eats it.

All the local farms on the North Fork make a farm-to-table Thanksgiving meal easier than ever. Any farm favorites? 

There are now too many great farms running on the North Fork to choose only one or two in particular. You could spend a week provisioning your Thanksgiving pantry from them, and never go wrong. But I know I’ll get my turkey from Miloski’s in Calverton, lots of vegetables from Sang Lee and Latham’s, and I’ll get clams from Southold Fish Market and probably some oysters, too. Could we work in some land snails from Peconic Escargot, some goat cheese from Catapano or some eggs from 8 Hands? I sure hope so.

What side dish requires the least amount of skill but packs the most punch?

It’s pretty difficult to mess up mashed potatoes, and if you load them with more butter and hot milk than you usually do, use a stand mixer to whip them into shape and salt them nicely, the wow factor is pretty high.

What about Thanksgiving for vegetarians?

For me, there’s always going to be a turkey — it’s not as if we’re all cooking turkeys all the time. I look forward to making mine each year and I like to build my meal around it. But vegetarians are welcome, always. I might make stuffed squash for them filled with nuts and grains, lots of protein, or a wild-rice casserole with mushrooms. It should be something hearty so they’re not just eating side dishes and making do.

Any new tabletop trends to help our Thanksgiving meals look more gourmet? 

All you need to do is make sure everyone has a plate and a knife and a fork and a glass and a napkin that isn’t a sheet of paper towel. Nothing needs to match. Put out a tablecloth of some kind, some low candles so the light’s pretty but everyone can see everyone else. Serve all the food on big platters or in big pots or casseroles so people can make their own plates. Have a couple of bowls of gravy and cranberry sauce on each end of the table. Open the wine and enjoy. That’s my trend. I hope it catches on.

Speaking of wine, any recommendations?

The best wine for Thanksgiving is a varietal I think of as Lotsa Wine. I line up some bottles and people bring bottles of their own, and some of those are local and others are from France or Oregon, and we taste and savor and debate and drink some more. A winner emerges, generally, but Thanksgiving isn’t a competition. What you like is what’s best.

Let’s not forget dessert! How can we dress up the traditional pumpkin pie?

There’s nothing wrong with traditional pumpkin pie! But if you whip heavy cream with a little bit of sugar, that’s an ace topping for it. Apple pie is the next best traditional dessert in my house. So there’ll be that, too.

This story originally appeared in the 2017 holiday edition of northforker magazine