By Lindsey Johnson of Café Johnsonia for Design Mom.
We’ve already tackled the 6 Secrets to the Perfect Pie Crust and 7 Secrets to the Juiciest Thanksgiving Turkey. Now it’s time to talk about making that turkey pretty on the platter! You put in a lot of effort when preparing a Thanksgiving turkey — roasting it for hours and hours, lifting the heavy pan to rotate the turkey, making sure it doesn’t burn, checking the temperature, etc, etc. All that work and everyone devours it in a matter of minutes? I know. It’s just how things are. Everyone is hungry.
But if you’re at all like me, you might want everyone to stop and take a good long gander (pardon the bird pun) and admire that beautiful turkey with its crisp, brown skin and tantalizing juiciness. A well-roasted, heavily browned turkey is a piece of art, no? Norman Rockwell seemed to think so, and I do too.
My advice: think like Martha. Dress up that platter! Gild that lily! Make that turkey pretty! Make those hungry mouths wait just a darn second and admire that 4-5 hour beauty you just (literally) threw your back into.
Here are some ideas to make the turkey platter look extra pretty, whether you’re a food blogger like me, an Insta-maniac, you simply like your food to be attractive, or as I said, you just want everyone to stand back and admire your work.
Let’s begin with talking about platters. You’ll want to keep a few things in mind when selecting which platter to use. The first thing is your personal style. Secret #1: You’ll want a platter that matches what you already have in the way of serving pieces, dishes and flatware. I’m not saying you have to take this as seriously as picking out a sofa, but think of a platter that will keep along with a theme — for instance if you have all white dishes and serving bowls, just about any white platter will fit in well. Another example, if your dishes are really modern, an ornate floral platter might look out of place unless you have other pieces to pull together an eclectic look (which I happen to love). It doesn’t have to be matchy-matchy to look put together.
If you don’t own a giant platter, but you want to, start checking places like thrift stores, TJMaxx, Home Goods, Bed Bath and Beyond, IKEA, and department stores. You can often snag a good one for a good price at this time of year. Another look I love is a large cutting board or a nice looking roasting pan. You can dress those up too!
Secret #2: Whichever platter option you choose, make sure it is large enough and can support the weight of a turkey without being too heavy for someone to carry, i.e. you don’t want to be cleaning up turkey off the floor. (It can happen.)
After you pick your platter the real fun begins and you can let your creative side take the reins. Secret #3: These are things you want to start thinking a few days before your dinner so you’re not trying to throw something together at the last minute. Last minute can work too though (said from experience).
There are dozens of ways you can go about garnishing your platter. I tend to begin thinking about a color scheme first, along with the feeling or mood I want to create. And we’re talking about turkey here, but this advice goes for anytime you’re garnishing a platter or any kind.
Think about things like the time of day you’ll be eating. Later in the evening or the middle of the day? Also, is your table extra fancy with your great-grandmother’s china and real silver, or is it more casual. And please don’t say paper plates. Hah! Are you someone who does things over-the-top, or are you more simple? From there, you can decide which garnishes best suit the look and feel of your Thanksgiving dinner. Here are some examples of creating a mood:
The turkey on this simple white platter is garnished with roasted vegetables, mushrooms, pears, and herb sprigs.
They didn’t cook alongside the turkey, but they could have. I would maybe garnish my turkey this way for a later, possibly candlelit, Thanksgiving dinner.
Now, if I was going to have my meal a little earlier in the day with the sunlight pouring through my windows, I might want something bright and cheery like the platters shown above and below.
I really like this one on the aqua metal tray because it features fruits and veggies in the colors of the rainbow.
Now let’s move on to the garnishes themselves. You can garnish your platter with just about anything you can imagine, but I’ve come up with a great list (below) of common and very pretty platter garnishes that will make your turkey look extra special.
You can go with garnishes that match the flavors used to season your turkey during brining or that were stuffed inside the turkey as an aromatic. Things like fresh herbs, onions, garlic, and apples. Like I showed above, these could also be roasted vegetables, fruits, and/or mushrooms.
Secret #4: Greenery is a great, fresh garnish to place around the base of the turkey on a platter. Lettuces, kale, leafy herbs, and other salad greens are particularly lovely.
The platter above starts with an even layer of watercress around the perimeter.
It looks simple as is, or other things can be added, such as different varieties of citrus fruit.
Now let’s talk about all of the things to add in for different colors, shapes and textures.
Nuts are one of my favorite things to decorate with at this time of year. I love the different shades of brown and the contrast of rough and smooth shells. Sometime I would like to decorate a monochromatic platter using only browns and tans.
I love the pop of color from reds and oranges against the dark brown turkey and the leafy greens. Pomegranates and cranberries are my favorite holiday garnishes, but you could also include roasted beets or clusters of grapes.
I love the feeling the grapes give to the platter of a bounteous feast when mixed with other gorgeous fruits.
Secret #5: Also you can think about what’s in season. I desperately wanted to find figs for my platter, but fig season is so short. Sigh. Instead I was able to pick up persimmons and gorgeous satsumas with their leaves still attached. And my local farm stand still has lovely little golden apples and winter squash. Take advantage of what’s available to you!
GARNISH IDEA LIST
Fruits and nuts:
pomegranates, cranberries, quince, pears, persimmons, grapes, berries, currants, crab apples, citrus, figs, whole unshelled nuts (almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts), chestnuts (fresh or canned)
squash, root veggies (potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips. celery root), fennel, onions, garlic
Fresh herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, parsley, etc.), lemon leaves
It kind of goes without saying, but make sure you’ve washed the produce well before you use it on the platter.
Now let’s talk about how to begin arranging and building the platter. Secret #6: You’ll want to do this in layers. Most of the time I start with placing the turkey on the platter first. Sometimes I place a few paper towels underneath it to absorb any escaping juices and to keep it from tipping over on its side. Then I give it a brush of olive oil so it looks fresh. You can do that at the very end too.
Then I’ll start adding the greens. Here I’ve started building my platter using sturdy, dark green lacinato kale.
Or depending on the kind of green I’m starting with, I might want to place them first and then place the turkey on the platter.
One the greenery is basically in place, I start adding the different elements starting with larger items and ending with the smaller ones. Secret #7: I want to place them at different and sort of random intervals so it doesn’t look too ordered. I don’t really care about having an apple at both the top, bottom and sides. But I might choose a fruit of similar size instead that helps keep it in balance.
Other things I think about include the turkey cavity. Secret #8: If the turkey isn’t stuffed, you might want to place something inside so it’s not a gaping hole. An apple, a bunch of herbs, an onion, etc.
Secret #9: Use some whole and some cut items. Pomegranates are beautiful when they are whole, but cut them open and they are absolutely stunning. Use a nice mix.
Don’t be afraid to move the items around and rearrange. Fill in little holes with smaller items. Remove a piece of fruit that’s too large and looks out of place. Add in some texture! Play around and have fun.
Then bring it to the table and delight your family and guests while you bask in their oohs and aahs!
Happy Roasting! Happy Thanksgiving!
P.S. — Love secrets? Find all the posts in the Secrets To Living Well Series here.