9 Secrets To Garnishing a Turkey Platter

November 21, 2013

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

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.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

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.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

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.

Turkey Platters

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.)

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

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:

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

The turkey on this simple white platter is garnished with roasted vegetables, mushrooms, pears, and herb sprigs.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

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.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

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.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

I really like this one on the aqua metal tray because it features fruits and veggies in the colors of the rainbow.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

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.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

The platter above starts with an even layer of watercress around the perimeter.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

It looks simple as is, or other things can be added, such as different varieties of citrus fruit.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

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.

red berries, pomegranates, grapes

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.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

I love the feeling the grapes give to the platter of a bounteous feast when mixed with other gorgeous fruits.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

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!

persimmons, squash, yellow apples, satsumas

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)

Veggies:
squash, root veggies (potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips. celery root), fennel, onions, garlic

Greenery:
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.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

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.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

Then I’ll start adding the greens. Here I’ve started building my platter using sturdy, dark green lacinato kale.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

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.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

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.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

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.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

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.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

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.

How to Garnish a Turkey   |   Design Mom

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrea November 21, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Your photography is simply stunning. I’d love to be a guest at your home this Thanksgiving! ( or anytime – maybe you could pack me a lunch ;) )

And I’ve never heard of giving the turkey a final brush of olive oil. I’m going to try that next week.

Reply

2 Lindsey Johnson November 21, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Aw, thanks Andrea! So kind of you to say!

The olive oil thing is a little food stylist trick. Just helps perk things up a bit to look fresher. :) Happy Thanksgiving!

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3 Carla November 21, 2013 at 5:03 pm

My oh my. Our Canadian Thanksgiving is past but your turkeys look divine! Lindsey, you have a real craft for making the ordinary seem extraordinary. Although I enjoy all your posts this one really made me pause; to appreciate the art of preparing and serving food for family and friends, stunning but not at all pretentious. Happy Thanksgiving to your and yours.

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4 Lindsey Johnson November 21, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Carla, your comment made me pause! What a sweet, thoughtful thing to say! Thank you so much!

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5 kim @ DESIGN + LIFE + KIDS November 21, 2013 at 7:49 pm

What a stunner! I always wish we could leave the turkey uncut and styled because it’s simply so damn pretty. I love the layering and those persimmons remind me so much of my Korean mom. She’s the only person who ever gave me a persimmon and I remember loving it so much.

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6 Lindsey Johnson November 22, 2013 at 7:51 am

I know what you mean! And I love that memory, Kim!

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7 Anna November 21, 2013 at 8:14 pm

These are lovely – enchantingly lovely – and I totally agree in principle that a feast deserves that kind of care and attention, but I’m puzzled about the logistics.

I’ve always carved the turkey in the kitchen (or more accurately, I’ve coerced my husband into doing so) and brought it to the table on the platter already carved, since the job takes about twenty minutes and is awfully messy. At your Thanksgiving, does somebody carve the bird at the table with everybody already sitting there and watching them? Isn’t that messy and also a bit stressful for the carver to have an audience? (My husband would certainly not enjoy that.) What does everybody else do during the time it takes? And how do you carve on the platter? Don’t you need a carving/cutting board for quite a few parts of the process?

Or is the turkey briefly presented and admired, then taken back to the kitchen to be carved while everybody eats a first course? I guess that might work, though I can’t imagine adding an extra course onto the already over-the-top traditional meal.

I not trying to nitpick – I really want to know, because I’d love to do an artful garnishing like that, but I just can’t picture how it would work in the context of an actual dinner.

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8 Lindsey Johnson November 22, 2013 at 7:53 am

Great questions, Anna!

We’ve done both things in the past. Usually I make the turkey pretty and then take it back to the kitchen. It really is too messy to carve at the table! You could maybe cut one or two slices from the turkey breast and then take the turkey back to the kitchen.

I do think a platter full of juicy turkey can be just as pretty as the full turkey with the garnishes. :)

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9 Anna November 22, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Ah, I see. I’m very impressed and inspired that you’re so committed to beauty and ceremony that you’d dress the turkey up just for that minute or so. Maybe I’ll try it too. (And maybe the time when the turkey goes back to the kitchen could be cocktail time. . .)

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10 Bessie May 26, 2014 at 8:18 am

I came across your blog while looking for turkey platters. Your reply makes sense. I was wondering how one would carve a turkey with all the garnish in the way.

On a side note, I’m more of a practical-functional female so while I tremendously admire lovely table settings and garnish on platters, my mind has a hard time figuring out how to eat with so much clutter and decor on a table.

Anyway, I have a real question. Do guests eat the garnish or are the garnish just for decoration? When I do garnish a dish, what I usually have in mind is that the garnish will be eaten. I know that doesn’t always happen in restaurants but would it be different in homes? See, I can’t shake off the rules drilled into me since childhood (I can still hear my now elderly aunties delivering their “sermons” to us wee cousins :)) – Don’t waste food. It is God’s gift. Think of all the children from XXX (insert continent here that is the current poster child for world hunger) who have nothing to eat.

When I was already working, we were planning on having a pie throwing game during a party. Our boss vetoed it down. She’s a very religious person who didn’t want to see the pies go to waste for a game. I can see her point and my aunties’ point. To many people, including me, it’s sacrilegious to waste food when so many go without. I try to eat the garnish when I eat in a restaurant but they just put way too much garnish. Anyway, going back to my question. Do guests eat the garnish or what do you do with the garnish? Do you include them in a dish that you cook later?

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11 Lindsey | Cafe Johnsonia May 26, 2014 at 8:41 am

I’m with you – I hate wasting food! I guess the guests could eat the garnish if they want. I usually save it to use later rather than serving it up right then, but I don’t think that’s a bad idea. The roasted veggies are the garnish and the side dish, so they get eaten with dinner. Why not tailor the garnish to be edible and part of the meal?

Thanks for the comment!

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12 Brimful November 22, 2013 at 10:02 am

We are butterflying our turkey this year, which significantly cuts down on cooking time. I wonder if using your same garnish ideas would still work even though the turkey is flat. Wonderful photos!

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13 Lindsey (Cafe Johnsonia) November 22, 2013 at 2:25 pm

I hear that’s a great way to cook turkey. I might have to give that a try myself. :) I do think you can garnish a butterflied platter too. I say go for it!

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14 Hilary November 23, 2013 at 3:32 am

Lindsey, I love the decorations. I was very interested in Anna’s question.What do your guests do when you take it back to the kitchen to carve. Like Anna’s husband I’m not a fast or neat carver. Help please!

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15 Nia Lai November 28, 2013 at 11:12 am

I love the persimmons! Thanks for all the wonderful ideas & beautiful pictures. I used green apples & pomegranate Last year as they went with my magenta, apple green & gold color scheme. In my house my husband. smokes 2 Turkey’s. One we carve & set out with the rest if the food buffet & the second I make pretty & we place it in the middle of the table fir everyone to admire while we eat. I have a very large family, so the second turkey gets carved up & sent home with leftovers. Trust me, there is nothing wasted. I love doing it this way because it really feels like thanksgiving the whole time we’re eating.

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16 Lisa December 23, 2013 at 3:47 pm

I love the pomegranates idea!!! I always used greens or apples/oranges but the pomegranates are beautiful!

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