Five Ways to Reinvent Traditional Thanksgiving Dishes

Why have plain old pumpkin pie when you could be eating a pumpkin-filled chocolate balloon?

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© Foodcollection/the food passionates/Corbis

For many of us, Thanksgiving is all about tradition. Grandma’s giblet gravy, Uncle Vern’s green bean casserole, Parker House rolls from a recipe copied from a half-century old edition of Joy of Cooking. But for others, this annual feast is a perfect time to try out new recipes. Here are some ideas for an adventurous Turkey Day:

Thanksgiving Stew

Don’t let the hominess of the word “stew” fool you. This particular dish takes a pressure cooker, vacuum sealer, water bath and high-powered blender to create. It's from the team that brought us the epic Modernist Cuisine, a six-part cookbook-treatise on food science. In it, turkey legs and breasts cooked sous vide mingle with pureed stuffing, pressure-cooked root vegetables, cranberry consommé and fried parsley. It’s like having the full Thanksgiving spread in a single bite.

Carbonated Cranberries and Cranberry Sauce Spheres

Why not add some fizz to the "goo in a can" staple, with this recipe for "carbonated cranberries," also from the folks behind Modernist Cuisine. Cranberries and cranberry juice are cooked sous vide, then carbonated with a carbonating siphon and chilled before serving. The effect is like cranberry Pop Rocks exploding in your mouth.   

If a carbonating siphon is not part of your kitchen gear, you could always whip up some cranberry spheres. Playing with the molecular gastronomy fondness for “spherifying” liquids into caviar-like bubbles that pop in your mouth when you eat them, cranberry spheres are made with thinned cranberry sauce gelled with sodium alginate. Do it the easy way by ordering a molecular gastronomy kit, which comes with all the necessary chemicals.

Diastatic Malt Powder Mashed Potatoes

Thanks to science, you can get the richest, fluffiest mashed potatoes on the block without a bit of fat or dairy. Vegans, rejoice! The trick is something made from barley called diastatic malt powder. Its key ingredient, diastase, is an enzyme that can help break down the starch in mashed potatoes, making them instantly silky-smooth.

Deconstructed Pumpkin Pie

Molecular gastronomy pioneer Grant Achatz turned a traditional pumpkin pie into a Jackson Pollock-like spectacle at his Chicago restaurant Alinea. An edible chocolate balloon, smoking with liquid nitrogen, is smashed directly on the table, releasing the deconstructed elements of pumpkin pie—filling, crust—along with bits of cotton candy. Diners then simply scoop up the pieces—it’s playing with your food in the best way.

Cockentrice

This food innovation has its roots in medieval times, when noble diners wanted not just to be sated by their meal, but to be amused and dazzled as well. Enter the cockentrice, a mythical beast created by sewing the head of a pig onto the back end of a turkey or capon.

For cooks handy with a needle and thread, there are several 15th-century recipes floating around the internet—simply cut both animals in half, stuff them with various things (saffron, parsley, ginger, pork liver and so forth) and sew them together. Roast until done. Famed British chef Heston Blumenthal gave the cockentrice a modern update several years ago, when he cooked one for a televised Tudor-themed dinner. His creature involved a pig’s head, a cock’s comb, the body of a lamb and the wings of a goose.