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Food 52's Amanda Hesser on How to Cook the Perfect Turkey

Sara Deseran | November 24, 2014 | Story Ingredient

Reprinted with permission from

I’ve been following Amanda Hesser’s writing ever since she penned a food column for the New York Times Magazine, when Mr. Latte was but a twinkle. Today, the co-founder of the fantastic collective recipe site Food 52 and the author of the 1000-plus-recipe Essential New York Times Cookbook has evolved into a walking encyclopedia of food.

With Thursday rapidly approaching, I figured Amanda would be the perfect person to assuage my growing turk-xiety, considering this will be the first Thanksgiving I’ve ever hosted. In my 20 years of cookbook and food writing, I’ve never once cooked the big bird.

Because my husband Joe and I are control freaks in the kitchen, we’ve learned to divide and conquer. Thus, I’ll be doing the stuffing and salad. He’s got the potatoes and Brussels. As for the turkey? We have amazingly agreed on dry-brining. Now I just need to find a pan big enough to splay out the spatchcock. Amanda has confirmed my research.

What are you doing with your family this year?
Because I’m in the food media business, the lead up to Thanksgiving is nuts, so I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my [extended] family in more than 15 years. Usually, we’re nomads. For years, we went to a friend’s for a potluck. Then she moved out of the city, and we were orphaned. Finally, last year I had it with just my family at home, and it was sweet and calm, and we ate guinea hen and shellfish because we’re rebels. But this year, my mother decided to host dinner at my 98-year-old grandmother’s house in Maryland and we’re going. I didn’t want to pass up a chance to see her.

What are you bringing?
My mother will cook turkey, a traditional stuffing, green beans, and cranberry sauce—none of which sounds exciting, but she’s an excellent cook so it will be. Her boyfriend will bring wine. We’ll bring pies and pickled shrimp.

Turkey truth: What’s tastier—a fancy heritage specimen or a more pedestrian bird?
Heritage birds are better, they really are. They just have more flavor. Period. But if you skip the turkey altogether, I won’t tell.

What’s your preferred method of turkey cooking?
Dry brine, then air-dry the turkey in the fridge, and cook it spatchcocked. This makes me sound like I’m a slave to trends, but it produces a deeply-seasoned bird with crisp skin. The spatchcocking allows you to cook it evenly—a turkey’s shape doesn’t make it easy to accomplish this!

Stuffing is a window to a cook’s soul. What does yours look like?
I like to go French with prunes, brioche, and a lot of cognac. Years ago I wrote about a woman in California who made an outstanding Vietnamese stuffing with shiitakes, lotus seeds, mushroom powder, rice flakes, and fish sauce. I daydream about making this for Thanksgiving but I’ve never had the guts to do it... [Read more at]

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