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For Thanksgiving 2020, throw tradition out the window

Thanksgiving dinner spread with turkey at center
All the dishes for our Thanksgiving 2020 menu.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times; prop styling by Kate Parisian)
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Most people look forward to Thanksgiving because it offers a taste of the familiar: the time at home with family we’ve been missing all year long. By now, though, most of us will likely have had a little too much of being at home, so why serve food that keeps us in that frame of mind? If ever there’s a time to throw tradition out the window — renouncing the expected in favor of something unusual and intriguing — it’s this year. And as someone who’s always preferred to buck tradition in favor of trying something new, it seems my time has finally come.

For this year’s holiday menu, I decided to give you the classic flavors you want but in new forms that will hopefully excite you enough to make them a part of your Thanksgiving table in years to come.

Roasting a turkey can’t get much different, but stuffing an enormous amount of butter under the skin to keep it moist as it cooks can make it a whole lot easier than all that brining and endless basting. And instead of a leaden stuffing, I offer up my roasted bread salad, which takes all the aromatics of the classic and tosses them with crunchy chunks of sourdough bread that have been fried in the turkey pan drippings. As for the gravy, give up the complicated flavorings and umami hacks and flavor it with the turkey’s offal and nothing else — simplicity is often the boldest move of all.

When it comes to sides, green beans and mushrooms are dry-fried until blistered and tender, then topped with caramelized onions in a Sichuan spin on the iconic casserole. Yams are roasted so low and slow they transform into cheesecake-textured orbs that you simply mash in their pan and top with either rosemary-maple walnuts for the sweet-toothed guests or a cold, creamy herb sauce for those who prefer their yams on the savory side. Mashed potatoes are made ahead and baked to order and topped with their skins, fried to a crisp and perfumed with sage leaves. Finally, yeast rolls get a hearty dose of fresh bay leaves — their essence infused in butter for the dough and to brush on top, and the leaves themselves baked between the rolls — while cranberry sauce transforms into a thick, spreadable paste that mimics membrillo.

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With no traditional crusts in sight, standard pie flavors are free to be better versions of themselves.

As for the desserts, there’s no pie! Well, there’s no traditional pie crust, at least. A press-in hot-water pastry takes the stress out of making a pecan pie; enriched with sweetened condensed milk, its nuttiness intensified with browned butter and malted milk powder. Apple pie becomes a much simpler apple cake that when glazed with a simple butterscotch sauce passes for a giant apple fritter doughnut. And since pumpkin pie filling dominates the crust, I eschew the crust altogether and bake up a silky smooth pumpkin custard with the texture of a flourless chocolate cake, inspired by an iconic London restaurant’s dessert.

While these recipes might be daring in their presentation, they’re by no means difficult — I even have a grocery list and plan of attack to get it all on the table at the same time. My aim is to show how much easier and more fun these classic recipes can be when you focus on highlighting the qualities in each that really matter. You never know what new and exciting things you can create when freed from the shackles of doing things the way they’ve always been done.

Butter-Crisped Turkey With Roasted Bread Salad

Time 1 hour 15 minutes, plus 1 day and 6 hours, largely unattended
Yields Serves 8

Good Stuff Gravy

Time 50 minutes
Yields Makes 4 cups

Dry-Fried Green Beans and Mushrooms With Sizzled Onions

Time 35 minutes
Yields Serves 6 to 8

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Very Slow-Roasted Yams With Rosemary-Maple Walnuts

Time 20 minutes, plus 3 hours unattended
Yields Serves 8

Very Slow-Roasted Yams With Seven-Herb Sauce

Time 30 minutes, plus 3 hours unattended
Yields Serves 8

Once-Baked Mashed Potatoes With Fried Sage Skins

Time 1 hour, 50 minutes
Yields Serves 8

Bay Leaf Butter Yeast Rolls

Time 1 hour 15 minutes, plus 2 hours unattended
Yields Makes 16 rolls

Cranberry and Clementine Membrillo

Time 50 minutes
Yields Makes 2 cups

Malted Milk Pecan Pie

Time 1 hour, plus 1 hour 10 minutes unattended
Yields Serves 8

Apple Fritter Cake with Butterscotch Glaze

Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Yields Serves 8 to 12

Pumpkin Nemesis

Time 1 hour 20 minutes, plus 1 1/2 hours unattended
Yields Serves 8 to 12