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The Perfectionist's Thanksgiving

A near-flawless turkey dinner, courtesy of Per Se’s famed food-obsessive Thomas Keller.

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Photographs by Reinhard Hunger, food styling by Alison Attenborough, prop styling by Corey Evans.   

Who better to come up with a menu for the biggest, most fussed-over meal of the year than Thomas Keller? At Per Se, his four-star Time Warner Center culinary temple, Keller has won a reputation as one of the city’s most quality-obsessed chefs, offering meticulously prepared, painstakingly orchestrated, and memorable, if a bit exhausting, multiple-course meals. “The inspiration for this Thanksgiving feast came from my childhood and the collective childhood of my chefs,” says Keller (his co-conspirators include Jonathan Benno, Chris L’Hommedieu, Joshua Schwartz, and Sebastien Rouxel of Per Se; Corey Lee and Devin Knell of Keller’s French Laundry; and Mark Hopper of Bouchon). “We used the knowledge and techniques we have today, and the quality of the products, to reinterpret old favorites.”

The star, of course, is the turkey, prepared using the modish technique known as sous vide, or vacuum cooking. The breast is vacuum-packed in plastic with fresh herbs, cooked slowly in water at a low temperature, then browned in butter. The legs are boned, stuffed with foie gras and Savoy cabbage, and roasted. The result is a breast that’s remarkably flavorful and moist, compared with that of a roast turkey (when you roast a turkey, the breast tends to dry out before the rest of the bird is done), and legs that have a rich, luxurious taste.

To whet the appetite, Keller starts with a creamy, nutty sunchoke soup (a gourmet twist on squash soup), garnished with all-American country ham. Waldorf-salad ingredients, with a hint of horseradish, are transformed into a light, crunchy stuffing. The marshmallow topping on sweet potatoes has been replaced with a silky smooth “royale” custard infused with truffle oil, with still more fresh white truffles scattered over the top. Haricots verts are tossed with a cèpe-mushroom sauce and smothered with crisp shallot rings (no green-bean casserole, that). The pecan pie is made with a combination of unusual sugars, from molasses to a dark muscovado sugar, and a dash of bourbon for a richer flavor. Popcorn is one of Keller’s favorite foods—at Per Se, he serves it, tossed with truffles and fleur de sel, with cocktails. Here, he slathers it in caramel, for a savory-and-sweet finishing touch.

Menu for 8
Sunchoke soup with Virginia ham croquettes
Breast of Four Corners Farm’s turkey “cuit sous vide” and roasted leg “en ballotine” with giblet gravy
Green-bean casserole—oven-baked haricots verts with cream of California cèpe mushrooms and crispy shallots
Garnet sweet-potato mille-feuille with white-truffle royale and shaved truffles from Alba
Waldorf-salad stuffing
Pecan pie with whipped cream
Gift bag: Caramel popcorn

To Drink
Wine pairings from Paul Roberts, Per Se wine director.
With the soup
Pol Roger 1995 Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill; Champagne, France ($170)
Rich enough to stand up to the flavor of the ham and sunchokes, and the bubbles contrast with the smooth soup.
With the turkey and sides
Weinbach 2002 Gewürztraminer Cuvée Théo; Alsace, France ($40)
This dry Alsatian Gewürztraminer has a medium to full body but finishes dry and spicy. It works with the diverse flavors of the turkey and accompaniments.
With dessert
Chambers Rosewood Rutherglen Muscat; Rutherglen, Australia ($15)
A great value multi-vintage wine, blended like a sherry. It almost tastes like pecan pie—nutty, spicy, and rich.

More Holiday Food:
The Blasphemist's Christmas with Wylie Dufresne
The Hedonist's New Year's Brunch with Anthony Bourdain
The Fanatic's Grocery List: How to Tell a Turkey from a Turkey


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