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 before guests dig-in, 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.
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.
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.
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. You do not 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 is also a great look!). 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 wonderful option 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.
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. You may want to begin by thinking about a color scheme first, along with the feeling or mood you 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. 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:
The turkey on this simple white platter is garnished with roasted vegetables, mushrooms, pears, and herb sprigs.
They didn’t cook alongside the turkey, but they could have. You could maybe garnish the turkey this way for a later, possibly candlelit, Thanksgiving dinner.
Now, if the meal was a little earlier in the day with the sunlight pouring through my windows, you might want something bright and cheery like the platters shown above and below.
This one on the aqua metal tray is especially lovely because it features fruits and veggies in the colors of the rainbow.
Now let’s move on to the garnishes themselves. You can garnish your platter with just about anything you can imagine, but here’s 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.
The platter above starts with an even layer of watercress around the perimeter.
It looks simple as is, or other things can be added, such as different varieties of citrus fruit.
Now let’s talk about all of the things to add in for different colors, shapes and textures.
Nuts are a favorite to decorate with at this time of year — the different shades of brown and the contrast of rough and smooth shells. It would be neat to decorate a monochromatic platter using only browns and tans.
The pop of color from reds and oranges against the dark brown turkey and the leafy greens is so great. Pomegranates and cranberries are favorite holiday garnishes, but you could also include roasted beets or clusters of grapes.
The grapes give the feeling of a bounteous feast when mixed with other gorgeous fruits.
Secret #5: Also you can think about what’s in season. Pick up persimmons and gorgeous satsumas with their leaves still attached. Or little golden apples and winter squash. Take advantage of what’s available to you!
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)
squash, root veggies (potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips. celery root), fennel, onions, garlic
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.
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, you’ll start with placing the turkey on the platter first. Then I give it a brush of olive oil so it looks fresh. You can do that at the very end too.
Then you’ll start adding the greens. Here the first layer on the platter is sturdy, dark green lacinato kale.
Or depending on the kind of green you’re starting with, you might want to place them first and then place the turkey on the platter.
Once the greenery is basically in place, you can start adding the different elements starting with larger items and ending with the smaller ones. Secret #7: Place them at different and sort of random intervals so it doesn’t look too ordered.
Other things to 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.
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.
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!