The whole point of Thanksgiving is to go big: a huge turkey surrounded by a bevy of sides and what’s never too many pies, all devoured by relatives who may or may not be under the influence of free-flowing wine. That’s the way the holiday usually goes.
Not so this year. Given the pandemic, current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rate small Thanksgiving dinners confined to members of your household as the lowest-risk way to celebrate the holiday.
Tiny is the new big.
But Thanksgiving for two or a few can be just as festive and delicious as a feast for 12 — with the distinct advantage that there’s a lot less to clean up. It’s simply a matter of scaling the proportions way down.
You don’t have to give up your tried-and-true holiday recipes. Here are some guidelines and strategies for adapting your favorites to feed fewer people.
The smallest whole bird you’ll probably find will weigh 8 to 10 pounds, serving 6 to 12. Using parts gives you more flexibility. For dark meat, thighs are the most forgiving; throw them in a 375-degree oven, drizzled with a little oil and seasoned with salt, until the skin is golden brown and crisp, and the juices run clear. Timing depends on size, but anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes should do it.
For white meat lovers, choose breast meat, either turkey breast halves for roasting or preparing sous vide, or some thin cutlets perfect for sauteing. But take care not to overcook. A standard turkey breast half weighs about 2 pounds and will feed 4 to 6, so consider the cutlets if you’re not a fan of leftovers.
You’ll need 3/4 pound to 1-1/2 pounds of bone-in meat per person (depending on your fondness for leftovers) and 6 to 12 ounces of boneless meat.
Since you won’t be roasting a whole bird, a make-ahead gravy, fortified with good turkey or chicken stock, is the way to go. You can halve or quarter most gravy recipes, but they will thicken a lot faster, so go by the recipe’s visual cues rather than timing.
Halve the recipe on the bag and cut the cooking time by 3 to 5 minutes, until you see the cranberries pop and the liquid boil vigorously. Or, since you usually have to buy a 12-ounce bag of berries, you may as well cook them all into sauce, and use the leftovers in jam bars or thumbprint cookies. The sauce will keep for at least 3 weeks in the fridge.
Most stuffing recipes call for 1 pound to 1-1/2 pounds of bread and are baked in a 9-by-13-inch pan to feed 6 to 12. Halve or quarter the recipe, then measure the volume of your uncooked stuffing and find a dish that will hold it snugly. You want to fill the baking dish nearly to the top, so the surface of the stuffing browns. (If the stuffing mixture is too low in the pan, it’s harder to get a crisp top.) Small skillets, loaf pans and small gratin dishes are all viable options. And note: You’ll want to shave 5 to 10 minutes off the baking time.
It’s pretty easy to halve or quarter most mashed potato recipes, though they can get cold quickly. Make them just before serving, or reheat them in the microwave or in a double boiler over simmering water. Or keep them warm in insulated coffee cups: A small amount of mashed potatoes should fit in one quite nicely.
For sweet potato or green bean casseroles, spoonbread or mac-and-cheese, apply the same logic as you would for stuffing: quarter or halve the recipe, then find a smaller dish for baking. Note that if you’re not trying to brown the top of your casserole, the depth of the pan becomes less important.
It’s harder to generalize here, but for most vegetable side dishes, halving or quartering the recipe should do it. As for pan sizes, it probably won’t matter when sauteing, steaming or boiling. But when roasting, make sure not to crowd the pan. Vegetables need space so they can brown.
Most standard pie recipes can be halved and baked in a cute 6- or 7-inch pie tin. Just watch the time: A smaller pie will probably take less time to cook through.
For pumpkin and pecan pies, choose a recipe with a blind-baked (prebaked), crust. This way you’ll know the crust will be crisp, even if the small amount of filling takes a lot less time to firm up in the oven.
You can also just bake a regular-size pie and enjoy the leftovers for a few days — or freeze them. Fruit and nut pies (including apple and pecan) freeze better than cream or custard pies like pumpkin. The silky texture of these pies can turn grainy when defrosted. Wrap leftovers tightly in plastic wrap or foil, and place in a resealable freezer bag before freezing for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature 2 to 3 hours.