Daniel Asher, Culinary Director of Root Down and Linger, on Tofurky and Towering Sandwiches
Most of my culinary world is made up of unusual dishes and being playful with food, so come Thanksgiving, I really like to stick to the foundation of a traditional spread. My mom is an exceptional culinarian, and she spared no expense, emotionally or financially, to give us an amazing evening. As early as I can recall, she would pre-order a special turkey and simmer from-scratch gravy all afternoon. She’d make stuffing with mirepoix, roasted root vegetables and rye bread; grilled Brussels sprouts; smashed sweet potatoes; cranberry-ginger sauce… Sometimes a hard salami that was baked for hours with stone-ground mustard and honey; maybe potato latkes, to get some practice in for Hanukkah.
But I went through a good 12-year run as a committed vegetarian, so there were awkward moments: “Tofurky is a peaceful protest against turkey slaughter!” rantings, the miso-vegetable gravy that always seemed to go underutilized and the occasional lentil “neatloaf” that my sister found both hilarious and sad.
Regardless, my absolute favorite moment from Turkey Day was my day-after sandwich - which I would begin anticipating sometime in late summer. This was also the one moment all year when I would purchase canned cranberry sauce in all its prefabbed glory and gelatinous magnificence.
I would start with two huge slices of day-old sourdough, slathering one side with mayo and the other with cold gravy. Next came alternating layers of sliced turkey, canned cranberry, crumbled stuffing, mashed potatoes (or a leftover latke), cheese, lettuce, tomato, hot sauce and maybe even some raw garlic. Amazingly - against all sound knowledge of physics and principles of engineering - the stack remained intact for at least a couple of utterly blissful bites. And then it all fell apart in a glorious pile that I would nibble with a fork or my hands while watching football and drinking wine or bourbon or soy milk - or all three, depending on the year.
Thinking about it now, it was those solitary moments of post-Thanksgiving sandwich-building that may have planted the seeds of fearless kitchen experimentation that I aim for today! Or maybe I just have always liked really crazy sandwiches that defy logic and vanity.