Thanksgiving in Prague 2010

Thanksgiving in Prague 2010

Aside from being, for my money, the least commercial of the American holidays, Thanksgiving is also the one time when my countrymen, not exactly known for sumptuous feasting a la Europe, put a lot of thought into what is cooked and, more importantly, how it´s cooked. We will go to great lengths approximating generations-old stuffing recipes or tracking down obscure ingredients. When it comes to Thanksgiving we come to the table.

Using that foodie logic I´d venture a guess that preparing for Thanksgiving is in fact, easier and more delicious in our adopted homeland of bakery fresh bread and readily available chestnuts. As an added bonus, one needn´t watch out for mega-store stampedes the Friday following.



Then again there are drawbacks. Those of us who count Czechs among our nearest and dearest are aware that they do not approach the sort of pants-splitting excess the holiday brings with the same gusto as say, Uncle Bill from Milwaukee. To which I have some advice for you: lay out the Thanksgiving-themed chlebíčky and watch the festivities unfold.

With some innovation and a footwork there isn´t a single reason why you can´t put a super meal on table, one that properly salutes the bounty and blessings of this home away from home.

Turkey
Isn´t there something a bit suspect about those American Turkeys the size of a Smart Car? If you said yes, you´ll like their gamier Czech cousins which are “typically moist with a good blend of dark meat,” according to Christopher of Robertson International Delicatessen. “We´ve been using the same farm for eight years with positive results,” he says. His secret for turkey triumph is keeping the temperature under 180 degrees and covering the bird with foil. Order a fresh whole turkey or breast and any number of trimmings, including sausage or chestnut stuffing, from Robertson´s Thanksgiving menu.


Czech company Krůti Farma will sell turkeys at farmer´s markets in Zbraslav, Vítězné náměstí, Kubáňské náměstí and the Pankrác Christmas market through December 23, along with their homemade turkey sausage and a variety of cold-pressed oils. For smaller celebrations you can order a 2-kg baby krůta from your local butcher.

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Stuffing
Fresh bread stuffing is best made with day-old bread that has an “open crumb”. Veka is a good Czech variety. Making your own cornbread for stuffing? Pick up cornmeal at Country Life; polenta is easier to come by and will also do. Another stuffing staple, sage, is called salvia and found dried in the spice section. Fresh chestnuts (kaštany) aren´t ordinarily a grocery staple in the U.S. but are in season from September through early December in the Czech Republic and widely available at supermarkets. The Czech food blogger Pan Cuketka writes about roasting them here.

Baking

Pumpkins are everywhere these days and many of the farms that supply them stock sweet potatoes as well (Sapa usually has sweet potatoes, too). For baked goods like pies, the starchier hokaido variety of pumpkin is best. If you count biscuits among your culinary traditions, buttermilk is podmasli. For those who haven´t been baking in the Czech Republic for long, note that when self-rising flours aren´t the norm. For every cup of Czech hladká mouka add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to approximate self-rising flour. A great Web site for weight-to-volume conversions and substitutions is Gourmet Sleuth.

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Cranberry Sauce


According to our lively messages boards, Prague is chockfull of fresh cranberries! And yet I´ve rarely come across them. If you can´t find them at the grocery, Robertson´s has Ocean Spray cranberry sauce, as does Culinaria , another great source for hard-to-find ingredients and ready-made Thanksgiving dishes. You can always get experimental with Czech cranberry jam (brusinkový džem). And did you know that you can make cranberry sauce out of dried cranberries (sušené brusinky)? Fakt.

Mashed Potatoes
If the E.U.´s wonderfully creative potato-naming system (A, B and C) has you stumped, Type A potatoes are low-starch, smooth-skinned and tallow in color, best for cooking in the jacket or eating in salads. Type C is white-fleshed and mealy when cooked, best used for shredding into potato pancakes. Which leaves Type B, rough-skinned and yellow-fleshed, for mashing. Get yourself a bag of Bs and throw in some cream, butter or whatever bizarre secret ingredient (raw eggs anyone?) your recipe calls for.

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Libations
Popular opinion holds that turkey is best paired with Shiraz, pinot noir or zinfandel or, if prefer white, chardonnay. Sparkling wines get my vote. Lend further Eastern European flavor to your Thanksgiving with a bottle from Boden Fine Wines, a delivery-only service offering a range of imported Hungarian wines for a very nice price. Contact bodenfinewines@gmail.com for price list. Or put the Expats.cz wine directory to use.
 
Dining Out
Dining out means less dishes, less drama. The Hilton‘s Thanksgiving menu is laden with harvest delights and there’ll be a harpist on hand. TGI Fridays and Hard Rock Cafe have prix fixe menus planned for Thursday, November 25. The Association of American Residents Overseas will be holding court on the second-floor VIP area of the Hard Rock Cafe and invites your to join their celebration. Bohemia Bagel will do a dressed-down turkey buffet at their Masná location; their Prague 7 restaurant is offering a sit-down, gourmet affair. For your football fix Belushi’s will have games on all weekend and live music – plus “Black Friday” lunch specials. The Globe is also offering a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner.


Elizabeth Haas

Elizabeth Haas is the editor of Expats.cz. She has lived in Prague for 12 years working as a writer and editor of cookbooks and travel guides. Her work has appeared in both Czech and American publications.

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