With the coronavirus pandemic surging forward, threatening to stomp all over our traditional get-together with relatives, Thanksgiving for many of us is going to be a lot quieter this year.

The CDC recommends that people avoid large gatherings and instead celebrate the holiday with the members of their household. As a result, a shorter guest list could require a few changes to the menu.

Rick Rodgers, the award-winning cookbook author who has spent much of his life in New Jersey, understands the predicament many of us find ourselves in.

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“We usually host as many people as will fit around the table,” he said. “This year, we will only have one very close friend, who we know is sheltering in place.”

While this is not an ideal situation, it is necessary experts say, as smaller groups will potentially slow the spread of the virus.

Cooking for fewer people isn’t entirely a bad thing. Foregoing a 25-lb. turkey can significantly reduce your grocery budget; and in a time where every penny counts, saving is paramount for some.

Big wholesale retailers are stocking their shelves with the downsize in mind, too; Sam’s Club will offer hams in different sizes to suit your new headcount, and packs of yeast rolls that would normally feed an army are now intentionally portioned for less people, according to CNBC.

Rather than buying the whole turkey, Rodgers suggests looking for individual turkey parts (thighs, drumsticks, wings, breasts) and cook your favorite. He has found that many people are thrilled that they don’t have to cook a large bird because they can opt for their favorite cuts: no more fighting over white meat or dark meat.

Rodgers plans to prepare his cranberry chutney and deliver it to nearby friends with whom he would normally spend the holiday. At home, the culinary professional will be serving his pancetta-wrapped turkey breast, which is perfect for three to four people. (Recipe below.)

While recipes don’t necessarily need to be cut in half to suit a smaller table, households should take full advantage of their Tupperware. Rodgers noted that he is “looking for Thanksgiving to be an opportunity to fill my freezer with leftovers like turkey soup, turkey broth, cranberry sauce — which lasts for up to two weeks in the fridge —, chunks of turkey meat for casseroles and gravy, of course.”

And without a huge crowd of hungry mouths to manage, you can spend the extra time indulging a little in something special.

“Try treating yourself to a nice table setting,” said Rodgers. “Many people use paper cups plastic utensils to spare themselves a never-ending dishwashing nightmare — this year, bust out Grandma’s china.”

Recipe supplied by Rick Rodgers, author of Thanksgiving 101

Pancetta-Wrapped Turkey Breast
Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 skinless, boneless turkey breast half, about 1¾ pounds

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 tsp. finely chopped fresh sage

1 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme

About 6 oz. sliced pancetta, unrolled into strips (have the deli slice it the same thickness as standard bacon, not paper-thin)

1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio

Special equipment: Kitchen twine

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350ºF.

2. Place the turkey breast on the work surface, with the smaller pointed ends running vertically. Holding a thin sharp knife at a 45-degree angle, make a deep incision into the thickest part of the meat, being sure not to go all the way through the turkey meat. Open up this flap of meat like a book.

Make a couple of other incisions in other thick areas of the turkey meat to widen the surface of the turkey to about 12 inches across. Season the turkey all over with salt and pepper, placing the smoother side down. Sprinkle the turkey with the rosemary, sage, and thyme. Starting at a long side, roll up the turkey.

3. These instructions may seem confusing, but following them will help easily you wrap and tie the turkey roll. Cut four 12-inch lengths of twine. Place them horizontally, about 1 inch apart, on the work surface. Line up the pancetta strips horizontally over the strings.

Starting at the right or left, roll up the turkey. Wrap the pancetta strips around the turkey, with the loose ends on the top of the roll. Bring up the twine to tie the pancetta in place. If necessary to hold the pancetta, tie with more lengths of twine.

3. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the turkey roll and cook, turning occasionally, until the pancetta is translucent and partially cooked all over, but not browned, about 5 minutes.

4. Transfer the skillet with the turkey to the oven. Bake, turning occasionally, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the roll reads 160ºF and the pancetta is browned, about 50 minutes. Remove from the oven. Transfer the roll to a platter and let stand for about 5 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, pour any fat out of the skillet. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat until the juices are sizzling. Add the wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits in the skillet with a wooden spoon. Cook until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan sauce from the heat.

6. Cut and remove the kitchen twine. Using a thin sharp knife, cut the roll crosswise into ½-inch slices, and fan the slices on the platter. Pour the pan sauce all over the turkey and serve.

Note: If you want gravy instead of sauce, here’s how to do it: Pour out the fat in the skillet and measure out 1 1/2 Tbs. Return to the skillet and place over medium heat. Add 1 1/2 Tbs. all-purpose flour and whisk into a paste. Add 1 ¾ cup (one 13 ¾-ounce can) turkey or chicken broth and ¼ cup dry white wine. Whisk well, scraping up the browned bits in the pan, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer for 5 minutes. If the gravy seems too thick, whisk in more broth or water. Season with salt and pepper.

More on NJ Flavor:

New Jersey Date Night: Meet Me for Happy Hour

As Thanksgiving 2020 Approaches, NJ Sees Bigger Demand for Smaller Turkeys

NJ Chef Never Goes a Thanksgiving Dinner Without This Salad Recipe

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