All happy families may be alike, or so Tolstoy tells us, but every happy family’s Thanksgiving dinner is a little different. Sure, there’s probably more overlap of certain ingredients consumed in American households than on any other day of the year, but anyone who looks forward to the holiday as much as I do will tell you the particular idiosyncrasies of their annual meal: a grandmother’s secret pie recipe, a dad’s experimentation with the deep fryer, a shared dislike of yams.
In my family, the turkey is dry brined (a technique my mom has used since before she knew the name for it), there’s always salmon on the table (my grandpa doesn’t like turkey and my sister is a pescatarian) and the pumpkin pie is actually made with butternut squash. But the dish that my siblings and I look forward to the most, hands down, is the stuffing—which, in our house, means gooey, savory sticky rice studded with chestnuts, Chinese sausage and mushrooms. (We love it so much that it makes a recurring appearance as breakfast on Christmas morning.)
At some point during my childhood I became aware that rice stuffing wasn’t a “traditional” Thanksgiving food (though then again, neither was turkey). For a few years I insisted we make both kinds—Chinese and American—because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And while I can definitely get down with some buttery, herby crumbles of bread and sausage (I mean, what’s not to like?), it’s the Chinese rice stuffing that I dream about.
I’ve lived 3,000 miles away from my hometown for the past decade and haven’t been home for Thanksgiving most of those years, though my parents are a constant presence on text and FaceTime throughout the day, whether it’s to offer recipe advice or taunt me for the 60-degree California weather I’m missing. Sometimes I’ll tag along to a Friendsgiving, but most years I prefer to have dinner at home, even if it’s just me and my sisters or a friend or two, because I love the ritual of cooking all day almost as much as the meal itself. I do have to make some concessions for my studio-apartment kitchen, though: I usually swap the turkey for a much more manageable chicken and pick up a pie from one of the excellent bakeries in my neighborhood.