Twelve Ideas for a French Thanksgiving

It is hard to think of a more American tradition than Thanksgiving! Yet it is quite easy to add a little French flavor to your dinner while still serving the traditional turkey. With this in mind, France-Amérique gathered some expert advice from twelve French-American gourmets.

Dominique Crenn, French chef, owner of three restaurants in San Francisco, author of the book Rebel Chef
“A favorite of mine to enjoy over the holidays is oysters! A simple mignonette sauce made with red wine vinegar and minced shallots is the perfect complement to the brine and depth of the oyster – a wonderful start to any Thanksgiving meal!”

Estelle Tracy, author of the book Guide de survie alimentaire aux Etats-Unis

“If you want to ‘French up’ your Thanksgiving, I would recommend French green beans with almonds (French-style frozen green beans can be found at Whole Foods) and a tarte tatin with apples and cranberries served with little brioches. As for the turkey, I would stuff it with chestnuts, just like in France!”

Melissa Clark, New York Times food writer, author of the book Dinner in French

“Starting the meal with a creamy chestnut soup, the surface dotted with toasted brioche croutons, would add a festive and sophisticated note that’s autumnal and celebratory.”

Alain Sailhac, French chef, dean of the International Culinary Center in New York
“For Thanksgiving, I like to serve ratatouille. It is colorful, can be done in advance, and it is a real crowd-pleaser. The dish is from the South of France and so am I!”

Daniel Boulud, French chef, owner of eight restaurants in the United States

“Every year, I make my grandmother’s stuffed winter squash recipe: a courge musquée de Provence (or a Long Island cheese pumpkin from the U.S.), oven-roasted with bread, mushrooms, onions, cream, Gruyère cheese, and lardons. The perfect way to use up the rest of the Thanksgiving stuffing! This is a dish I prepared with Anthony Bourdain in Lyon at my parents’ home for an episode of his show Parts Unknown.”

Hervé Malivert, French chef, director of culinary arts and technology at the International Culinary Center in New York
“To start the evening, I recommend a Classic Kir Royal (champagne + cassis liqueur), a French Martini (Chambord Liqueur + vodka + pineapple juice), or a French 75 (gin + champagne + lemon juice + simple syrup). French onion soup makes a great Thanksgiving appetizer, but my favorite is braised endives rolled in smoked Virginia ham and topped with béchamel sauce. I also like to have a salade lyonnaise (frisée, lardon, crouton, shallots, but no poached eggs). A salad course can be a nice addition to help guests digest. Finally, baked apples in aluminum foil with cinnamon, butter, and sugar, served with bourbon ice cream, is a great way to finish the meal.”

Marc Bauer, French chef, senior director of culinary and pastry arts at the International Culinary Center in New York

“For an aperitif, I recommend mulled wine, or vin chaud (red wine + sugar + cinnamon + cloves + orange zest). It’s a great hot drink when it’s cold outside. Then, for the appetizer, pâté en croûte, foie gras, or foie gras mousse with brioche and gelée de coings, a jelly made with quince, which is in season from late October through December. Red cabbage with chestnuts and apple is the best side dish to pair with turkey and to pay homage to my native French region, Alsace. You can even add a drop of apple juice if you like your cabbage a little sweeter.”

David Lebovitz, American chef in Paris, author of the books My Paris Kitchen and Drinking French

“I often start a Thanksgiving meal with celery root soup. Celery is not an ingredient that is used often in the United States, but it is quite common in France. It’s like a simple purée, sometimes with a few potatoes tossed in for extra body, as well as butter-braised leeks and a little garlic. I finish them just before serving with some fresh herbs although sometimes I crumble bacon or ham over the top. My other tip is to serve champagne. Everyone loves it and it helps to set the holiday mood!”

Alain Allegretti, French chef in New York

“The most typically French side dish to serve with turkey has to be potatoes and chestnuts. These are classic features of the French culinary canon. Pommes dauphine and Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, smoked bacon, and caramelized onions will certainly add a French touch to your meal.”

Raphaël François, French chef, owner of the Le DeSales restaurant in Washington D.C.

“I suggest starting your Thanksgiving meal with a pissaladière tart or a winter squash soup with butter whisked in and topped with shavings of foie gras. I stuff my turkey with sage and brioche in a pain perdu style, and serve it with an Emmental-filled potato galette, tender French beans, and lots of shallots and garlic. And what better than a homemade hot chocolate to round off the evening?”

Dominique Ansel, French pastry chef, owner of a New York patisserie, author of the book Everyone Can Bake
“We make a pumpkin pie every year, and I add a French touch by decorating it with vanilla whipped cream, just like a Saint-Honoré. This is a great way of dressing up the pie, and our customers love it!”

Pascaline Lepeltier, French sommelier, works at the Racines restaurant in New York

For Thanksgiving, you need wines that you can enjoy all day and will pair nicely with every course. I like to start with bubbles and fruity notes: a Chenin made by La Grange Tiphaine in Montlouis-sur-Loire or a sparkling Vouvray from Domaine Vincent Carême in the Loire Valley. For the main course, I suggest an off-dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes region of New York State (try Bloomer Creek or Nathan K.) or, if you prefer powerful California reds, a Gamay by Edmunds St. John, a Valdiguié by Michael Cruse, or a Zinfandel by Turley. For dessert, I enjoy the freshness of a Jurançon, a confidential dessert wine from the Southwest of France. Open a bottle of Camin Larredya by Domaine de Souch and you will be in for a treat!