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How to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner in a Super-Small Space

Microwaves, hot plates, and toaster ovens can get the job done

Eater Young Gun Lucas Sin (’19) is something of an expert when it comes to small-space cooking: in college, he ran a multi-course noodle popup in his dorm room, serving up to 250 people a weekend using little more than a microwave and a mini fridge. Thanksgiving was no different: Sin grew up in Hong Kong and didn’t travel back to Asia for the holiday, instead opting to stay on near-empty campus with a crew of other international students, who did a sort of multicultural Thanksgiving their way. Working with limited space and resources, Sin concocted elaborate Asian-American feasts for the holiday. So we figured he was the perfect person to talk to for some tips and tricks on executing a Thanksgiving of your own, dorm room (or tiny apartment!) style:

Basic small-space cooking equipment

The key assumptions here are that you have access to a microwave, a toaster oven, a hot plate, and an electric kettle or water boiler. “Thanksgiving is all about texture — there’s a time for mushy and a time for crispy, and a successful dinner is all about balancing the two,” says Sin. These tools will give you the ability to do both— the microwave and kettle provide wet heat for softening food, while the toaster oven and hot plate provide dry heat to care of the crisping.

You don’t need an oven to cook turkey — or chicken, or duck

Shoving an entire turkey in a toaster oven is challenging. But break a turkey (or, as Sin prefers to make for Thanksgiving, chicken or duck) into smaller parts, and then you have options. “Turkey breasts or chicken thighs can go in the toaster oven,” Sin says. “Or you can use a hot plate to make chicken [or duck] under a brick, which is nice for small spaces because it doesn’t smoke the room up too much.” A third, more Chinese-influenced option is to use the kettle to make a riff off of Hainanese chicken: “Fill the kettle with water, ginger, scallions, garlic, and salt. Bring it to a boil, drop in chicken thighs, then turn the heat off and let it sit for 30 minutes. As the temperature of the water drops, it brings up the temperature of the meat, cooking the chicken thighs gently, almost like sous-vide, so they come out perfectly succulent. If you have a thermometer on hand, you want chicken breasts to reach 145 F and chicken thighs to reach 165 F or even 170 F,” Sin says.

Cook side dishes in the microwave

This is where having that one-two punch of a microwave and toaster oven comes in handy. “One of my favorite things to do with any type of hard root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, brussels sprouts) is to wash them, season heavily with spices and oil, put them in a bowl covered with plastic wrap and zap them for 5 minutes in the microwave. It always produces a perfectly steamed vegetable, because they’re steaming with their own moisture,” says Sin. “Once they’re al dente, I throw them in the toaster oven at the highest temperature to give it a nice char.”

Sweet potatoes can be microwaved whole, “just be sure to poke some holes into the skin or else they’ll explode,” says Sin. He recommends cooking for 8 minutes on low heat, unwrapped, then splitting them open and seasoning. Green bean casseroles are easy to make in the microwave (just steam the green beans first using the technique above), and finished with French’s fried onions. Finally, make your own raw cranberry sauce: “Just blitz up raw cranberries in a NutriBullet with sugar, honey, orange zest, and ginger, and it looks and tastes great,” Sin says. “I love the canned stuff too, but fresh is a revelation.”

Buy a pie

Store-bought is always a viable option here, or, Sin recommends boxed pudding mix. “All you need is a bowl. Or if you have a freezer, no-bake cheesecakes are great.” And if you do go the store bought route, particularly for pie, Sin has a final tip: “I always microwave premade apple pie, then put ice cream on top of it. It makes it feel fresh out of the oven.”

Jamie Feldmar is a Los Angeles-based writer and cookbook author. Juliette Toma is an illustrator based in Los Angeles.

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