Top five absolute worst Thanksgiving side dishes
Thanksgiving -- or Black Friday Eve, depending on your perspective -- is filled with holiday joys, like listening to your uncle's uncensored feelings about Obamacare, your kiddos smearing Cool-Whip on every surface with their mouths, your unemployed cousin digging through your couches for loose change and everyone talking loudly about Miley Cyrus' ass. Add to this a sub-par meal and not enough liquor and you have a recipe for the worst Thanksgiving in living memory -- unless you count last year.
Anyone can cook a halfway-decent turkey, so it falls upon the side dishes to make or break this year's dinner, so don't add to the soul-annihilating conversation and rogue activity by preparing -- or buying -- terrible side dishes. Here's a list of the top five absolute worst Thanksgiving side dishes that you should avoid.
5. Rice pilaf
There has to be a clear line of demarcation between stuff you eat on a normal day, and stuff you contribute to a holiday meal, and rice pilaf doesn't just cross the line -- it IS the line. Chances are, if you're the special breed of jackass that would bring salty, wizened, chickeny rice, littered with dead peas and carrot crumbs to a Thanksgiving dinner, you are also the kind of jerkbag who didn't even make it from scratch. And if it's one of those wild rice mixes, keep in mind that it remains implacably hard, no matter how long it is boiled, forcing your family to pick the stuck bits out of their teeth. And while this might delay the unbearable table-talk about goiter surgeries and recreational marijuana, it won't postpone it for nearly long enough.
4. Ambrosia salad
Whoever decided that naming the foul mess of gelatin, whipped topping, sodden canned fruit, sour cream, mini-marshmallows and shredded coconut "ambrosia" is probably the same person who made MTV stop playing music videos and created rectal cancer. There exist only whispered rumors and frightening urban folklore as to how this "salad" came to be, but no matter how many cloves of garlic you wear around your neck or how many tubs of holy water you bathe in, it never fails that someone you know and used to love will show up at your house, on Thanksgiving, wearing a sweater with a turkey on it and grasping a Tupperware bowl of this fruity slop.
3. Corn pudding
If there was ever a dish that looked exactly the same going into your body at one end as coming out at the other, it's corn pudding. This soupy slush of milk, cream, eggs, flour, whole kernel corn (not even close to being fresh in season, by the way) and possibly cheese might be your grammy and paw-paw's traditional Thanksgiving side dish going waaaaay back to the Depression era, but thank god, the devil and Duck Dynasty that these days, no matter how fucked up slow the economy is, we do not have to eat things that both look and taste inferior to off-brand canned cat food. (Adding green chiles is commendable, but will not make this pudding any better.)
2. Stuffing that isn't Stove Top
Before Stove Top stuffing was introduced in 1972, it was both understandable and completely forgivable to have experimented with from-scratch dressing. Life before Stove Top (BST) was scary and brutish, and folks had to do the best they could with stale bread hunks and cut-up celery. But since Kraft General Foods blessed the planet with the perfectly-seasoned, carefully calibrated, miracle that is instant stuffing, there is no need of -- or viable excuse for -- attempting to produce Thanksgiving dressing that does not come out of a red box, or a big can if you shop at Sam's Club.
1. Tomato aspic
You thought it was going to be canned cranberry sauce, right? Close. I saw what I thought was cranberry sauce at a family Thanksgiving buffet once, until closer inspection revealed a wiggly, peppery mass of crimson gelatin garnished with green olives, hard-boiled egg slices and tuna fish. As it turns out, this was something even less palatable than the traditional can-shaped log of cranberry jelly: tomato aspic. I had only heard tales of aspic from older folks who frequented southern country clubs in the 1950s, but never thought I'd ever see some in real life. I spooned a little on my plate. It tasted like salt-less V-8 juice mixed with canned tuna water.
Side note: While Aspic needs to go far away forever away with other 1950s fail dishes like tinned ham, creamed onions and Waldorf salad, deviled eggs can stay. This is because they provide the most important entertainment of any family holiday gathering -- a round of "pull my finger" about an hour after dinner.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.