A Life in Paris

How to Host an American Thanksgiving in Paris

November 8, 2017

An American’s Guide to Hosting Thanksgiving in Paris

You’re an American in Paris and you want to keep your Thanksgiving traditions alive in France? Me too!  I’ve done it and am here to show you how.

In this post I’ll give you tips on where to find American ingredients and the necessary cookware, which words you’ll need to order your turkey, and suggestions for hosting your non-Americans guests.

Thanksgiving dinners in North America vary widely in their production, due to the very unique traditions of the family celebrating the holiday. I’ll talk about my family’s traditions here, but if you have questions about how to implement YOUR traditions, I’d be happy to offer guidance. Just write a comment below or send me a message.

The French and Thanksgiving

Generally French people know the holiday exists and that it includes turkey, but they have no practical idea of what value it has for Americans or what really takes place at a Thanksgiving dinner. For example, I have been routinely asked by my guests if they must bring gifts. I’m always surprised by this question. The other frequent misconception is that they believe it is “just” a family dinner, like any normal Sunday dinner with the family (with no greater value or meaning).

If you need to explain the event to your French friends or family, here’s a description of Thanksgiving I wrote in French to my own French family. (Download my letter in French about Thanksgiving in PDF, then you should be able to copy/paste the text into your own word processing software.)  

The Day

In France, the fourth Thursday of November is just a regular workday. No French person will have any clue about the significance of that particular Thursday. Some Americans require that their French spouses and their in laws take a day off of work to have Thanksgiving on the traditional day. Personally, I’m rather flexible about this and try to aim for either the Saturday before or the one after.

French vs. American meal customs

If you have French guests at your Thanksgiving, then you may want to warn them about the plan for the meal. The French are known to be great cooks and to eat really well, but what you may or may not know, is that the way the meal is served is a tradition French people take very seriously (especially the older generations).

For fancy and important family meals in France, French people expect the meal to be served in this order:

  • A cocktail hour during which all attendees come to the living room at the same time and are served champagne or another before-dinner drink. No one is allowed to take a sip until everyone is served (and present) and not until the host says “santé”!!  Hors d’oeuvres are served and this never includes cheese and crackers. 
  • A vegetable-based appetizer and wine – which begins the meal served at the dining room table. There is baguette available.
  • The main meal with more of the same wine (typically you stick with one type of wine throughout the meal).
  • A plate of various French cheeses is passed around for people to take pieces and eat with baguette.
  • Dessert, which is eaten with a small spoon.
  • Coffee served in miniature little cups with miniature spoons (read the story of my total “oops” serving coffee to the French for the first time) and tea in tea cups or mugs.

If your Thanksgiving won’t include cocktail hour, an appetizer or a cheese plate, I highly encourage you to warn your guests in advance. (Again, click here if you’d like to copy and paste the email I wrote in French to explain this to my family.) 

Buying the Turkey

Turkeys are not available at the grocery stores in November. The French don’t eat turkeys until December, so your only solutions are to (a) order one from a butcher at least a week in advance (2 weeks is better) or (b) order one from one of the American markets below (Thanksgiving in Paris or the Real McCoy’s). Last year and this year, I’ve opted to order it from my local butcher, which has been a perfectly easy transaction. 

Several American woman I know in Paris always order their turkeys pre-cooked from the local rôtisseur. Some butchers will do this if they have the equipment, and they may also make the gravy and stuffing!  The Jeusselin butcher and caterer in the 7th will cook the turkey, stuffing, and gravy for you. They also sell butternut pie and mashed sweet potatoes.  

To order your (raw) turkey, you can say, “je voudrais commander une dinde pour le 23 (vingt-trois) novembre s’il vous plaît” (change the date to when you need to pick up the turkey). To ask if they can cook the turkey for you you can say, “Est-ce que vous pouvez la rôtir pour moi?”

If you order it raw, they’re going to ask you if you want it prepared (feathers removed, head off, gizzards removed). You can say, “je le veux préparé” to indicate that you do not intend to remove the head yourself… Also, they will ask if you want to keep the neck and the giblets (heart, liver and other organs, which can be great when making gravy). To take them home say, “je veux les abats et le cou” and to say you don’t want them, say, “je ne veux pas les abats ou le cou.” (“Les abats” is pronounced “lays-a-ba” and neck is “cou” which is pronounced “coo.”) While ordering the turkey, my butcher also asked me if I plan to stuff the bird: “allez-vous la farcir?” I don’t know why he asked! 

So how much should I order? 

Last year I made the mistake of letting the butcher decide how much meat I would need for 10 people. 750 grams per person is WAY too much! I literally had a whole turkey leftover. You can read why I bought two turkeys in my post about last year’s dinner.

Figuring out how much to order depends on who your guests are. The French don’t eat quite as much as Americans do, and they don’t have the tradition of eating huge amounts of a Thanksgiving meal. Last year, 10 (mostly French) adults ate about 250 grams per person, after eating a bunch of appetizers.  A lot of websites suggest about 500 grams per person (~1 pound).  This year I’m going for 250g per person since all of my guests are French. Another American in Paris confirms this is a pretty good amount to order. If you want a lot of leftovers, you could increase this, of course! 

The other factor is space. What size bird can your refrigerator or your oven hold? Most ovens in Paris are on the small side, so you really need to take this into consideration.

If you need a 4-kilogram (8.8 lb) turkey, you can say, “Il me faut une dinde à 4 (quatre) kilos.” (The price will be between 13 and 21 euros per pound.)

Click here for my delicious Thanksgiving Turkey recipe and a yummy gravy recipe.

The Sides

My parents went to the Culinary Institute of America, and they taught me that what’s easy and delicious makes for a relaxing and enjoyable Thanksgiving for everyone including the hosts!

Perhaps I took the “easy” part a little bit too much to heart, because I have varied from what they might prefer to cook for Thanksgiving… This is what I typically serve with our turkey – and where to buy the ingredients in France:

  • Green bean casserole with French’s Fried Onions. I recommend this delicious DIY green bean casserole recipe from Bon Appétit, with home-made béchamel sauce and sautéed mushrooms. Alternatively you could use the more basic recipe on the back of the French’s Fried Onion container, but it’s not as good as the DIY recipe linked above. French grocery stores sell green beans, milk and fried onions (in the seasoning aisle), but if you want to use the French’s brand product and Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, you’ll need to visit one of the American stores listed below. (My grandmother loved to make the basic recipe from the French’s Fried Onion container, but my culinary chef dad was not a fan. The Bon Appétit recipe is a real winner, though!)
  • Stuffing or Dressing – There are so many recipes for a baked stuffing, but I’m not a fan of how much work they take. My go-to is Stovetop Stuffing. It’s so easy to make and it’s sold at the American shops listed below. (Again, my culinary chef dad prefers to make his from scratch, but when I was a kid, I preferred Stovetop, so I still make that. There’s a family recipe I’ve been given that includes sausage, so I think I’ll try that next year.)
  • Cranberry Sauce – It turns out it’s rather easy to make homemade cranberry sauce. We tried this simple Bon Appétit roasted cranberry recipe and it was a big hit. It’s more tart and sweet than Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce, which is sold at the American shops listed below. I bought fresh cranberries at Thanksgiving in Paris, and I’ve heard you can also find them at some of the open markets, Picard (the frozen food store), at the organic (“bio”) stores, and Costco (in the suburbs). (Yet again, culinary chef dad is not a fan of the canned stuff! Also, several of the American women who I know in Paris swear by making this from scratch.) 
  • Mashed potatoes – the French have delicious potatoes and markets will even tell you which ones are best for mashing. You’ll look for the word “purée” when browsing the potato options. This Bon Appétit mashed potato recipe with herb-infused butter and milk is very flavorful and easy to make. 
  • Biscuits or dinner rolls – you could make your own or simply buy a few baguettes since you are in France… Your call!  Maybe someday I’ll make real biscuits with rosemary!

NOTE: If you would prefer to serve haute-cuisine to your French guests, the Bon Appétit Thanksgiving collection of recipes comes highly recommended. In the US I used to love cooking from the Bon Appétit cookbook my father gave me. The recipes are always spectacular! 

Other sides I enjoy or that others have suggested for Thanksgiving dinners:

  • Cornbread – you’ll need cornmeal, which is “fine semoule de maïs” (usually the box also says, “polenta”), and the box is never in the aisle where I expect to find it. I substituted buttermilk with “creme epaise liquide” and I bought an overpriced container of baking powder at an American store. Of course you can find affordably priced baking powder (“levure”) in the baking aisle of any French grocery store. I love this cornbread recipe by Paula Dean, but I add some fresh corn kernels from a can and it adds so much to the flavor!
  • Homemade cornbread stuffing. I’ve never made it, but so many people have recommended it!
  • A somewhat complicated yet utterly delicious butternut squash soup for the appetizer. You can read my recipe for this scrumptious Thanksgiving appetizer in my post from last year. Fortunately all of the ingredients are easy to find at a French grocery store.  
  • Honey garlic roasted carrots 
  • Roasted Brussel sprouts with garlic and parmesean cheese (or Brussel sprouts au gratin)
  • Sweet potatoes or yams (peel them and chop them into very 2″ cubes; coat with melted butter, olive oil, ginger, coriander, cumin, and some cinnamon; roast in the oven until they are done; can be made in advance and reheated in the oven.)
  • Creamed corn in a can is what I’ve usually purchased, and it’s available at the American markets.
  • Broccoli
  • Mashed butternut squash with butter, cinnamon and brown sugar.

Special ingredients:

Baking powder is “levure” in French and it comes in small pouches in the baking aisle of any normal French grocery store. When I first arrived bought an American brand at one of the American markets, and I know another American who buys it in the US and brings it to France in her suitcase!

Baking soda is everywhere in France, but they have two kinds: one for food and one for cleaning. For obvious reasons, I recommend looking for the food-grade option. It’s called “bicarbonate de soude – alimentaire.”

The Sweet Stuff

Pumpkin pie

If you’re short on time, you can order one from Thanksgiving in Paris.

This might be considered sacrilege among some groups, but I make this with Libby’s pumpkin filling. French people, and especially my husband, enjoy this pumpkin pie. According to some sources, the filling is actually mostly butternut squash. I wouldn’t be surprised. 

Libby’s filling is sold at the American shops listed below, and all the spices are available at normal grocery stores. The recipe calls for unsweetened concentrated milk, which you can get in cans in the boxed milk aisle of a regular grocery store, called “lait concentré non sucré.”

DIY pumpkin pie

I’ve been told Pumpkins that grow in France are not the same varieties that grow in the US, so if you’re hoping to DIY the filling, the flavor might not turn out the way you expect. One idea might be to use half butternut squash and half pumpkin? 

Some Americans in Paris use the French potiron squash (looks a little bit like a pumpkin) for their pies.  I tried to make a soup once with the potiron, but I didn’t like the flavor at all, so I’m a bit hesitant. But maybe I didn’t put in enough seasoning?!?

One woman I know loves this DIY recipe because the pumpkin puree is caramelized first. Sounds delicious!

Pie crust

Pie crust is a different matter. Many French people buy pre-made not-frozen pie crusts which are often near the eggs and refrigerated dairy section of the normal supermarket. I like the “pâte brisée” style for pumpkin pie crust. “Feuilletée” is a flakier crust that I like for quiche. You can also buy a big container of frozen pie crust at G Detou in the Marais. I’ve tasted this pie crust and it’s incredibly good.

Of course making it yourself is a great option too! All the ingredients can be found in the normal grocery store.

Other elements of the dessert course:

  • Apple or Blueberry pie – I haven’t made these in France, but I think my tips above about pie crust should be helpful, unless you want to DIY the crust. I’m pretty sure the Marks and Spencer shops sell these ready-made if you like. Also, if you have French guests who want to help by bringing a dish, this apple pie recipe in French was a big hit with my guests. Again, for the crust, you can use the pre-made pâte brisée in the dairy section of the French grocery stores.
  • Pecan pie – I don’t eat this, but I can pass along a few tips that others have shared with me. First, pecans are hard to find in Paris, though I’ve seen bags of them at Thanksgiving in Paris. I’ve heard you can buy them at the new Costco in the suburbs, and I know some American women bring pecans back from the US with them in their suitcases! You can order a pre-made pecan pie from Thanksgiving in Paris if you like.
  • Whipped cream – in the dairy aisle you can find canned whipped cream, but it’s also very easy to make. Pick up some “crème liquide” in the boxed milk aisle of a regular grocery store and leave it in the fridge for a day to cool down. Put it in a cold mason jar and shake for a few minutes. Add a drop of maple syrup and shake some more. And maybe a little more… Ta da!  Another method is to use an electric hand-mixer. It’s even easier with an attachment to my food processor (a combination food processor/blender is called “un robot” in French), and that’s my preferred method.
  • Tea and coffee – please read this article about French coffee before you serve coffee to a French person! I know some Americans who simply force their guests to drink American style coffee at their French homes. Will you bend or won’t you?! 😉

The American Markets

To buy American ingredients in Paris, there are really only a few options:

(Note: These shops only sell dry goods, nothing fresh.)

The prices for food at the Parisian American and British shops are exorbitant. If you can, I highly recommend using French products for things like unsweetened concentrated milk (lait concentré non-sucré), baking soda (bicarbonate de soude), spices and such.

If you have a car or can take a taxi, there’s a Costco in the suburbs that has a lot of the fresh and dry ingredients you need, including whole cranberries. Here’s a link to the map of where the Costco is located. However you need an annual membership to shop there.

The Cooking Supplies

Disposable Turkey Pans

I do not recommend using disposable aluminum pans for your turkey, because last year the bottom split on mine, causing the juice to leak out everywhere all over me and the kitchen floor. However, if you need one, both Thanksgiving in Paris and the Real McCoy sell them (links above). 

Most Importantly:

Measure your oven before buying a pan or even ordering a turkey! Parisian ovens tend to run small, so you really do need to take this into consideration…

The best deal? Borrow a pan!

  • This is not a time of the year when the French are cooking turkeys, so it’s a perfect moment to ask the neighbor to lend you hers. You need to be sure the pan is big enough for your turkey, but not too big for your oven! 

Other options to acquire a turkey pan:

Used turkey pans:

  • Check out one of the secondhand shops in Paris, called a “ressourcerie” or “depot vente.” Or you can go to the flea markets as well.
  • Check out leboncoin.fr for used goods. (It’s the French version of craigslist, though there is a small amount of activity on the French Craigslist site.)

New turkey pans:

  • Buy new at a tiny local “quincaillerie” or “droguerie” near you. These shops are everywhere and sell all sorts of household supplies and cleaning items. Pros: support local shops. Cons: small selection, and higher prices. 
  • Find the largest Carrefour or Auchan that you can find. I went to the Carrefour Bercy (and discovered the hard way that it is NOT next to Bercy…), and found the perfect stainless steel pan for 18 euros. Pros: wide selection. Cons: huge inhuman corporation, only accessible by bus or car.
  • Buy a high quality stainless steel pan at one of the classic (fancy) local culinary stores: a.simon, La Bovida, MORA or in the kitchen section at one of the big department stores: BHV, Galleries Lafayette, le Bon Marché, Printemps, etc. You can google each of these to find the address on a map. 
  • Go to Ikea, which is in the suburbs. There are free shuttles that Ikea organizes to and from Paris. 

David Lebovitz has some good tips about shopping for cookware in Paris, and I especially liked what he suggests regarding checking prices online before setting out on a shopping spree. He also has good advice about keeping an eye on the 20% sales tax (VAT).

For all the rest of the kitchen utensils…

For a turkey baking rack, glass or tin or ceramic American-style pie dishes, American measuring utensils, a fat separator, a turkey baster, and other essential supplies, the only place I found any of this (at reasonable prices) was at Thanksgiving in Paris in the Marais. They changed owners in 2017, so no guarantees that they still sell all these tools.  The fancy French kitchen supply stores do sell expensive turkey basters if you prefer a metal tube, but for nearly all the rest, I had to go to Thanksgiving in Paris.

As for the American style pie dishes… I searched EVERYWHERE in the French stores, but the way the French make dessert requires 90 degree angles, not 45 (or whatever Americans use) for our pie crusts. Plus, French pie moulds do not include a lip for the little band of crust we have on American pies. So, again, the American markets should have what you need!  

Is there something I’ve missed? What do you like to include in your Thanksgiving menu? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Although I highly recommend Thanksgiving in Paris, they did not pay me to say any of this! I have no financial relationship with any of the stores suggested in this post. However, some links in this post are Amazon affiliate links which means I could earn a couple of pennies if you buy something from those links. All the money goes to pay for the BonjourAdventure website hosting fees (fingers crossed I’ll someday move into a positive cash flow…).

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2 Comments

  • Reply Annette November 19, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    Wow, what a lot of thought you’ve put into this fabulously comprehensive post. I didn’t realise it was so challenging to get all your cooking utensils and ingredients you require for this important tradition in Paris. I hope all your dinner guests fully appreciate your efforts also. I’m going to enjoy all your posts – just subscribed via your packing checklist 🙂 Cheers Annette

    • Reply Tammy November 19, 2017 at 7:45 pm

      Hi Annette, so glad you enjoyed the post! Yes, our Thanksgiving dinner went very well with 9 Frenchies, and then we had leftovers with another group of 9 Frenchies the next day. Everyone loved it!

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