Area chefs and food aficionados share their secrets for preparing the perfect Thanksgiving meal
Generally, what words of wisdom do you have regarding Thanksgiving meal preparation for family/friends?
I would say the most important thing, if you are tasked with the preparation of Thanksgiving, is to not overextend yourself. Make them bring some sides – you just concentrate on the bird and one or two sides that you know you can handle and knock it out of the park. It is hard to please everyone at a table even if it’s friends and family, so delegate and don’t say no when they offer to bring something. That way, if they don’t like anything, it’s just as much their fault as yours.
—Daniel B. Sheridan, Chef/Owner, Wilmington Pickling Co., Locale BBQ Post, Stitch House Brewery
The most important thing is not to stress yourself out! Plan, plan, plan. Make as much ahead as possible. Breads and baked goods freeze well, so make them a couple of weeks ahead and then reheat them on Thanksgiving. Be sure to put some water in an ovenproof container in your oven so that there is some moisture when you are reheating. Think about prepping your veggies and starches a day or two ahead. Make an oven plan: count back from when you plan to sit down to eat and have a checklist of when items should go into the oven. This helps prevent the inevitable “There’s no more room in the oven!” headache.
—Paula S. Janssen, Owner, Janssen’s Market
The holidays are about spending time with family and friends. Don’t let the food take you away from spending time with them. When time and schedules permit, make preparing and cooking the meal a tradition. If that is not feasible, then try to buy the more time-consuming foods. It may cost a little bit more, but it will give you the opportunities to be with your loved ones.
—Kevin Varrasse II, Owner, Bachetti Bros. Meats, Market and Catering
Specifically, any thoughts about how to prepare a turkey? What herbs and spices have we been missing out on all our lives? What about alternative suggestions for vegetarians or vegans?
Ingredients should be as fresh as possible from any reputable grocer. I usually grab everything I need a day or two before. You don’t need too many off-the-cusp seasonings or ingredients, just a nice turkey and the vegetables you need for the sides. Herbs like thyme and rosemary go a long way and help the house smell great all day. Since I’ve opened Locale BBQ Post I’ve been smoking the turkey the last couple of years for my family and some regulars and it comes out amazing. I brine the turkey, then make sure some butter is stuffed in between the skin and the breasts, then season very heavily with salt, pepper and some of our dry rub. I usually cut the legs off the body so I can control the cook time on them separately. A brine on the turkey is definitely suggested. Don’t forget to make sure you have a drip pan to save all that great flavor for some gravy.
—Daniel B. Sheridan
Honestly, turkey is one of the easier meats to cook—don’t overthink it. Start with a good, natural bird. We sell T.A. Farms fresh, all natural turkeys from Wyoming, Del., which are delicious. I rub mine with a dry rub: Chairman of the Bird by Madison Avenue Seasonings, and leave it to rest on the counter for about an hour before cooking so that it cooks evenly. Once I put the bird in the oven with a little white wine in the bottom of the pan, I don’t open the oven door. No basting, no nothing—just even heat. Check after several hours with a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh—you want it to reach 165 degrees. Also, let the bird rest for 15-20 minutes before carving so that each slice is tender and juicy!
Some things to think about if you are having vegetarians or vegans at your Thanksgiving table: There are options like Tofurkey, but honestly, I think you are better off just eating sides. Personally, I just take one token piece of turkey—for me it is all about the sides! Instead of mixing bacon into your green beans or Brussels sprouts, have them on the side to sprinkle on top. Use olive oil instead of butter in your recipes. Skip the cheese in recipes—everything is heavy enough as it is! Use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.
—Paula S. Janssen
I believe that poultry seasoning is the key ingredient in cooking turkeys, although many people are experimenting with fresh sage placed under the skin on the breast.
—Kevin Varrasse II
Fantastic! Anything else we should know before rolling up our sleeves?
If the thought of cooking for everyone stresses you out, let people bring side dishes and dessert. Or pick up some items at your favorite local market—put it in your own dish and no one will ever know!
—Paula S. Janssen
When mom says get out of the kitchen, just listen to her.
—Kevin Varrasse II