Thanksgiving is one of America’s favorite meals. It’s a meal home cooks both savor and dread, for when Thanksgiving dinner goes well, it’s wonderful.
But when mistakes happen, they can render the meal inedible. Common mistakes along the road of baking the perfect turkey include overcooking the turkey which dries out the bird, not letting the turkey rest before carving it and not basting the turkey enough.
Chef Keith Casey of KC American Bistro in the Naples Pavilion shopping center has an army of tips for the trifecta of Thanksgiving dinner — turkey, potatoes and gravy.
“To begin with the turkey, to cook it right, it’s important to let the juices in the turkey settle down,” Chef Casey said.
Baking the best turkey is a no-pain, no-gain scenario. Casey said while it is a lot of work, basting the turkey as often as possible is the key to a juicy bird. “Use the juices that have rendered in the pan to baste your turkey, and it will be juicier,” he said.
Casey also debunks the myth that applying liberal amounts of butter will create a more moist turkey.
“It’s pointless to use butter because the turkey is cooking for so long. For a Cornish game hen that is only in the oven for 20 minutes or so, applying butter is the right idea, but for turkey, it’s really not going to make a difference. Basting often is what’s going to help seal in that flavor,” he said.
Overcooking the turkey is a mistake that can’t be corrected, although groovy gravy helps add some appetizing moisture. To ensure the gravy remains mistake- free, Casey has a foolproof recipe that works every time.
The key is a combination of heat and restraint. Lumpy gravy happens when broth isn’t boiling and the roux isn’t incorporated slowly enough.
“The key for smooth gravy without lumps is to incorporate the roux slowly into boiling broth until you get the desired thickness,” Chef Casey said. “I use turkey broth, which home cooks can buy from their grocers, and the roux is simply olive oil and flour.”
Casey incorporates the roux a small amount at a time, constantly whisking the mixture until it thickens. The broth remains at a rolling boil the entire time. Up for gravy debate is cornstarch versus flour.
“Flour is what I use, but for gluten-intolerant people, cornstarch is a good alternative,” he said.
Even with the best intentions, gravy can go wrong. Chef Casey has a few fixes that can help the home cook salvage it without having to start anew: Lumpy gravy: Casey recommends straining the gravy through a cheesecloth to retain only the liquid portion of the gravy Too thick or thin: Add water to make gravy thinner. For gravy that is too watery, carefully add more roux in small amounts.
The French are the undisputed masters of sauces and gravies. Lisa Boet of Bamboo Cafe French Home Cooking has a few gravy secrets of her own involving a celebratory ingredient: alcohol.
“The foundation for many French sauces is wine and alcohol, and when cooking for Thanksgiving, we transpose this very French take onto American traditions by adding Cognac or brandy and shallots to our gravy,” she said. “We sauté shallots with the giblets and add about a half of a cup of Cognac or brandy for every four cups of gravy.”
Boet then thickens the gravy with cornstarch, giving it a lighter consistency.
“It’s important to taste the gravy as you may want to add a little more Cognac according to taste,” she said.
Boet, whose restaurant is serving a Bell & Evans Thanksgiving turkey dinner starting at 5 p.m., prepares Chestnut-brandy stuffing.“Using herbes de Provence is another French take on an American classic, and for that we add approximately one cup of roasted fresh chestnuts for every four cups of stuffing,” she said.
“You can purchase the whole roasted chestnuts vacuum-packed or roast fresh chestnuts, and we add the herbs to Provence along with fresh rosemary and bay leaf to our chicken stock.”
In addition to stuffing, for most home cooks, Thanksgiving dinner would not be complete without mashed potatoes. Casey shares a secret for tastier potatoes with home cooks that professional chefs have known about for a long time: celery root. Puréed celery root gives mashed potatoes a unique flavor that goes a step beyond the typical spuds usually prepared for Thanksgiving.
Issues with Thanksgiving dinner aren’t restricted to gravy and turkey. Problem potatoes can happen to home cooks as well.
Potatoes cooked too long or not sliced thick enough result in watery potatoes. Chef Casey has a few fixes for potatoes and some preventive measures that will ensure they remain delicious for the big meal.
“Slice potatoes in half for boiling and don’t cut them too small or they’ll absorb too much water and taste bland,” he said. “Also, mix your potatoes well before adding cream and butter.”
Chef Casey uses heavy cream and chooses unsalted butter so he can control the amount of salt in his dishes. He brings both ingredients to a boil before adding them to the mixed potatoes.
“Add the mixture of butter and cream to your mixer and mix until they become creamy,” he said. “Then I add my celery root and mix it again — taste the potatoes and if you need a little more celery root, add that and mix.”
Casey warns against too much mixing.
“Mixing the potatoes too much will make them become gummy, so be careful not to mix them to that point,” he said.
CELERY ROOT PUREE
1 Buy the celery root whole from your grocer
2 Remove the leaves, peel, slice and boil it just like you would a potato. The celery root is done when soft enough to pass a fork through it .
3 Purée the celery root until it is smooth similar to the consistency of mashed potatoes
¾ cup of heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter Salt to taste
1 Slice potatoes in half
2 Boil until done
3 Boil cream and butter
4 Strain potatoes
5 Mix potatoes alone in mixer
6 Add cream and butter mixture
7 Add celery root purée
8 Taste, add salt to desired taste
2 quarts turkey broth (can be cut in half for smaller
INGREDIENTS FOR ROUX
½ cup olive oil
1 cup flour
1 Boil broth and keep boiling
2 Boil olive oil and slowly add flour
3 Slowly incorporate roux into broth, keeping broth at a boil
FRENCH CHESTNUT STUFFING WITH COGNAC
Serves 8-10 guests
8 oz. butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
5 ribs of celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 branches fresh rosemary, minced
1 T ground sage
2 T herbes de Provence
1 quart chicken stock
1 cup Cognac or brandy
1 to 2 loaves of day-old French bread, cubed & lightly toasted (may let cubed bread dry out overnight uncovered on a baking sheet OR bake bread cubes until light brown on baking sheet in oven)
UNSWEETENED CHESTNUT PUREE
1 cup whole roasted chestnuts, chopped (either purchase vacuum-packed OR roast fresh chestnuts, see directions below) 1 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 Melt butter in large skillet.
2 Add onions, celery and garlic and sautée over medium heat until onions are translucent.
3 Add bay leaves, rosemary, sage, and herbes de Provence, along with chicken stock and Cognac.
4 Simmer on medium heat approximately 15 minutes.
5 In a large bowl, mix toasted bread cubes into liquid, season with salt and pepper.
6 Add 1 cup chestnut; purée and 1 cup chopped whole roasted chestnuts.
7 Optional: Add cooked giblets to mixture before baking.) Place contents into a buttered baking dish, bake covered in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for 20-30 minutes.
8 Serve warm to accompany turkey, goose or pintade (Guinea fowl).
ROASTING FRESH CHESTNUTS
1 Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2 Using a paring knife, cut an “X” in the flat side of chestnut shells.
3 Place scored chestnuts in a covered stoneware roasting dish.
4 Roast for 45 min. to 1 hour in a 375-degree oven.
5 Remove the shells and inner skin by hand when still warm.
6 Do not wait until they are cold as they will be difficult to peel. Use them as directed in recipe. Note: Vacuum-packed roasted chestnuts and chestnut purée may be purchased in gourmet food stores or online.