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Wondering How Chefs Prep Their Holiday Dinners? Here's How

November 08, 2019DMT.NEWS

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Wondering How Chefs Prep Their Holiday Dinners? Here Are the Answers

Sometimes when we write a story, we end up with way more information than we could ever fit into one piece.

We recently published a First-Timer’s Guide to Cooking Holiday Dinners and polled chefs, bartenders and other industry professionals across the country for tips, tricks and recipes to make any first-time host seem like a pro.

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With that, we ended up with so many incredible tips and tricks, we decided to publish the rest of what we couldn’t publish in the first piece. Below, you’ll find all sorts of great ideas and thoughts from a number of other respected chefs and bartenders, organized by the course of the meal.

Pre-Meal Prep

“Plan everything out a few weeks in advance, make it into a project. Start by writing a menu, next make a shopping list, after that you will want to write a prep list separating out any time consuming components from the dishes themselves. Once you have your ingredients and prep list, figure out what you can do in the days leading up to the holiday. The more that you can get done ahead of time the more you will be relaxed on the big day. I like to have everything as close as complete as possible, and in the case of Thanksgiving, all I like to do on that Thursday is pop things into the oven like the turkey, stuffing and potatoes. If you are making pie, do it a couple of days in advance.” Mike DeCamp, Executive Chef at Jester Concepts, Minneapolis, MN

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“When planning your menu, think about your audience. Often cooks will create a meal that they want to eat without considering whether their guests have any dietary restrictions such as gluten-intolerance. If you have a vegetarian guest, be sure they have plenty to eat.”

Shelley Young, Chef/Owner at The Chopping Block, Chicago

Let’s Talk Turkey

“Check that your turkey is thoroughly thawed. Thawing in a bowl or the kitchen sink of cold water takes roughly 30 minutes per pound. Remember to change the water every 30 minutes or so to keep it cold; never use hot water. Thawing in the refrigerator should take roughly 24 hours for every five pounds, so a 15-pound frozen turkey could take roughly three days to thaw completely.” Richard Ingraham, private chef for Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union, Miami, FL

“If you’re brining a big turkey, I suggest using a clean, large metal garbage can. To do this, line the garbage can with three lawn bags, pour in the brine and place the turkey in, and tie all of the bags individually. And don’t forget to cover it with the lid and put a few bricks on top to keep the raccoons out!” — Franklin Becker, Culinary Director at Claudio’s Waterfront Restaurants, NYC

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“For a crispy Peking-style turkey, I bathe the bird in a hot brine of pineapple juice, soy, ginger, scallions and vinegar. Then I dry it in the fridge for 24 hours and roast it in the oven like a chicken in a can.” — Julian Medina, Chef and Owner of Latineria, La Chula, Toloache, and others, NYC

“Do not overcook! Use a digital thermometer, as it’s more reliable, and remember that your turkey continues to cook after you’ve taken it out of the oven. Don’t forget to let the turkey rest for at least half an hour before carving.” — James Kelly, Executive Chef at Lupa, NYC

How to Roast a Turkey (Richard Ingraham, private chef for Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union, Miami, FL)

Brining: This is definitely the way to go. During the brining process, the turkey absorbs extra moisture, which in turn helps it stay moister and juicier both during and after cooking. Since the turkey absorbs salt along with the water, it also gets nicely seasoned from the inside out. Butter: I like using a citrus herb butter to brown my turkey. To create your melted citrus herb butter, add fresh thyme, orange zest, and orange juice. Remove the giblets and neck from your thawed bird and discard or reserve for gravy or dressing. Place your turkey in a clean sink and wash your bird with cold water. I would do this 2-3 times to make sure my turkey is thoroughly clean. Next, dry your bird with paper towels. Season the cavity of the turkey with your choice of seasonings. Tip: To help enhance the flavor, place a combination of onions, green apples, garlic, celery, and fresh herbs in the center of the bird. Tie the legs of your turkey with butchers twine. Next, tuck the wings along the sides to keep then from browning too much (a trick I learned from my mom). Place your bird in a roasting pan on a rack and brush with your citrus herb butter. Next, cover the surface of the bird with your choice of seasonings. Cover your turkey loosely with foil and stick it in a 350° F oven. 20-25 minutes before your turkey is done pull it out and remove the roasting pan cover or foil and brush with citrus herb butter. Place your turkey back in the oven until it reaches a golden brown color. Remove the turkey from the pan and place it on a cutting board loosely covered with aluminum foil, for about 20 minutes before carving.

“If you’re roasting, you want to plan for 12-13 minutes of cooking time for every pound of turkey.” –Matt Horn, Horn Barbecue, Oakland, CA

The Best Advice for Side Dishes

“You have to be careful, because they’re sharp, but a Mandolin (which you can find for less than $20) is the best investment you can make for efficiency. It saves a ton of time slicing root vegetables, onions, apples for pie, etc. for big prep projects like holiday dinners, and it keeps the cuts consistent to help ensure all the veggies are cooking evenly.” – Dolan Lane, Executive Chef at Red Star Tavern, Portland, OR

"A wire rack fitted onto a sheet tray in a warm oven is great for anything that you want to keep warm without condensation forming on the bottom." – Guy Vaknin, Executive Chef at Beyond Sushi, NYC

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When cooking with vegetables try to use every part of the vegetable for a different dish to limit waste. For example, when I cook beets, I roast them in the oven with some fresh herbs and extra virgin olive oil and then I use the greens for a vegetable stew using onion, turmeric, garlic and combine them with other greens such as Swiss chard or kale." – Guy Vaknin, Executive Chef at Beyond Sushi, NYC

For a lighter side dish that accommodates a variety of diets, we like to make coconut grits. It's a great replacement to a Thanksgiving favorite, mashed potatoes, while being both dairy-free and gluten-free. We make them by using coconut milk as a substitute for the heavy cream required for the recipe. It is very flavorful and rich without being heavy. The kick really comes in by adding something acidic as a topping - I personally love giardiniera or even something as simple as a diced pickle. Thanksgiving is all about flavorful dishes coming together on one plate and light side dishes are a great way to do that. – Bill Kim, Chef/Owner at Urbanbelly, Chef/Partner at The Table at Crate, Chicago

The Best Dinnertime Dishes

“Think about your serving dishes and utensils ahead of time. Lay them out on the table and put a post-it note with the name of the dish that will go in the vessel. That way, when it comes time to serve everything, guests can help you because they will know what dish goes where.” - Shelley Young, Chef/Owner at The Chopping Block, Chicago

Advice on Serving Drinks

“Punches are always great, especially a hot drink like mulled wine. The aroma fills the room, augmenting the warmth of meal prep and familiar faces.” – Mark Paschal, Fasel Shenstone Imports, San Diego

“The Holidays are all about memories — reliving past great times or creating new ones. (Create this environment by) welcoming your guests with a riff on a classic cocktail. At Vida Verde, we have our own versions of two classics. A sour with tequila as the base spirit, lemon juice, pumpkin spiced liqueur, maple syrup and egg whites for a frothy finish. Dust a little cinnamon on top, garnish with star anise and your festivities have begun.

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“We also have our own version of a classic Negroni. Barrel aged blanco tequila, Campari and Barolo Chinoto Sweet Vermouth. Since you probably don't have an oak barrel lying around, substitute a high quality reposado or anejo Tequila. Stir in equal parts of Campari and your preference of Sweet Vermouth. Add an Orange twist and you've impressed again.” - Daniel Zakarija- Beverage Director, Vida Verde, NYC

“All the rage these days in famous wine bars from Paris to NYC to LA is Chenin Chenin Chenin! Now we are finding great bottlings from not just the Loire Valley but also all over California, and boy are they delicious with food. Thanksgiving stuffing with herbs and spices, or the most delicious latke fresh from the pan on Hanukkah will long for a crisp Chenin Blanc with delicate acidify and fresh apple fruit on the palate.” – Matthew Kaner, Co-Founder/Co-Owner/Wine Director at Bar Covell and Augustine Wine Bar, Los Angeles

With all these tips from all these pros, you can pull off the best holiday food to date. Go ahead — take all the credit, we won’t tell.

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Geoff Nudelman, Khareem Sudlow

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