I have officially sold out. Although I swore I wouldn’t, I’m writing the obligatory Thanksgiving column. I feel like I’m giving in to the hype, becoming a lemming, just some number in a demographic survey. But what the heck, ’tis the season.
Turkey day, as this holiday is affectionately known, has arrived. For many Americans, Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday. Why? The food, of course.
I read many food magazines as well as a few food blogs — in fact, I’m looking at one right now that’s chastising readers for roasting their birds whole. Give me a break, show-off. I’ve now reached the saturation point on Thanksgiving dinner preparation advice. Everyone is an expert — their recipes are the ultimate versions of the dish — they’re sharing old family recipes, with secrets only they can reveal. Really, enough already!
Let’s talk turkey. Thanksgiving food is easy. At its very heart, it consists of a roasted bird, basic potatoes, simple gravy, a few other sides (mostly carb-loaded), and very basic pies. That’s it. So what’s the problem? Well, for most people, even good cooks, it’s the volume of dishes. Thanksgiving is not just a meal — it’s a feast.
When most Americans are asked about Thanksgiving, they usually say, “I was so stuffed!” That’s a problem.
As a chef, my goal is not to stuff people, but to excite, delight, amuse and satisfy. The meal should be a celebration of well-executed seasonal specialties, but instead it has turned into a gathering at the trough. But hey, y’all can celebrate any way you want and I’m happy to join; just don’t expect me to do the cooking.
The sheer volume of dishes expected at the turkey day feast simply overwhelms not only the skills, but also the kitchen space of the majority of home cooks. As a result, they use a ton of shortcuts and mediocre convenience foods. Sad, but reality is harsh. Refrigerators don’t expand and extra ovens don’t mysteriously appear. There is simply no time or space to prepare delicious, well-crafted items, and honestly, most of your relatives won’t appreciate the effort.
My favorite example of this is the infamous green bean casserole. You know the one of which I speak: canned green beans, Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, topped with canned fried onions. It’s a truly incredible example of good intentions gone wrong. If any food could be compared to the Jags, this would be the one. The true crime, though, is that if you prepare the dish using properly cooked fresh haricot vert, create a luscious sherry spiked mushroom sauce, then pan-fry finely julienned shallots, the result is an incredibly memorable side dish. But that’s probably not happening ’cause most people prefer the first version anyway.
Try this cranberry chutney, and don’t skimp on the Grand Marnier.
Chef Bill’s Cranberry Chutney
- 3 shallots, brunoise
- 1 oz. butter
- 10 oz. cranberries
- 2/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup Grand Marnier, plus shots for the cook
- 1 tsp. garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. ginger, minced
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cloves
- Sweat the shallots, add garlic and ginger.
- Add vinegar, Grand Marnier, sugar, and dissolve.
- Add cranberries, salt and pepper. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until the berries pop. Adjust the seasonings.
- Take a shot of Grand Marnier (optional), and serve warm.
Until we cook again,
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Fernandina Beach, at [email protected] with your recipes or questions, to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!