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Tips for the Thanksgiving meal

  • Brandon Kemmett, who has worked at Roy's Market for four years, weighs out a 14 1/2 pound turkey on Monday in anticipation of Thanksgiving. Staff photos by Tim Goodwin

  • With Thanksgiving just days away, Roy's Market had a truck load of fresh turkeys for customers who had placed an order ahead of time.

  • No Thanksgiving dinner is complete without potatoes. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, November 20, 2018 10:54AM

Thanksgiving is just two days away and, if you’re the lucky one in charge of the annual holiday gathering this year, by now you’ve probably made a big trip to the grocery store with everyone else who’s inviting family and friends over for a feast.

Of course, you got the turkey and potatoes, the butternut squash, onions and apples for a homemade pie. The bread for stuffing, along with whatever other veggies and appetizers you plan to serve to those who make their way over on Thursday.

It’s a lot of fun hosting Thanksgiving, but at the same time a lot of preparation and responsibility – and time management.

In an effort to give you every chance at success when cooking the holiday meal, a couple local chefs gave their thoughts on what foods they like to serve, how to best approach cooking it and when to ask for help.

The Food

Harris Welden, owner of The Pearl and Bantam Grill in Peterborough, approaches cooking his turkey a little differently than most. He breaks down his turkey – the breasts, the skin, the thighs and legs – and cooks them all a little differently.

After getting all the pieces off that he wants to cook for the meal, Welden roasts the bones and makes a stock from the juices mixed with carrots, onions and celery. He’ll cook the thighs and legs in the stock, which he then uses to make his stuffing and gravy.

He takes the skin and bakes it to for a crispy finished product and uses a thermal circulator to cook the breasts.

“What I do is actually easier than trying to roast a whole turkey,” Welden said. “Cooking a whole turkey correctly is challenging.”

During his training as a high level chef, Welden got a bit of advice when it came to making a turkey that he found quite humorous. The instructor equated it to a cow and basically said that you’d never try to cook a whole cow and have it all done at the same time, so why would you do it with a turkey?

Welden likes to do stuffing with homemade croutons, a simple butternut squash with butter and salt. The gravy is a combination of that rich stock along with flour and butter with some thyme and sage. And the key to a good mashed potato is to wait until the very last minute.

“They’re their fluffiest and most delicious when they’re fresh,” Welden said.

For Christina Neal, chef at the Monadnock Inn in Jaffrey, she is planning a meal that will feed well over 100 people this year at the inn, so taking a look at her preparations for the holiday might be a bit overwhelming. But when she has cooked for her family – which is quite often since it’s what she’s really good at – Neal typically has multiple proteins on the menu. There’s, of course the turkey, which she brines for two days ahead of Thanksgiving and roasts in the oven.

She also does either a prime rib or steak to go along with a red snapper dish.

“Christmas and Thanksgiving, I always do fish,” Neal said.

While Neal will make a stuffing, she has a different way of creating it. She smokes her own bacon and adds mushrooms as well. Mushrooms are a big hit with her family, so she has also been known to make a wild mushroom rice.

The Plan

In order to pull off a great Thanksgiving meal, a lot of the prep needs to be done ahead of time – even some of the cooking.

In addition to breaking down the turkey the day before, Welden will make his croutons for the stuffing, get the brussels sprouts all set and make any desserts that you might be having.

“I’ll prep almost 90 percent of the meal the day before,” Welden said.

Pick a time to eat, not only will it help your guests plan, but also gives you a solid idea of when to start each piece of the meal. There’s no shame in making things the day before and reheating them, because the chances of getting everything on the table piping hot is hard for even the most well-trained chef.

“It really depends on what you’re doing and how involved you’re getting,” Welden said. “But if you want to be able to nail the time, you want to make sure to plan ahead.”

Welden suggests having plenty of snacks on hand – cheese platter, fruits and veggies, chips and salsa – to make sure that even if you’re a little late with the big meal, people aren’t busting into the kitchen looking for food.

It is a process that should really begin today.

“If you’re having people over, you have to get ready at least two days before,” Neal said.

Advice

Even though Neal has been cooking for many years, she has one rule of thumb that she always lives by.

“The most important thing is you have to have a list,” Neal said. “No matter how good you are, a list is a must.”

Because where she comes from, “food is very important to us,” Neal added.

Welden also urges people to let your guests help.

“Don’t try to do it all. Make people bring stuff,” he said. “That way you’re not trying to do every little thing, plus people will want to contribute.”