Local Chefs: What’s For Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is a quintessential American holiday – like the Fourth the July – in which people for over two centuries have rejoiced and given thanks for the goodness and bounty harvested from the fields and the earth. Thoughts of food, football, family gatherings, church, dressing up, food, holiday spirits, wood burning aromas, food, the fragrance of cinnamon, the cool brisk air, visiting and – did we mention food?

Your NewsMag visited with several chefs in the Bellmores and Merricks to find out what they like to prepare, cook and serve at their homes during Thanksgiving – if they are not open on thanksgiving to serve the community, for example. What we found from this modest sampling is a rich assortment of tastes and creations based on the traditional sense of the Thanksgiving feast, which includes not only the customary dishes of mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, mashed turnips and stuffing, but new creations thought up in the moment. In this milieu, there is room for just about any new dish that sparks interest, has taste and can be consumed by anyone with an appetite.

Steven Rosenbluth, executive chef at Anchor Down, 1960 Bayberry Avenue in South Merrick, will be open on Thanksgiving morning for patrons to pick up Thanksgiving packages for Thanksgiving dinner. But he won’t hang around after that, as he heads home to prepare Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends.

In a traditionalist vein, he will soak a turkey overnight in a brine of brown sugar, salt and spices to be sure to keep the turkey moist and the skin crispy, and then feature at the dinner table Brussels sprouts with bacon, for example, adding collard greens and kale, and sauté them all. He says he roasts the Brussels sprouts first, however, after cutting them in half.

He works liberally with spices such rosemary, juniper and sage as well, to get more zest from his vegetables. He may also serve mashed butternut squash and butternut squash soup, and admits to making a top-flight sweet potato pie. “Take dried cranberries, brown sugar, pecans and put them all in a baking pan with sweet potato, mix until the right texture and then top it with marshmallows and bake.”

Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until the marshmallows melt and brown, at a heat of 350 degrees.

He adds that he uses white wine when making gravy – complete with turkey giblets and stock, but develops a roué rather than cornstarch or other starchy ingredients to thicken the gravy.

Call Anchor Down at 544-4334 or visit www.anchordownny.com to select a Thanksgiving dinner package, with complete prices. The restaurant will be open until 1 p.m. for orders to be picked up.
Meanwhile, a server at a popular supermarket in the area offering a harvest root vegetable dish to customers for takeout that combines Brussels sprouts, potato, sweet potato and carrots heavily sautéed after being roasted, noted a variation of Chef Rosenbluth’s sweet potato pie. “I purchase mini frozen sweet potato pies, line them on the tray, drizzle them with honey and top them with marshmallows.” She then puts them in the oven.

Ted Koumbis, chef at Bella Notte, 2520 Sunrise Highway in Bellmore, previous owner of Matteo’s on Bedford Avenue in Bellmore Village, says he will not be open on Thanksgiving. Rather, he will be with family and friends to feast on a variety of traditional, Italian and Spanish dishes family members and friends always bring to the table.

He said he may bring a zucchini Bolognese, because it’s easy to make and the zucchini, acting as a low-carb substitute for pasta, will keep for several days without getting soggy.

He simply slices the zucchini thinly (julienne) into strips the length of the entire zucchini that take the shape of thin pasta, and mixes the strips with a Bolognese consisting of veal, pork and beef. Mixed into the Bolognese is a mixture of sweet onions, carrots, celery, red peppers and other vegetables to add sweetness to the Bolognese to counter any tartness that may occur from the tomatoes and tomato paste, also added to the Bolognese.

Chef Koumbis also likes stuffed artichoke leaves at Thanksgiving, where “everyone gets to pull a leaf off the artichoke.” He stuffs the artichokes with bread crumbs and garlic in a chicken stock, he said. Both dishes are available from the restaurant to add to your own Thanksgiving feast.

Chef Chris Randell of Left Coast, 1810 Merrick Road in Merrick, would be at home with the above-mentioned dishes, as he is an eclectic American chef. He can rattle off “traditional” Spanish and Asian-themed Thanksgiving dinners as handily as listing all the good “stuff” he would include at Thanksgiving for his family.

“A Spanish Thanksgiving theme might be turkey with Spanish chorizo sausage stuffing, creamed corn and a green bean casserole” – to start, he told Your NewsMag. For an Asian theme, to bring out Asian flavors, he might suggest a soy-glazed turkey with sushi rice and stuffing. Both approaches, he added, could easily be introduced into any Thanksgiving feast, as all foods are welcome during this festive day.

For a typical Americana turkey, he might start with a smoked turkey with garlic-infused mash potatoes and a cornbread stuffing. Then there are the assortment of colorful vegetables that complement such a dinner, such as broccoli rabe, kale, Brussels sprouts, a string bean casserole, salad, collard greens and a host of other vegetables, such as butternut squash.

For a typical mashed potato dish, however, he will use Yukon potatoes. He says he first adds cold butter to the hot potatoes, and then does a slow mash all while drizzling in olive oil, slowly and carefully.

For a turkey gravy, he will use stock and giblets from the just-cooked turkey, adding herbs and salt to taste and adding in flower to thicken the gravy.

Let’s Talk Turkey
Turkey can be prepared several ways, as noted above, with each preparation designed to bring out the juiciness, tenderness and flavor of the turkey.

Jose Reyes, executive chef- owner at Las Bahias Latin-American Restaurant at 2319 Jerusalem Avenue in North Bellmore, provided Your NewsMag with a novel approach to preparing a Thanksgiving turkey. He explained that he puts the turkey in a properly fitting bag with beer and rum, adding a measure of hot-flavored spices into the bag, to marinate overnight – at least. The day of the dinner he submerges the bag into boiling water, where the turkey cooks for several hours before it is then taken out of the bag and put in the oven to finish, for about one hour.

Dave Feldman, proprietor of Suburbia Meat Market at 2056 Merrick Road in Merrick, uses natural, fresh-killed turkeys he says will maintain their juiciness throughout the cooking process. “If I want to marinate, I will pull up the skin of the breast at the neck and rub a few spices onto the breast underneath the skin,” he said.

He said that when placing the turkey into a pan or tray for cooking, a larger amount of water at the bottom of the pan while covering the turkey thoroughly with tinfoil will also create more moisture in the cooking process, and create a more moist bird. In addition to making more au jus with added water, “The water gets absorbed up through the dark meat and into the white meat for more moisture,” he said.
Feldman’s rules of thumb when cooking a turkey include cooking at 20 minutes per pound – up to a 20-pounder – for up to 3 ½ hours, and then referring to the pop-up in the breast for the remainder of time. “If stuffed, add ½ hour to the cooking time.” He bristles at the thought of cooking the turkey in a breast-down-legs up position to obtain a moister breast. “You couldn’t see the pop-up,” he laughed. “Always cook breast-side up.”

Feldman carves a turkey the way he creates poultry parts of legs, thighs, wings and breasts for his customers. He says to let the turkey cool down for the first 20-30 minutes, because it could burn the carver’s skin if worked on while still too hot. Remember, it’s still cooking after it has been taken out of the oven.

He first separates the legs and thighs from the breast (see photos) to make it easier to work with both pieces. With two legs and two thighs together as one piece, he cuts the “piece” into two, which creates two pieces, each with a thigh and a leg. He then cuts into the space between the legs and thighs at the bone to create a thigh piece and drumstick.

Next, he digs into the breastbone to separate the breast meat from the bone, coming up with two breasts. The breasts are then ready to be sliced and placed on the serving plate, alongside the drumsticks, thighs and wings, for a complete carved turkey dinner.

These suggestions for a Thanksgiving dinner may go a way to helping you figure out what bring to the table to make your Thanksgiving dinner a memorable one full of tastes, treats – and compliments. As for desserts of pumpkin pie, pecan pie, ambrosia and just about anything else that passes for luscious after-dinner treats?

This is a story about dinner, after all!

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all from the Your NewsMag staff!

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