Talking turkey with the experts
Thanksgiving tips from local foodies
by Kathie Jenkins--
Pioneer Press, St. Paul Wed. 16, 2005
DO YOU SERVE THE SAME MENU EVERY YEAR?
Wolfgang Puck, celebrity chef and owner of 20.21 in Minneapolis: We have to have turkey — it's not Thanksgiving without it — although I make it a little different every year. But throwing a turkey in an oven is not enough; you have to have something interesting. I'll serve a soup like pumpkin with lobster, then salad and then different side dishes like really nice mashed potatoes, which I make with white truffles from the restaurant. One year, I called Joe's Stone Crab and ordered crab claws for an appetizer — we had a Florida Thanksgiving.
Dawn Drouillard, chef/owner Fabulous Catering, Minneapolis: My family has been doing the same thing forever. At our house, we have the best of everything. The best gravy, the best stuffing, the best wild rice. It's my favorite meal to cook.
Duc Kim, owner Duc's Restaurant, Maplewood: Yes, it's pretty similar — we cook all week at the restaurant, so we like to keep things simple that day. Some of my in–laws from Michigan will be coming, and they like the Honey Baked Ham, so we'll order a little of that. My mom–in–law won't be coming this year, but she'll send along some sticky rice — she's known for that, and it really goes well with the roasted turkey. My wife is going to make the garlic–mashed potatoes, and we'll have the usual sweet corn. And, of course, we'll have the canned cranberries. It's like an international dinner.
Barbara Hunn–Miesen, founder of Keys Café chain in the Twin Cities: I do. I've kind of got stuck on it. I have four children, and this is my third marriage — he has three children, and that entire family comes to the house. Plus a couple of drop–ins are part of the family, so I usually end up with 30 people. I serve homemade bread dressing and cranberries — I always make my own. I do about 20 pounds of mashed potatoes, and I always do my Italian spaghetti because my grandchildren tend to like it. One daughter is a vegetarian, so I make the sauce and serve it separately. Then we have our bread and steamed vegetables. Generally, my daughter–in–law brings the Jell–O salads. One daughter brings the green salad. One daughter brings pickles and olives and stuff like that. One daughter brings the desserts.
WHAT KIND OF BIRD DO YOU BUY?
Puck: Free–range turkeys, but not more than 14 to 16 pounds. I think they're easier to cook. With the 25–pound turkeys, the breast always gets so dry you can barely eat it.
Drouillard: try to always get organic, free–range turkeys. Wild turkeys are really great, but they have a lot more bones in them.
Kim: We order the turkey, roasted Chinese–style, from House of Woo down in Burnsville. They have the best roast duck in town, but for Thanksgiving they do turkey. My brother–in–law's girlfriend lives by the restaurant, so she'll pick it up on Thursday morning and bring it to us. It's really convenient.
Hunn–Miesen: I just take one from the restaurant — it's usually about a 25–pounder, a Jennie–O.
WHAT'S YOUR COOKING METHOD?
Puck: It depends on the size of the turkey. One of things I always do is make sure the skin is really dark brown — it doesn't look right when it's yellowy looking — it has to have a good color. I usually reduce pomegranate juice and glaze the turkey with it at the end — you have to be careful and really watch it, because it has a lot of sugar, so it can get too dark.
Drouillard: We do grilled turkey. I take the whole bird and debone it. Then I brine it and marinate it in a paste of oregano and garlic before I grill it. The art that makes it absolutely over the top is putting it in a super–slow oven at 300 to 325 degrees for about three hours. I mastered this way of turkey making through an accident a while back. It was the best turkey anyone had ever had, and I decided that we would never roast a turkey again.
Hunn–Miesen: My husband gets up at 5 a.m. and puts it in at 275 degrees until about 3 in the afternoon. He bastes it all day long. It's a slow–roasting process.
DO YOU STUFF THE TURKEY?
Puck: When you stuff a whole big turkey, it's hard to cook both just right. My favorite way is to take off the legs, bone them out and stuff them with sausage and bread, chestnuts and things like that, then roll them up. It's also easier to serve; you can give people a slice of the leg and a slice of breast instead of trying to cut meat off the bone and pieces are flying all over the place. If there's any stuffing left over, I just bake it on the side in a Pyrex or porcelain mold.
Drouillard: Nope. It's completely off the bone.
Kim: No. We buy Stove Top.
Hunn–Miesen: Yes, my husband insists on stuffing the bird — he's very traditional. He says it's part of the flavor. Normally, what I would do is bake it separately in a pan, because I've always felt that stuffing the bird was dangerous. My parents never had a problem, but you get in the restaurant business and you go, "well, I don't have to do that."
DO YOU CARVE IN THE KITCHEN OR AT THE TABLE?
Puck: I carve in the kitchen — it's much easier for me. If you have 12 or 15 people, it's difficult to carve at table; you really need a cart. I'll put the appetizers on the table and then generally have people help themselves to everything else in the kitchen; it's much easier.
Droulliard: In the kitchen, and then bring it to the table on a platter. You don't get that presentation, but it can be just as beautiful in another way.
Kim: At the table. The oldest in the family usually carves. This year, I think it's going to be me.
Hunn–Miesen: Because I have 30 people, I don't have a table big enough to set. I have a huge kitchen counter, and that's where the turkey is carved. All the food is set out, and everyone helps themselves.
Puck: Yeah. I precook the shell a little bit and spread cranberry marmalade on the bottom, then put pumpkin filling on top. That way it's not so one–dimensional.
Drouillard: I'm a big pecan pie fan, but if I make pumpkin, I use butternut squash instead of pumpkin because it's sweeter. You just roast it up and puree it in a food processor.
Kim: We'll make a Thai dessert with tropical lychee, jackfruit and coconut milk — our whole family loves it. For pie, we order apple and pumpkin pies from Baker's Square because that's our favorite.
Hunn–Miesen: We have pumpkin, banana cream, pecan, apple and rhubarb cream pies. My daughter Jeannie brings them from the Lexington Avenue restaurant because that's what they bake there.
WHAT WINE DO YOU SERVE?
Puck: I serve all different kinds — one of my favorites, especially when I braise the turkey legs, is a Chateauneuf–du–Pape or a Rhone Valley Syrah. I always drink Champagne before dinner, so it's good to have an earthy wine with the turkey.
Drouillard: I love dry Rose with Thanksgiving dinner. Two of my favorites are Haton, and Chateau Pesquie. Also, Sparr Prestige Pinot Gris is nice. And don't forget the bubbly — Prosecco or a nice sparkling Cava. I like Rustico Prosecco and Juve'y Camps Cava Brut Rose.
Kim: We usually have beer.
I don't have many wine drinkers, but I usually have a red and white — just a plain chardonnay and a cabernet merlot — it's really a nice combination, and I kind of enjoy that myself.
ANY TABLE DECORATING TIPS?
Puck: I generally try to keep it simple. l like something earthy, some nice leaves or things like that.
Drouillard: I'm just all about that rustic, whole–fruits kinds of garnish. This time of year, you can go to the farmers' market and get all kinds of pumpkins and gourds and fresh sage. You can make everything look so nice just like that.
Kim: My daughter is in preschool, and maybe she'll draw some turkeys and we'll hang them on the refrigerator. We don't really decorate a lot at home. We just have the spread on the table and that's about it.
Hunn–Miesen: I'm not a Martha Stewart — I don't get crazy. But I bought this stuffed pheasant, he's about six inches long and pretty, and I bring him out every year. And I use cloth napkins, all different colors, and I light candles.
HAVE YOU EVER HAD A THANKSGIVING DAY COOKING FAILURE?
Puck: Yeah, one time. I glazed a turkey with pomegranate juice — you have to be careful because it has a lot of sugar so it can get too dark. I put it in an electric oven and didn't see how close the turkey was to the heating element. We were having Champagne and hors d'oeuvres, and I smelled something burning. My ex–mother–in–law always made sweet potatoes with marshmallows, and I just figured it was that. I finally went into the kitchen, and there were big clouds of smoke. I opened the oven and my turkey was completely black. I put a towel over it so no one could see, then I ripped off all the skin, sliced it nicely and put it on a big platter. At dinner, everyone was going, "Oh god, this turkey is so good, it has such a nice smoky flavor."
Drouillard: Quite a few years ago, I was making gravy and I didn't know to separate the 3 inches of fat off the top. I managed to skim it off later, but it wasn't that great. One year, I put too much salt in the mashed potatoes.
Kim: No, because we don't cook much — we just put it all together.
Hunn–Miesen: Not to brag, but no. The turkey is always just perfect.