1-800-TURKEYS hotline is the go-to source for all holiday season cooking questions, and this year Jennie-O is enlisting the help of well-known chefs, social media influencers and bloggers, and a certified master chef to answer consumers’ most asked questions about preparing their holiday meal.
Before they start answering phone calls, we sat down with some of our experts for their advice on a variety of topics like techniques for cooking a turkey, wine and drink pairings, leftover recipe inspiration, and – most importantly – what it takes to avoid the most common kitchen disasters that can wreak havoc on Thanksgiving Day.
Recipe developer and culinary instructor Emily Paster has authored three books, including the soon-to-be-released “Epic Air Fryer” (December 2019). She is the writer and photographer behind the website West of the Loop, a family food blog that focuses on home food preservation and cooking from scratch. In addition, Emily founded the Chicago Food Swap, an ongoing community meetup where home cooks and chefs gather to exchange and barter for foods. Her recipes have been featured on WGN in Chicago and in publications such as Midwest Living and Food52.
Emily’s special method of cooking a Thanksgiving turkey is high-heat, no baste – something she has blogged about. Incidentally, later this month she’ll be showcasing a special air-fried turkey cutlet recipe that’s great for Hanukkah.
Do you prepare any side dishes with a twist on tradition?
I like to pay tribute to my Jewish heritage with some of my Thanksgiving side dishes. For example, I make my stuffing with challah bread, the rich, eggy bread that it is part of every Jewish holiday. It makes terrific stuffing! It’s easy and fun to personalize traditional recipes. For instance, if your family has Italian roots, consider incorporating some lovely Italian vegetables, like fennel, into your side dishes. The possibilities are immense.
What do you do with the giblets?
We make stock with the giblets and use it in our gravy. But don’t include the liver, or your gravy might be bitter. (I pan-fry the turkey liver in some butter and eat it as a cook’s treat. But then again, I love liver!) Place the giblets and some aromatics like onion, carrot and celery in a small saucepan and cover them with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, and simmer it for an hour or so until it is flavorful. Set the mixture aside. When your turkey is cooked, add the giblet mixture to the pan drippings, and make the gravy while your bird is resting.
Was there a Thanksgiving cooking experience that influenced how you now prepare?
Well, one year, our oven was not as clean as it should have been. After getting a workout from the cooking of multiple Thanksgiving dishes, some of the debris started to burn. It got very smoky in the kitchen. Eventually, the fire alarm was triggered, and the fire department came. We were so embarrassed, but the firefighters were so nice about it. They were also very handsome, so my sister-in-law and I now claim we want to set off the fire alarm every year! Just kidding! But I do try to start the holiday with a clean oven.
Chef Aubrey Johansen
Chef Aubrey Johansen @thatswhatsheeats lost 150 pounds while working in kitchens of fine dining establishments. That’s when she began shifting focus to her blog, That’s What She Eats. She uses her site to show 125,000 subscribers how to live a healthy yet food-positive lifestyle through her collection of delicious, colorful and well-balanced original recipes. She’s also a personal chef who divides her talent and time between Cleveland, Ohio, and Tampa, Fla.
This is Aubrey’s second year of Thanksgiving with Jennie-O. While her turkey focus this year is on whole-bird smoking, she’s able to answer any and all culinary questions.
What is your top tip for cooking a fabulous Thanksgiving feast in a hot, humid environment?
Try to use outdoor heating elements like the grill to get some sides done. That way, the oven isn’t on full blast all day! I plan to make my green bean casserole in a cast-iron skillet on the grill this year.
As a trained chef, are you in charge of every aspect of the food for the day? Or is there something you ask another guest to prepare?
I always want to do it myself, but I know it’s important for family members to be included. It makes the meal that much more special. My mom is always in charge of the sweet potatoes. She uses white Japanese sweet potatoes, blends them with orange zest and tops them with this amazing pecan praline situation. My girlfriend and her dad are in charge of “the dip.” It’s this delicious blue cheese dip they make every year that we snack on while we cook.
Do you have a go-to gravy recipe?
Not really – I usually just wing it. I always use the pan drippings and whisk in some butter and flour. This year, since I’m smoking my turkey and won’t have pan drippings, I’m going to make a stock with leftover veggie scraps from other dishes, and add lots of lemon to balance the full-bodied flavor of the smoked bird.
Chef Christina Machamer
Chef and certified sommelier Christina Machamer earned the coveted champion title on Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” served as executive sous chef under Chef Gordon Ramsay and worked with Chef Thomas Keller on the opening of Bouchon Bistro in Yountville, Calif. Her culinary interests bloomed early, but nonetheless she went to university for political science before making a career switch guided by the mentorship of Chef Larry Forgione. Besides proving herself on a broadcast reality show and in fine dining kitchens, Christina received formal training at The Culinary Institute of America and earned Level II sommelier certification. She currently works as a hospitality consultant in Napa, Calif.
She is our resident wine pairing expert this year, providing suggestions to the many people who call the Turkey Hotline to ask, “What wines should I serve with the meal?”
What wine is your Thanksgiving standby?
Sparkling rose is my favorite Thanksgiving wine. You can drink it all day long, starting with the apps, and it even pairs well with turkey.
Do you have a warm-and-fuzzy family Thanksgiving tradition?
I spend every Thanksgiving with Grandma. Sometimes we go to Key West, and I even dragged her to Mexico one year, but this year we’re staying at her place in Florida.
Do you have a special Thanksgiving turkey technique?
Of course I brine it, and then I rub my turkey down with mayonnaise. I do the high-low cooking technique, starting at 500 degrees for 20 minutes. The egg soufflés the skin so it gets really crispy, turns a beautiful brown, and renders some of the fat out. It’s sort of the same result as if you were to pan-sear it. Then you lower the temperature to 300 and let it roll. Time and temperature depend on the size of your turkey and whether it’s stuffed.
I’m known for cutting foil bikinis out and putting them on my turkeys so most of the skin gets brown except for the “tan lines.” ;)
Chef Nicole Dayani
Inspired by her grandmother’s recipes, Chef Nicole Dayani @nicoleskitchenla started on her culinary path by concocting gourmet meals for friends and family with random ingredients found in her fridge. She began posting her creations on Instagram, where they attracted a dedicated following. After hundreds of emails asking if she’d ever be willing to teach classes, Nicole began volunteering with charities and at local events around Los Angeles. She then teamed up with her mom to start the cooking school Nicole’s Kitchen, welcoming some 150 students a week. Classes such as Restaurant Favorites, Persian Feast and Thanksgiving Sides are consistent crowd-pleasers.
What traditional turkey seasonings do you suggest?
I like to use 1/3 cup of fresh herbs: thyme, rosemary, marjoram, sage and freshly chopped garlic. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the herb mixture for every 5 pounds of turkey.
What about seasonings for a Mediterranean or extra flavorful bird?
I use a mixture of yellow curry seasoning, cumin, paprika, a dash of cinnamon and cayenne pepper.
Do you have a special way of preparing the turkey that you could share?
I prepare my turkey legs and thighs skin-on in a round cast-iron Dutch oven. I cook them low and slow for six hours. They come out tender and juicy, and the meat falls right off of the bone.
Your mom is your business partner and often in the kitchen with you. Is there anything she insists on taking charge of for Thanksgiving?
Yes! She always prepares her famous pomegranate cranberry basmati rice – cooked for 12 hours. We serve it with our whole roasted turkey.
As someone who often cooks for 100-plus guests, what are your tips for preparing a big feast for a big group of people?
I highly recommend cutting and roasting all vegetables the evening before. All salad dressings and sauces (e.g., cranberry sauce) should be prepared the day before. Also, wash lettuce and fresh herbs the day before. On the day of the feast, salads can simply be assembled and sauces are ready to be poured on food.
Choose your serving platters the day before and label which food item will be plated on which dish.
Meet the Thanksgiving Experts
Chef Aubrey Johansen
Chef Chris Candullo
Chef Christina Machamer
Chef Ken Alston
Chef Kenneth Temple
Chef Megan Hjelle
Chef Nicole Dayani
Certified Master Chef Ron DeSantis