Holiday Cooking Tips and Tricks with Chef Joseph Holmes
Published November 15, 2017
If you’re anything like me, holiday cooking is a daunting task. I get very excited and buy each exact ingredient. Then I prepare everything, follow the directions to the letter and end up with mediocre dishes at best and at worst, I light my kitchen on fire (true story!). I’ve come to understand that as you continue to try and your skills improve, you’ll develop intuition in the kitchen and your dishes will start to transition from edible to delicious. In my personal quest to improve, I visited my friend, Executive Chef Joseph Holmes, for a few tricks to make my life (and hopefully yours) a little easier this holiday season.
I think one of the most daunting tasks when it comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas cooking is the turkey. We are either concerned that it’s not done or it’s dry and unappetizing. Can you give us some insight on how to ensure a juicy, golden turkey?
The first thing to know is that if you cook your turkey covered for an appropriate amount of time and let it rest, there is no such thing as a dry turkey. It will need about 20-25 minutes to properly rest. Then, the next trick is how to carve it. Most carvers set the bird on the table on a lovely platter and start slicing away at the breast. But if you want to retain the juices and flavor, you need to remove the breasts completely and take them to your cutting board. If you carve the turkey end to end against the grain, you’ll retain the juice and have the most delicious bite of turkey of your entire life!
I also find that most people are over roasting their turkeys. If you roast an average size thawed turkey for 3.5-4 hours in a properly covered roasting pan, it will be done. The covered pan, and yes, you can use aluminum foil, will act as a self-baster, locking in all of the moisture and flavors.
No one likes a lumpy gravy, but for many of us, that’s an elusive dream. Maybe I just go about the process incorrectly. Can you tell me how to make a smooth, delicious gravy?
Personally, I use all of the drippings from the turkey. The caramelized part at the bottom is the very best. I also rinse the cooked bird over a bowl and get a little extra liquid that way. I take all of the delicious juices and put them in a tall cylinder of some type. I generally use a pitcher. Then, I’ll skim off the fat that has risen to the top. But don’t throw either part away! Use the fat and mix it with an equal amount of flour to make a roux. It will turn into a turkey paste of sorts. Then, enter the roux back into the stock that is in your cylinder and mix it until all of the lumps are gone. If you find that even your best efforts leave you with lumps, run the gravy through a strainer. There’s no shame in that!
Stuffing or filling, depending on where you call home, is incredibly personal. Everyone has a unique twist that they put on theirs, but for those of us who don’t have a clue, can you give a few ideas?
Let me say from the start that I love all types of stuffing. In New England where I grew up, we stuffed both cavities of the turkey. We would stuff the big end inside the chest with a traditional sage stuffing, including lots of onions and celery. In the neck end, we would put a classic meat stuffing. It’s a French Canadian style of stuffing made with browned ground beef, a small diced onion, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and some saltines to hold it all together.
In my opinion, the more varieties of stuffing you offer, the happier your guests will be. Giblet stuffing, oyster stuffing, cornbread stuffing, sausage stuffing and cranberry stuffing are a few other favorites that I’ve picked up over the years as I’ve worked and traveled across the county. I hope you find my tips and tricks helpful as you venture forth this Thanksgiving. Happy cooking!
To learn more about Chef Holmes, check out our last post about his favorite things to prepare and how he just can’t stop himself from singing “Jingle Bells” on October 1st.