Now you’ve done it. Sometime over the past 51 weeks you put your foot in your mouth and volunteered to cook Thanksgiving dinner. And now, the chickens (or shall we say, the turkeys) are coming home to roost. While I can’t promise you the feast for which your in-laws/grandmother/favorite cousin are famous, I’ve rounded up some quick pieces of advice from five top Las Vegas chefs that should at least put you in the running.
Rick Giffen (Top of the World in the Stratosphere)
“Unless you’re buying a kosher bird that’s been pre-salted, or you have one of those injected birds with a lot of saline solution in them, I recommend a brine [to keep the turkey moist],” Giffen says. For a 15-to-20-pound bird, Giffen recommends, “take a gallon-and-a-half of water, a cup-and-a-half of kosher salt, a cup-and-a-half of raw sugar, brown sugar or honey, two limes, two oranges and three or four lemons cut into wedges, peppercorn, bay leaves and garlic,” and bring it to a boil with any other herbs you like. Allow the mixture to simmer for 45 minutes or so. When it cools, soak the bird (innards removed) in the solution and refrigerate for 14 to 24 hours before beginning your preparation.
Matt Silverman (Hexx in Paris Las Vegas)
“You can brine [your turkey],” Silverman says, “but if you don’t cook it to the right temperature it doesn’t matter, because it’s just going to be dry. You’re gonna roast out all that moisture that you were able to put in there.” Temperature should be taken right between the thigh and the leg, without touching a bone, and the optimal temperature is 165 degrees. But Silverman reminds us that turkeys continue to cook even after they’ve been taken out of the oven. “An average turkey is going to [cook an additional] five to 10 degrees just by letting it sit on the stove for 20 minutes.” So you may want to remove it from the oven before it hits 165, and re-check just before serving.
Mary Sue Milliken (Border Grill in Mandalay Bay and in the Forum Shops at Caesars)
Getting your guests to eat their greens amid all the starches and meat can be difficult. But Milliken has a Brussels sprouts recipe that grew out of a challenge she and her business partner Susan Feniger set for each other “to get people to eat the kind of vegetables they normally think they hate.” Shred the sprout really thin on a mandolin, up to two days before the holiday as long as you keep them refrigerated. “Then, when you’re putting everything on the table, get a really wide skillet. I like to put half butter and half olive oil in there,” Milliken says. “And once it’s nice and hot, put in the shredded Brussels sprouts, salt, pepper and a dash of lime.” They’ll cook in just five to 10 minutes.
When it comes to gravy, Canteenwalla says it’s about more than just drippings and cornstarch. “I start with the neck as part of the stock,” he says. “I use the wings, the tips and the [other] pieces that I’m not going to use. And I let that cook down slowly with carrots, celery and onion. Then I take the neck out, take the meat out, and shred all of that. Then I make my gravy and fold that back into the gravy. The neck is pretty good meat.” Canteenwalla also uses the turkey liver, combined with chicken livers, although he admits his wife isn’t a fan. “I sweat it off, chop it up coarsely, add herbs into it—parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme—hit it with a little Cognac and fold that back into the stuffing.”
For many people, leftovers are the best part of Thanksgiving. But if you enjoy a good stuffing sandwich after the feast, Mina says you have to think ahead. “Be sure to use an egg while mixing your stuffing. It acts as a binder, holding the stuffing together as it’s cooking. Otherwise your stuffing will be all over the place.” For bread, Mina says you can use any kind, brushed with butter, but, he adds, “I recommend using a rich bread full of flavor, such as brioche.” Place the composed sandwich in a sauté pan and cover it with a panini press (or if you don’t have one, another smaller pan), and cook for two-and-a-half minutes on each side, till the bread is golden brown and the stuffing is warm.