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Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner at Home — Houston’s Top Chefs Offer Their Priceless Tips

True Chef Knowledge for Turkey Day

BY // 11.03.20

While just about every restaurant in Houston is preparing Thanksgiving dinner for takeout or dine-in, there are those among us who are not going to miss the ritual of getting up to our elbows in cornbread dressing and making that delish cranberry-orange-pecan salad to go with our turkey. With those home cooks in mind, we offer tips from five of Houston’s top chefs on preparing the perfect Thanksgiving dinner.

Chef Thomas Laczynski, Executive Chef at Ouzo Bay, on Shopping

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“Shopping is very important. You can’t make a great meal with subpar ingredients. Also having quantities for how much of each ingredient you will need. For example, when choosing a turkey, I choose a turkey which is free range, never injected with antibiotics, nor injected with hormones and organic feed.

“The ratio I look for is one to one and a quarter pound of turkey per person as we have a lot of side dishes with our meal. Any time that a fresh product is available I go for that and stay away from canned or frozen products. This doesn’t mean you must make everything yourself. For instance, when making my stuffing I use sourdough bread mixed with corn bread. I will buy the sourdough from the bakery to save time.

“We always use fresh, in-season vegetables in our meals to ensure the recipes are consistent to season and region of where we live.”

Aaron Bludorn, Chef/Owner of Bludorn on Planning

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River Oaks District

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“My biggest tip is making a prep list. It will make the planning easier if you have everything laid out in front of you.You can even put estimated cooking times next to each item. Then when you are deciding on what to start on first you can make your timeline with items that will take the longest first – i.e. turkey, stock, etc..  – and while they are all cooking, fill in the time with quicker prep items.”

Chef Ford Fry, Founder of Ford Fry Concepts on Cooking the Turkey

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Ford Fry Restaurants founder chef Ford Fry (Photo by Johnny Autry)

“So this has been my go-to and I’ll tell you why. I do two turkey preparations. Both brined for two days. I make one turkey in a roasting bag. This turkey is specifically for “leftovers,” number one and number two because it’s been brined, it will release so much turkey juice that I use it to make the gravy.

“So this turkey can be made early as I just take the meat off and store for Thanksgiving night where I make my sandwich! Turkey No. 2 is the one to eat hot. I typically smoke it in the big green egg, but deep frying is also amazing. Just a bit messy.”

Chef Nicole Routhier, Le Colonial Culinary Director & Cookbook Author, on the Perfect Meal

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“My best advice for a classic Thanksgiving spread is to have a game plan and make most of your dishes ahead of time.”

One week ahead: Soups, homemade bread and desserts can be the first on your list for cooking ahead.

Three or four days before Thanksgiving: Make your sauces such as salad dressing, cranberry sauce or chutney, jam or any pie or tart filling that needs to be precooked. If you are going to use a frozen turkey, move it from the freezer to your refrigerator two to three days before you wish to cook it. Larger turkeys can take up to nearly a week to defrost, but your 10 to 12-pound turkey should thaw within three days at the most. Make sure your turkey is refrigerated for the entire thawing process.

Two days before Thanksgiving: Assemble, but do not bake, and refrigerate your pie or tart. Make and bake your stuffing. Poach any fresh fruit if using. Allow these food items to cool completely uncovered, before chilling them, covered.

The day before: Prep veggies for your side dishes. Have your stuffing mix ready. Wash and dry any greens for your salad. Toast and chop any nuts. Season the turkey generously with your favorite herb butter or spice mix. Be sure to rub the mix inside and outside the bird’s cavity.

Thanksgiving day: Start baking early focusing on your desserts or stuffing. When roasting your turkey, keep in mind that an average 10- to 12-pound turkey will take about 3 to 3.5 hours in a 350°F oven and will require another 15 to 20 minutes to rest before you should carve it. During the turkey’s resting time, reheat your soup, stuffing, sides dishes and pie.”

Monica Pope, Sydenham Clinic’s Culinary Director, on What to Take to Thanksgiving as a Guest

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“I always take smoked oysters in a can with toothpicks and Carr’s crackers because that’s what my mom did. But I also bring a new favorite local ingredient like hibiscus. They’re tart like pomegranates. They make a great ‘Kool-aid’ for a punch or special cocktail or even sautéed and added to a local vegetable like okra.”

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