Starkville chefs offer quicker Thanksgiving solutions

Restaurant Tyler Chef de Cuisine John Fitzgerald puts the finishing touches on a quicker Thanksgiving dish he came up with, incorporating fall flavors into a quickcooking ribeye steak. Although the traditional Thanksgiving dinner is not a quick meal to prepare, shortcuts and faster options exist. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)
Staff Writer

A traditional American Thanksgiving dinner is not a quick meal to prepare.

Between prep work, brining, shopping and the sheer amount of time it takes to roast a whole turkey, one would ideally start a few days in advance of the celebration.

However, if one finds themselves without the luxury of time, options still remain.

Restaurant Tyler Chef de Cuisine John Fitzgerald demonstrated a seared ribeye steak dish incorporating several Thanksgiving touches to the Starkville Daily News.

The steak was topped with cornbread crumbles and roasted vegetables to evoke the flavors of a traditional Thanksgiving dressing and was served with a roasted sweet potato topped with cinnamon butter.

Fitzgerald also incorporated some ingredients not usually associated with the holiday, including gorgonzola cheese and roasted heirloom tomatoes.

“It’s kind of a last-minute or quick Thanksgiving option,” Fitzgerald said. “I always like to go to a steak. What we have here is a nice medium to medium-rare ribeye that we cooked up on our grill. To keep it with a Thanksgiving feel, we’re doing some house-made persimmon preserves with it. While I was cooking my steak, I took some vegetables in the form of onions, shiitake mushrooms, bell peppers, some green beans as a side item. You can cook those directly on your grill or wrap them in aluminum foil an kind of baste them on the grill.”

As far as more traditional options go, Fitzgerald recommended cooking ham over turkey if starting at the last minute. He said hams are often precooked and give the cook options to add flavor through brown sugar, fruit and other additions.

“Ham is much easier than turkey,” Fitzgerald said.

If turkey is necessary at short notice, Fitzgerald recommended choosing a quicker cooking turkey breast over a whole bird. He suggested brining the breast for a few hours prior to cooking, possibly adding buttermilk to the brine for more tender meat.

Veranda Owner and Chef Jay Yates also recommended turkey breast over a whole bird for a last-minute meal. Yates suggested cooking turkey legs separate for family members who prefer dark meat.

Yates also recommended using a practice known as mise en place, having all ingredients for a given dish ready prior to preparing the dish itself.

“Get your recipe,” Yates said. “Get everything out and prepped. That way, when you start cooking, you don’t miss anything. It helps the flow.”

Yates encouraged cooks to enlist help from family members, so no one ended up being overloaded. He suggested ordering components of the meal precooked from local restaurants and caterers.

Yates also gave instructions on a quicker version of the traditional sweet potato casserole. In his version, the potatoes are sliced skin-on and fried in butter before being topped with brown sugar and marshmallow crème and baked until the marshmallow crème is browned and crispy.

To speed up side dishes, Fitzgerald recommended using canned vegetables and dividing the casseroles between a few pans for quicker cooking.

“It’s really just taking little steps here and there,” Fitzgerald said. “The best thing about casseroles is they lend themselves well to being made ahead and frozen.”

Both Fitzgerald and Yates said they preferred a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, with Fitzgerald’s favorite dish being giblet gravy and Yates’ being cornbread dressing.

Fitzgerald also said he usually preferred ham to turkey as a Thanksgiving centerpiece.

Both chefs highly recommended cooks make their dressing separately from the turkey, instead of stuffing it inside the cavity.

With a stuffed bird, the temperature of the center of the stuffing must reach 165 degrees to kill salmonella and other pathogens. Often, the turkey itself is overcooked by the time it does.

“You can make your stuffing and turkey separately and make them both taste better,” Fitzgerald said.

After Thanksgiving, Yates also recommended saving turkey carcasses and ham bones to make any number of dishes including red beans and rice, turkey gumbo, turkey soup, ham stew and stocks.