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A Chef’s Tips for the Best Thanksgiving Stuffing and Gravy

Thanksgiving meal with turkey breast, pies and casseroles on a table.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Thanksgiving is a fun but stressful time of the year. The entire meal can be a time-consuming and strenuous culinary event. To help streamline this Thanksgiving, chef Noah Zamler from The Press Room in Chicago is here with some insider chef secrets to making that perfect Thanksgiving feast. A culinary professional since the age of fifteen, Zamler’s food philosophy is all about seasonality and high-quality ingredients. With experience ranging from Metro-Detroit to Chicago and Rome, Zamler has cooked everything from pasta and sourdough bread to whole animal butchery and seasonal seafood.

A Chef’s Thanksgiving Tricks

Turkey being carved on a cutting board.
Claudio Schwarz / Unsplash

Chef Noah’s biggest advice for Thanksgiving is to prep before the big day. Thanksgiving should be a day of relaxation and spending time with family. To enjoy the holiday as much as possible, prep in advance as much as possible to avoid feeling stressed out on the actual holiday.

Brining the Turkey

Since a whole turkey is large with plenty of bones, rubbing salt on the outside isn’t enough to season the bird thoroughly. One way to achieve perfect seasoning is by brining the turkey. When properly executed, a brined turkey is juicy and seasoned to the bone. But how do you make sure the salt level is correct? And what about other flavorings?

“Make sure to brine your turkey 3 days before the big day with a simple 3, 2, 1 approach (3 gallons of water, 2 pounds of salt, and one pound of sugar) while adding your favorite spices,” said Zamler. For spices, Zamler likes to flavor his brine with clove, nutmeg, Calabrian chilis, and lemons. To achieve that bronzed, crispy skin from a brined turkey, Zamler recommends pulling the turkey out of the brine and letting it sit uncovered for one day before cooking. This will ensure perfect skin, every time.

Making Stuffing

While a lot of stuffing recipes are baked in a casserole dish separate from the turkey, there’s something uniquely delicious about stuffing when it’s done the old-fashioned way — cooked inside the turkey cavity. As the turkey roasts, the fat and juices will melt into the stuffing, giving it an extra boost of rich savoriness. A few tips Zamler recommends is to make sure to stuff the bird as full as possible, minimizing the air pockets to keep everything moist. He also recommends not adding eggs because they will likely overcook inside the turkey. While stuffing recipes can range from cornbread to rice, Zamler’s favorite is 60/40 whole wheat sourdough (60% stone-ground wheat and 40%  bread flour) with lots of herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, parsley, oregano, shallots, garlic and sherry vinegar. As a plus, the stuffing will also help season the inside of the turkey.

Cooking the Turkey

One key to cooking a succulent turkey is to make sure to roast your turkey on a resting rack so the juices don’t inundate the bottom of the turkey. Zamler advises a multi-temperature roasting process. Start off by roasting the turkey at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 4 hours. Then, crank the temperature to 450 F for 30 minutes before turning on the broiler for an additional 5 minutes. This process will crisp up the skin while still guaranteeing juicy meat. Also, be sure to rest the turkey for at least 15 minutes after its been taken out of the oven.

Making the Gravy

Finally, the gravy, that wonderful sauce that should smother everything on a great Thanksgiving plate. The art of making a good gravy requires technique and experience. A few missteps and the gravy can easily be overly salty or watery. One key to great gravy is to separate the fat and liquid from the turkey drippings. Then, measure the fat and add half that amount in flour. Also, toast your flour in the fat for around 45 seconds (this gives the gravy an extra depth of flavor) before slowly adding in the liquid (constantly stirring the whole time).

Hunter Lu

Hunter Lu is a New York-based food and features writer, editor, and NYU graduate. His fiction has appeared in The Line Literary Review and The Bangalore Review, and his nonfiction has appeared in Foreign Policy Magazine, Atlas Obscura, Greatist, Edible Queens, The Cleaver Quarterly, and The War Horse.

Send all editorial inquiries HERE.

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