More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is all about food. For restaurants and chefs, this is the meal when every guest will revel in the presentation as well as the taste of each and every delicacy—beginning with the entrée that rules the roost. Unrivaled as the Thanksgiving dinner focal point, turkey sets the standard for every side dish, dessert, and beverage on a restaurant’s holiday menu.
Whether holding court at the head of the buffet or plated as an individual serving, the turkey stands testament to a chef’s diligent planning and patient execution of a meal that, in the best scenario, celebrates traditions while leading diners on a culinary exploration of new worlds.
Achieving the coveted crispness of skin surrounding meat that remains succulent and moist requires the perfect blend of spices and soaking.
“We brine turkey for two days in salt, water, brown sugar, peppercorns, roughly chopped onion, and slices of orange,” says Brian Feirstein, executive chef at Cask 63 in Scottsdale, Arizona. “And we put lots of butter under the skin—a compound butter with sage, thyme, and rosemary, or whatever fresh herbs we have. This helps crisp the skin and keeps the meat nice and moist.”
Similarly, Gregory Wiener, executive chef, Top of the Rock at the Buttes Resort in Tempe, Arizona, says they brine turkey for about 24 hours in a solution of sugar, salt, herbs, and spices, including cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, bay leaf, thyme, and garlic. Then they coat it with olive oil, garlic, fresh parsley, thyme, and chives—and baste it every half hour while it cooks.
Another technique for retaining moisture is to debone the turkey. “You can roast only the breast and legs, and you have more control when you roast it deboned because each part cooks at a different rate,” says Christian Gautrois, executive chef, Praline Bakery & Bistro, Bethesda, Maryland.
But even before the bird is in hand, decisions must be made about the type of turkey to be served: Whether white or dark meat? The most affordable choice or a pricier organic variety?