Thanksgiving is a holiday of tradition. Family and friends come together and gather around the same staples every year: mashed potatoes, stuffing, a medley of veggies and, of course, the turkey.
Every Thanksgiving dinner host feels some pressure on what’s the foodiest holiday of the year, so the Waterbury Record asked a professional for advice.
No one should feel any pressure to try to reinvent a family’s Thanksgiving comfort foods, says Trent Endres, the chef at Pro Pig Brewery in Waterbury.
“A lot of people try to fix things that are not broken. There’s certain things you can do to elevate your Thanksgiving meal, but there are certain things that don’t need to be changed that I think are just delicious American classics.,” Endres said.
Endres offered advice on avoiding common mistakes, mentioned two “trashy” guilty pleasures, and provided a recipe for the table and another for the inevitable leftovers.
Endres was born in Indiana, grew up in Shaftbury, Vt., and started cooking in his mid-teens. He started a job as a dishwasher, “but the cook wasn’t there, so I got bumped up to the line on the first day,” Endres said.
And he kept at it, enrolling at the New England Culinary Institute, interning in 2014 at Breslin, a Michelin star English restaurant in New York City, and returning to Vermont in 2015 to graduate and begin cheffing. He worked for City Market and Hen of the Wood before moving to the Pro Pig Brewery, where he refined the menu and eased the transition when the ownership changed in 2018.
Now, Endres is looking forward to his next big dish: executive chef at the Black Flannel Company brewery and distillery that opens next spring in Essex. He plans for a menu inspired by English, German and French-Canadian pub foods with a fine-dining flair.
“There needs to be a mix of class and trash,” Endres said.
His advice on the turkey: Don’t cook it whole.
“Every time, that’s going to be dry, because every part cooks at a different temperature,” Endres said
He suggested people remove the turkey’s spine and lay it flat on a wire rack over a sheet tray at 325 degrees. That will help the bird cook evenly, keeping every bit of that double-digit-pound bird tender and moist.
If you do choose to cook it whole, don’t fill it with stuffing because “it never actually comes to a proper temperature,” he said, “What you’re doing is taking stuffing and essentially soaking it in bacteria.”
Cranberry sauce? Avoid the canned. “It’s easy enough to take fresh cranberries, a splash of lemon juice and salt, and that’s it. Just cook em down till they’re mush.”
The green bean casserole is almost a cliché, but it’s just fine: Blanch some green beans, mix in a can of heated cream of mushroom soup, and top it with store-bought crispy onion.
Thanksgiving sweet potatoes: The canned version is fine. Just cook the potatoes, add butter and salt, spread them in an oven-safe pan, and top them with marshmallows. After a few minutes at a low broil, the marshmallows will be golden brown and the potatoes sweet and delicious.
“Always so good,” Endres said.
Endres suggests eggy, fluffy Yorkshire pudding to complement a Thanksgiving feast. They’re savory cups that can double as vessels for your veggies, mashed potatoes and turkey.
“Stuff those bad boys with all the goodies,” he said.
Tarragon Yorkshire pudding
Cook time: 45 minutes
1 and a half cups milk
1 and a half cups flour
One-fourth cup minced chives
One-fourth cups fresh tarragon
Beef or bacon fat, or olive oil.
A non-stick muffin tray
In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour and herbs with a couple of pinches of salt. Then add the eggs and milk, but don’t overdo it. Too much whisking will make the batter too firm.
Let the batter sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400. Preheat the muffin try, then add a spoon of oil or fat to each cup. If the fat smokes a little, the tray is hot enough.
Fill half of each cup with the batter. Cook 10-12 minutes until each pudding is golden brown.
The puddings will deflate; don’t worry, they’re supposed to.
Wait for the puddings to cool, lift them out with a fork, and serve them fresh.
Stuffing-Matzo ball soup with turkey
For leftovers, this soup incorporates stuffing and turkey in a light and comforting classic.
Cook time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
1 quart chicken stock
One-half pound leftover turkey, chopped
1 carrot, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
Half an onion, diced
A splash of olive oil
2 cups leftover stuffing
Matzo meal to your preference, one-fourth to one-half a cup
In a mixing bowl, mix the stuffing and egg. Add matzo meal until the dough is dry. Add splashes of seltzer and incorporate until it’s firm yet wet to the touch. Using a melon baller, create uniform balls of dough and set aside.
Bring a large pot, at least 4 quarts, to medium heat.
Add oil and, when hot, add carrot, onion and celery. Cook till the vegetables sweat, then add stock. Bring the broth to a boil and return to simmer.
Add the turkey and matzo balls. Cover and simmer for 5-7 minutes, or until the matzo balls float.
To finish, add a splash of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.