The first Thanksgiving meal had nothing to do with sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows. From humble beginnings as a meal of wild game, corn and shellfish shared between Native Americans and British Puritans, the harvest holiday is now called “turkey day” by its inheritors. The meal couldn’t be more different from the original, which took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, almost 400 years ago. It now consists of a gluttunous feast of roasted turkey with bread stuffing, gravy, baked potatoes, brussel sprouts, green bean casserole, and apple or pumpkin pie, plus an extra day off work to let it all digest.
Though there’s much to be said for traditional home-cooking, to gourmet cooks the meal is an opportunity to go all-out: brined or deep-fried turkey or “turducken” with foie gras, cream-drenched potatoes, and in Massachusetts, oysters—a food that itself has gone from peasant fare to fine dining since Pilgrim times. So to find out what gourmets do for the holiday, we asked three of Boston’s celebrity chefs—Barbara Lynch, Ken Oringer, and Matthew Gaudet—about their menu ideas.
Barbara Lynch – Barbara Lynch Gruppo Menton, No. 9 Park, B&G Oysters, The Butcher Shop, Stir, Drink, Sportello and 9 at Home.Claim to Fame Food & Wine’s “Ten Best New in America” in 1998, James Beard “Best Chef Northeast” in 2003, Gourmand’s “Best Chef Cookbook” winner in 2009, Bocuse d’Or judge, and the subject of a documentary film.Background This Boston native grew up cooking in the city’s restaurants, but came into her own after learning to cook country-style fare in Italy. Her first restaurant, No. 9 Park, was voted one of the “Top 25 New Restaurants in America” by Bon Appetit and “Best New Restaurant” by Food & Wine. She now manages her restaurant group, Barbara Lynch Gruppo, which includes some of the city’s top fine dining destinations as well as a demonstration kitchen and cookbook store, a butcher shop and wine bar, a craft cocktail bar, a diner, and a catering company.
“I usually like to spend Thanksgiving with friends and immediate family, and to keep it somewhat traditional,” says Lynch. “I love having turkey for leftovers. I take the neck, wings and backbone off to make a brodo then make roasted pumpkin tortellini for it. I'll roast the breast and legs wrapped in parchment paper with my mom’s traditional stuffing: lots of butter, onion, celery and stale bread cubes with Bell’s seasoning. For my baked potatoes, while they’re still warm, I remove the insides and mash them with good extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then I twice bake the skins with cheddar and tart cranberry relish. I make lots of veggie sides, including celeriac and celery salad with crème fraiche.” For appetizers, Lynch serves a terrine of foie gras on saffron brioche with vegetable crudités and poached dried apricots stuffed with fresh walnuts. And for dessert, spiced apple custard with toasted pecan meringues.
Ken Oringer – Clio, Uni, Toro, La Verdad, Coppa and Earth Claim to fame Best Chef Northeast in 2001, Iron Chef America champion in 2008.Background Oringer is an alumnus of the River Café in New York City and Jean Georges Vongerichten’s Le Marquis de Lafayette in Boston. He then opened his own highly acclaimed restaurant, Clio. Now everything the restaurateur touches turns to gold, as evidenced by his subsequent sashimi bar, tapas bar, Mexican restaurant, and Italian enoteca.
“Every year we gather the whole family together and prepare a big feast. Everyone gets involved, even the kids. I like to entertain from the kitchen, so it becomes the room where everyone hangs out. Last year we deep-fried a turkey for the first time. I didn't realize how easy and quick it is. You don't have to sit around all day for it to be done, and it was so moist. We always do a few stuffings. My mother-in-law makes this incredible wild rice and chestnut stuffing. Then we do a more traditional sausage stuffing with onions, leeks and Old Bay Seasoning. For the sides, I love simple cauliflower or brussel sprouts à la plancha with raisins and pine nuts, and traditional haricot verts.” This year, his appetizers will include freshly shucked oysters with cranberry verjus, a relish tray with tons of homemade pickles, classic salmon roulade with horseradish, and Champagne.
“Then we'll move on to turkey that's been brined and rubbed with butter and sage, thyme and chives. I'll probably roast the legs separately and baste them with the herb butter so they stay moist—it almost tastes like duck confit.”
For a taste of what Oringer means about the wonders of brining, here’s his apple-brined turkey recipe.
Chef Matthew Gaudet – West Bridge Restaurant, Cambridge Claim to fame Named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs 2013.Background Worked at molecular gastronomy temple, Eleven Madison Park, and French fine dining destination, Jean Georges, in New York City before moving back to Boston. In 2012 he opened West Bridge Restaurant in Cambridge, not far from downtown Boston.
“As far as Thanksgiving around here in Cambridge is concerned, we keep it pretty traditional. We spend it with my wife's family, who’s Jewish. Therefore we enjoy some delicious home cooking and latkes. The cranberry-jalapeno relish and the crispy roasted potatoes are definite highlights, along with the roasted turkey. The potatoes are Yukon Golds cooked slowly in a roasting pan in the turkey drippings. They’re parboiled then left for most of the afternoon. They get this delicious golden crust on the outside and pudding-like texture inside—ridiculously good! We also have the classic green beans and stuffing, and there's always football on the television and wine in our glasses.”
While it’s sometimes difficult for a chef to give up the reins of his kitchen, Gaudet enjoys a little time off. “It’s a holiday where I relax and let others do the work. I'm not sure where they get the turkey; I generally get one of those happy local ones but since I'm off the hook, I don't bother.” At Christmastime, however, Gaudet takes back control of the family kitchen and gets creative with the menu: “I like to play with the different sides and cuts of meat. We do some kind of whole roasted beef: standing rib, slow cooked sirloin, top round. Then different kinds of potatoes, like pomme gratin, boulanger or an over-the-top purée. We'll do a leek gratin, carrots braised in their own juice, squash with ginger and hazelnuts, apples and turnips, chili brussel sprouts, Meyer lemon haricots—things I might do in the restaurant but family-style. I've made boudin blanc and mushrooms à la grecque for hors d'oeuvres, too.”