Thanksgiving: It’s stressful. It’s a production. Maybe someone’s child is running around, threatening to crash into you when you’ve got the turkey in hand, or a side dish of this, or that tuber on the verge of overcooking. Let everyone else overcomplicate it. There are, in fact, ways to actually make the meal easier, without letting someone else do all of the cooking for you. Here’s the thing: Even the best chefs use shortcuts and cheats during meals like this, when a seasoning mix or canned cranberry sauce with a little bit of rose water can let you focus on making sure the turkey doesn’t get dry. Here, ten chefs on the premade products they use for Turkey Day.
Jonathan Wu of Nom Wah Tu says, “Honestly, it’s the same concept as fried onions like French’s. Maesri fried garlic is just great for green beans, anything made with them. You can do a green-bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup, or use them on sauteed green beans.”
Ann Redding of Uncle Boons and Uncle Boons Sister says, “I’m a little embarrassed about this one but I really love Stove Top stuffing. There’s something nostalgic for me about the flavor — probably the chicken bouillon. I would always make my own stuffing but it never quite had that Stove Top magic. My sister and I would try doctoring it up with extra ingredients to fancy it up and just make us feel better about ourselves but it still wasn’t the same. Now I make a stuffing from scratch but there’s also always Stove Top stuffing, somewhat hidden on the table, just for myself and my sister. I don’t think anyone else is really that into it.”
Alex Raij of Txikito, Tekoa, and other restaurants says, “I always use Pepperidge Farm or other stuffing ‘croutons’ bread. I don’t use the herbed ones but I like to buy the plain cubed ones and the the broken ones in a two-to-one ratio — I don’t use flavor packets. I add butter and chicken stock and veggies and herbs. The the texture is just right: It never gets too packed and soggy or mealy, but it holds together. I also loved to fold in chicken liver and canned pâté would work great, too.”
Akhtar Nawab of Alta Calidad says, “I always use Barbara’s corn flakes to top my sweet potato purée — you can’t beat the sweetness and crunchy texture it adds! To do this, heat water and brown sugar as if you’re making a caramel. Add butter and cook until bubbles look big and angry, then add the corn flakes to coat with the caramel, and pour out onto sheet pan. While still hot, use a heat-proof spatula to press the caramel-coated corn flakes into a thin layer and season with sea salt. Crumble on top of the sweet potato purée and bake at 150 until bubbly. Consume ASAP.”
Joseph “JJ” Johnson, currently of Chefs Club, says, “I’m not ashamed to admit that I like to use Jiffy brand corn bread mix instead of bread for my dressing, as most people do in the South. (’Stuffing’ is a Northerner thing.) I make the Jiffy cornbread (not too moist) the night before, and then it’s ready to be crumbled for stuffing the next day. It turns out super delicious and little does everyone know it costs less than a dollar to buy in the supermarket.”
Patrick McGrath of Joseph Leonard says, “I love using Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning on toasted oyster crackers. Toss the oyster crackers in olive oil and the ranch mix and then bake them — served warm, they rival homemade Chex Mix, but require fewer ingredients.”
Danny DiStefano of Made Nice says, “Everyone’s mother and grandmother has that little brown bottle with the orange top in the back of their cabinet, it’s probably from 1972. Don’t get me wrong, I make my own turkey jus from the carcass and necks and giblets, but a little Gravy Master goes a long way to enhance the best part of Thanksgiving dinner.”
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