Mastering Thanksgiving Day Sides - Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce

SCS 025| Mastering Thanksgiving Day Sides

In part two of our Thanksgiving Day podcast series, we talk popular side dishes including mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy. Along with a great turkey, these dishes will make up the core of your Thanksgiving Day meal.

Discussion Segment

In this episode's discussion segment, I take you through my process for making gravy, mashed potatoes, and stuffing.

Gravy

My preferred method for turkey gravy is first making a roasted turkey stock. This allows me to make a flavorful roux with the turkey fat I skimmed while making the stock. For a detailed walk-though of my gravy making process, please refer to the video linked in the 'Related' section below.

Mashed Potatoes

For a full write-up on and video technique on mashed potatoes, please see the related section below.

Also in this episode, we discussed the science behind pre-cooking and chilling the potatoes, which is an optional step. The basic rundown is this:

  • Cut potatoes and rinse.
  • Place in a pot of cold water and bring to 163°F/72.5°C. Hold at this temp for 20 minutes. Alternately, if you have an immersion circulator, vacuum pack potatoes and cook at the same time and temp.
  • Chill potatoes in the fridge. This can be done up to three days in advance.
  • To finish, gently simmer potatoes in water until fork tender. Drain and mash using your preferred method.

A full, indepth explanation of how the above process can make your mashed potatoes better can be found in this podcast episode.

Basic Mashed Potatoes Ratio
  • 100% Potatoes, peeled and uncooked
  • 20% Butter
  • 6.5% Cream
  • Salt, White Pepper, and Fresh Herbs to Taste

Stuffing

In the SCS 024, I talked about why I prefer not to stuff my turkey. My reasons in short are three-fold:

  1. Cooking stuffing inside the turkey can be dangerous since the turkey will reach a safe eating temperature before the stuffing. To make the stuffing safe to eat, you'll need to continue cooking, either inside the bird (which will over-cook the turkey), or by pulling the stuffing out of the turkey and placing it in your oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 165F.
  2. I prefer to break down my turkey and cooking my legs and breast separately, so I usually don't have a bird to stuff.
  3. Cooking the stuffing in a casserole dish will give you more control. As cooks, we're always looking to control variables. One of the best ways to control variables is to cook ingredients separately, and then recombine on the plate, or right before serving. This holds true with turkey and stuffing, which is why I opt to cook my turkey breast, turkey legs, turkey gravy, and stuffing, all separately.
My Basic Stuffing (Really Dressing) Approach

Whether you're using corn bread, brioche, french bread, or plain croutons, the first step to making stuffing is the stale bread. I like to cube my bread, lay it in an even layer, and allow it to stale uncovered overnight.

The next day I'll make a flavor base by sauteing sausage and turkey giblets with finely minced celery, carrots, onions and garlic. I'll then add water to these aromatics, at the ratio of 3X the amount bread I have by weight. The flavor base is reduced to 2X the weight of the bread.

Instead of water, you can use turkey or chicken stock, but I actually prefer to save my homemade stock for gravy and soup, and add chicken base to the liquid mixture from above. The salty, chickeny goodness of the base brings a solid level of seasoning to the overall stuffing. If you really want to play dirty, you can also add a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch. Just make sure you get the real stuff with the MSG.

Combine liquid base and stale bread in a mixing bowl and allow it to hydrate for about 20 minutes. Place in a casserole dish that has been sprayed with non-stick spray, and bake at 300°F/148°C for about 3 hours, or until a knife stuck in the center comes out clean.

Brush the top of the stuffing with melted butter, and raise your oven temp to 350°F/176°C. Bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until the top of the stuffing is golden brown.

Basic Stuffing Percent
  • 100% Bread - Pre Dry Weight
  • 150% Brunoise Mirepoix
  • 200% Liquid Base

All other ingredients are optional and can be added by sight. These additional ingredients include:

  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Giblets
  • Oysters
  • Mushrooms
  • Fresh and Dry Herbs

Also, a nice touch is the juice and zest of one lemon. It helps cut through the heaviness of the stuffing.

Sous Vide Stuffing
  • 100% Stale Bread
  • 100% Eggs
  • 200% Stock
  • Additional ingredients added to site

Cook sous vide at 175°F/79.5°C until the internal temperature reaches 170°F/76.6°C. Press with a flat plate in the fridge overnight. The thermometer I recommend for this process is the ChefAlarm with a sous vide probe. More detailed instructions can be found in this podcast episode.

Technique Segment

In the technique segment, we discuss the planning and execution of your Thanksgiving Day menu. Here are some execution tips to keep in mind.

  • Be proactive, not reactive. Have a game plan going in.
  • Write a detailed prep list of everything you need to get done. Cross items off the prep list as you go, and prioritize your prep so you start items that need the most passive time first.
  • Breaking down your turkey a couple days before will streamline your workflow and maximize your limited storage space.
  • Make roux and stock ahead of time so you can make the gravy quickly and easily before the turkey is ready to serve.
  • Remember the concept of 'mise en place,' meaning to put everying 'in place.' Group prepared ingredients together, so they're easy to find when the time comes to finish a dish.
  • Remember your turkey needs to rest before serving, and you can always give it a quick 're-therm' to bring back the surface temp. So instead of trying to time the turkey with the rest of your dishes, have it done 30-60 minutes before you plan on serving so you can focus on finishing your other dishes. This is extremely effective when cooking the legs and thighs separately, as demonstrated in the video series found in the 'Related' section of this page.

Culinary Quick Tip

In this episode's culinary quick tip, we talk scratch made cranberry sauce, which is actually much simpler than you may think.

Basic cranberry sauce is cranberries simmered in a simple syrup for a minimum of 20 minutes and then cooled. Simple syrup is nothing more than equal amounts sugar and water, by weight or volume.

As anyone who's ever gone through one of those hippie-clense diets knows, fresh, raw cranberries are extremely sour. But when cooked in a simple syrup, you get the sweet and sour turkey condiment we all know and love. And because cranberries contain natural pectin, no additional gelling agent is required.

Cranberries have a natural flavor affinity with apples, so a tart, green apple such as granny smith, can add an interesting level of complexity. Becuase they will soften much faster than the cranberries, I recommend adding the diced and peeled apples right at the end of cooking. As the cranberry sauce cools, the residual heat will cook the apples.

In my home made cranberry sauce I also like a little bit of minced ginger, orange zest and honey. If adding apples, maple syrup and a touch of cinnamon might also be nice.

After the initial 20 minute simmering, you can cool the cranberry sauce and serve as is, or you can blend it and pass through a strainer.

Homework Assignment

Have an awesome Thanksgiving. Enjoy your family and friends. Eat, drink, and be merry.

Also, I'm going to be recording a Thanksgiving Day Q&A tomorrow, Monday, November 23rd. If you would like your question answered on the podcast, you can submit it here, or just e-mail me through our contact form.

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There are 4 Comments

Brian96797's picture

For the stuffing / dressing ratio's, what would you use if you were using croutons (already dried)?

jacob burton's picture

Start with 2 parts liquid to 1 part croutons by weight, and add more liquid to site. You shouldn't have to go above 3 parts liquid though.

SamA's picture

Hi Chef

Can you post the stuffing video you mentioned you shot, if you're happy to release it? I did a trial run based on your percentages, turned out pretty good, but just checking I was right in my interpretation, as I got confused halfway through.

So I blitzed 200g (pre-dry weight) stale home made milk loaf for crumbs (yum!)

Sauteed 300g mirepoix, plus 2 rashers of smoked bacon and sausage meat from 2 sausages

Added 600g liquid (turkey stock in this case)

Then I thought the liquid base should be 200%, which is reduced to 400g - but hang on, do I have to add the weight of sausage and bacon?

So I guessed the sauasage and bacon to weigh 100g, and reduced the liquid base to 500g, using a new pan so I knew it's weight.

I mixed it in with the breadcrumbs, it felt a bit dry, but after a couple of hours low and slow baking (not forgetting the butter brushing stage) it was moist-ish and tasty (see photo). Am I on the right track? What kind of consistency should it be before it goes in the oven? I forgot to check if it would stick together in balls, looking back that might have been a useful guage, perhaps?

Thanks a million!

Mogs

 

jacob burton's picture

@ Mogs,

The photo isn't showing up on my end.

My standard ratio for stuffing is 2 parts liquid to 1 part bread. Don't count the mirepoix or sausage. It's the liquid and bread that will hold everything together.

Not sure if I'll be able to post the stuffing video at this point. Running out of time ...