Spatchcocked Turkey and Fresh Wassail: Houston Chefs Have Some Great Cooking Planned for Their Thanksgiving Gatherings

Earlier this week, we spoke with some Houston chefs about their Thanksgiving preparation and cooking advice.

Today, the chefs share with us what they are making for Thanksgiving this year, whether they're planning to spend the holiday at home or in the kitchens of their restaurants.

Joseph Stayshich, executive chef of benjy's in Rice Village: "We're fortunate enough at benjy's in the Rice Village location to have Thanksgiving off. It's been that way for the last couple of years. I know up at Washington we still actually do the Thanksgiving dinner with the multiple courses. I have been lucky enough to be able to spend time with my family for the last few years on Thanksgiving, which is rare in the culinary industry sometimes.

"Generally speaking, what we do is, my wife and I and the kids will go hang out with my parents and my dad does the turkey. I'll do some dishes, or sometimes I'll often make dessert. This year, I'm not sure what I am going to make yet, but a lot of times what I do is a stuffed pasta, whether it be ravioli or agnolotti or something like that, utilizing ingredients you would find on the Thanksgiving table. A couple of years ago I did agnolotti stuffed with sweet potatoes and it has Brussels sprouts on there and pickled cranberries. I kind of keep it within a theme, but I put my own twist on it.

"There have been a couple of times that I have done the turkey as well in the past. But generally my dad likes to take that -- I kind of let him run with it, but I definitely put my two cents in. I've got him brining a turkey now and doing some little different techniques to have it turn out better. That's sort of his gig."

Justin Yu, chef and owner of Oxheart: "I fall asleep watching football and eat a weird mix of Chinese and Americanized food. It's an odd mix generally; my aunts make Chinese food and my mom makes the turkey and ham. I used to cook. There is a cornbread that one of my aunts makes that has like cream cheese and frozen broccoli in it.

"My brother has tried to make pies his thing for the last few years. He is not very good at it, but he is working on it. [He makes] pumpkin pie; it is a nice gesture, at least."

Dylan Murray, chef of benjy's on Washington: "I always get pork legs from Black Hill Farms and take that home and make like a ham. I always roast some Brussels sprouts with some citrus shaving -- just real simple: olive oil, sea salt, citrus zest; roast in the oven until browned. I love making stuffing with just the leftover bread, dried fruit, fresh herbs, sage...we always try to get our hands on some fresh chestnuts as well. To me that's the harbinger -- the season of the fresh chestnuts -- when those start showing up, it gets me in the spirit.

"Candied cranberries is one thing we love to do here, too. I do that at home. It's super simple. You get fresh cranberries and you get some simple syrup, warmed, just sugar-water solution, then you take your fresh cranberries and dip them in the simple syrup, take them out, shake it off and then toss them with just white sugar. And that white sugar coats them and the simple syrup makes the regular sugar stick to the cranberry; you just set them out to dry, and once they are dry they've got kind of a crust on them, and I'm sure as you know, fresh cranberries are pretty bitter, so the sugar shell makes it a really nice bittersweet combo."

Murray also makes some festive drinks: "I like busting out the holiday drinks. Fresh wassail or cider. The fresh hibiscus is actually in season, so I like doing drinks with that. I mix it with orange juice or apple juice heated up, and a little rum, a little spices -- I like those warm sipping drinks."

Danny Trace, executive chef of Brennan's of Houston: Chef Trace goes hunting a few weeks before Thanksgiving for ducks and deer, then uses the meat to make a spread with a few sous chefs and family members after the Thanksgiving service is over.

"So, what we typically do, a bunch of us get together -- me, a couple of sous chefs, whoever is available after dinner -- we will make sausages, we will make jambalaya, gumbos, whatever. We will just fabricate the deer and do a big spread...we will do some sides and we will have our own dinner. Drink some great drinks, some great wine, Scotch. And that's really the kickoff for us for the busy season, so it's kind of a party. That's how we give thanks.

"I like our sausages, kind of like the handmade sausages. I'm a huge fan of gumbo. Jambalaya is always fun...it's all good! It's all my favorite.

"We brine the turkeys and then we typically bone them out and then we kind of lay them out. We make a mixture of hot sauce, Worcestershire; we make an herb compound butter with roasted garlic in it and then we kind of smash that butter into the turkey and then we kind of take the turkey, roll it up so that the skin is on the outside and then we knit it and then sear it and then we roast it. So you have all of that -- the flavor of the butter and the herbs, the hot sauce, Worcestershire, which makes a pretty tasty bird."

Sylvia Casares, chef and owner of Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen: "I cook a very traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I do, of course, a turkey. For the last three years I have been also doing a smoked turkey. I do sweet potatoes, fresh baked sweet potatoes, but not with the marshmallows and all of that. I just put a little bit of butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, and [I make] cornbread stuffing. I do my giblet gravy and mashed potatoes, of course, and rolls and pies --I do pumpkin -- I usually do that myself. I also do a pie that is made with fresh fruit like strawberries and bananas, whipped cream, in a graham cracker crust pie shell and that's it. Very simple. Nothing extravagant.

"The only thing I think I do that is a little different -- I started doing it a few years ago -- I make pumpkin empanadas and my grandmother used to do that for us and I loved them. It's a pastry and they are baked. It's kind of more of an after -- you know how you eat and then you might have a little dessert right after the meal and then later you come back -- kind of an after-after the Thanksgiving meal and then it's something we will eat however long they last, two or three days later. They hold up really really well."

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