Dan starts the conversation by offering this preface: Thanksgiving is my mother’s holiday. I have cooked during the years when I lived too far to come home, but when I can make it home I only help. It doesn’t matter how many great kitchens I have worked in, on Thanksgiving my Mom is the boss.
1. Let’s start with the turkey. What do you think is the most common mistake people make when making the Thanksgiving turkey? How could they avoid this?
I think that the most common mistake people make in regards to the turkey is simple; they over think it. I think that people build it up as the MAIN course on the big Holiday and they feel pressure to make it “perfect”. Don’t over think it. Use a fresh turkey, pre-heat your oven and give it a little butter under the skin or some olive oil. Season it well with kosher salt & black pepper and then just be patient. Always use a digital probe thermometer and set the temperature (let the probe do all the guesswork of when it is done), and make sure to let it rest before slicing.
2. I often make a very rich potato and fennel gratin but even though we only have it once a year, it’s beginning to get old. What might be a new take on a gratin or casserole you’d recommend?
I love roasted winter squash and it makes a delicious casserole. I like to roast some Butternut and Delicata Squash, assemble the gratin and have it chilled and ready to go.
3. Speaking of potatoes, how can a person make mashed potatoes that don’t end up like glue?
Potatoes end up like glue because they are over cooked (which soaks up water) and then over worked, which releases the starch. Russets or Yukon Gold’s make great mashed potatoes.
· Simmer the potatoes, don’t boil.
· Drain when they are just tender, do not let sit in the water.
· Heat cream and butter in a separate pan, mash briefly, stir in hot cream until just incorporated.
4. Would you share some tips for preparation and getting the timing right when planning a large meal for a lot of guests?
Stay organized; lists are your best friend. Make a shopping list, then make a list of all the cooking that you need to do (this is a “prep” list). Look at the list and start to figure out what you can do ahead of time, and when you have time to get it done. The turkey needs to be cooked on Thanksgiving, but plenty of sides can be prepared a day or two ahead…in fact some items get better after a night in the fridge (i.e. soups & stews). Finally, make another list for Thanksgiving (this one should be a timeline) and try your best to stick to it.
5. What is an underrated dish that you think could be more appreciated on the Thanksgiving table?
Dinner Rolls. Most times they are an afterthought or store bought, but there is nothing better than a warm, flaky biscuit or a buttery-yeasty Parker House Roll.
6. Can you tell us about the most involved or complicated dish you make for Thanksgiving? The simplest?
I try not to make anything too complicated on Holidays, lots of simple sides. Sometimes I’ll make stuffed Pastas (roasted squash) but that is about as complicated as it will get. The simplest is Mashed Potatoes, not fancy Pommes Puree mind you, just good old mashed Potatoes.
7. Do you have any family recipes or dishes that you include out of tradition?
It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the smell of my Mother’s Pumpkin Bread.
8. You like to work with local ingredients. What is on your list this year and where have you gotten them?
I am still getting introduced to all of the wonderful local markets and farmers that make Bucks County great, so I feel like I am always finding something new. I would have to say that my current favorite is the Stone Ground Grits and Cornmeal from Castle Valley Mills. They make fantastic grits and cornbread…..outstanding.
9. Have you ever catered an event or done a private party and you’ve had to improvise or change direction on a dish at the last minute? How did that play out?
Well, that question pretty much applies to every single Saturday night I’ve ever worked in a restaurant kitchen. You adjust and do your best. I’ve had power go out on an event before, in which case I can say that I am thankful for portable burners and candles!
10. What is the best use of leftover turkey?
I would really love to say a casserole or something fancy, but I can’t…..Turkey Sandwiches. Roasted Turkey with Bacon, Avocado, Lettuce and some Spicy Aioli makes a great club sandwich.
11. Would you share a recipe for one of your favorite Thanksgiving desserts?
Thanksgiving is the ultimate Holiday for the home cook, and for home cooking I always turn to Martha Stewart; her recipes are really consistent. I love making her Pumpkin-Cheesecake. I substitute Gingersnap cookies for the graham crackers in the crust, and I add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and ½ teaspoon of allspice. It is delicious.
12. Bonus question: What should we serve in those wine glasses?
I would have a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and a good Chardonnay (light on the oak) open at all times; but I think the Holiday itself calls for a good cocktail. I would simmer some apple cider with a cinnamon stick, clove and a little maple syrup. Serve warm or chilled with a generous dose of brandy and you’re good to go.
Have a question for Chef Dan Gallo? He’s generously offered to be your go-to-guy for Thanksgiving cooking questions. Where was he when I cooked my first turkey upside down? Send Dan an email at: LittlePigCatering@gmail.com
You can also follow Dan on Facebook or reach Little Pig Catering to plan an event: 610-742-4441.
And, in case you’re wondering, Little Pig, despite its logo, is named in honor of Gallo’s Boston Terrier, who, like many on Thanksgiving, earned the nickname.