13 country cooking hacks for your holiday feast

3 chefs in the Mountain State are dishing out their holiday secrets, drawing from Appalachian innovation and culinary uniqueness.

Check out these West Virginia chefs’ tips and tricks to have the best Thanksgiving dinner yet:

1. Prep everything possible

“Dice onions, string beans, etc., a day or 2 before,” said Chef Marion Ohlinger of Hill & Hollow in Morgantown. This, he said, helps to organize your thoughts in relation to the meal and also frees up your time to spend with your guests during the holiday.

2. Deconstruct the turkey before cooking

“I know it changes the traditional presentation, but the leg quarters take longer to cook than the breast and by cooking them in separate pans, the breast can be removed 20 to 30 minutes earlier than the legs, allowing them both to be perfectly cooked,” Ohlinger said. It also gives you the opportunity to be creative with your plating, he added.

3. Brine the turkey

But if you’re keeping your bird intact, one West Virginia chef has advice: “The best tip and trick is to brine your turkey; no deep frying, unless that’s your thing,” said Chef Richard Arbaugh of South Hills Market and Cafe in Charleston. Brining will tenderize and enhance the flavors, he said.

4. Baste the turkey

What makes the skin really, really, brown and crisp is constantly basting in butter— always basting. Never take it for granted. Every 15 minutes, either get a spoon or a baster and put it all over the top.

5. Or, try something other than turkey

And if he has his choice, Urbanic prefers to cook a capon, a castrated rooster. “Capons aren’t easy to find anymore, but what’s good about them is that they grow fast and big like a rooster— as much as 12 or 13 lbs— with huge drumsticks similar to a turkey. But, it’s a chicken, which is much juicier and more moist, whereas the turkey has a tendency to be dry,” he said.

6. Don’t be a perfectionist

“The holidays are about spending time with loved ones, not worrying whether your Yorkshire pudding is as good as your grandmother’s or if the mashed potatoes are a little lumpy,” Ohlinger said.

7. Use local ingredients

Urbanic said a dish like scalloped potatoes can be completely sourced locally. “We grow a lot of potatoes in West Virginia, and there’s nothing better than scalloped potatoes with local milk, cream and butter,” he said.

8. Try a cushaw pie

“There isn’t a better pumpkin for pumpkin pie than the cushaw squash,” Urbanic said. “It doesn’t look like your typical jack-o-lantern; it’s a green-striped pumpkin with a crooked neck, but when you cut it open, it’s more orange than pumpkin. The pumpkin flavor is beyond anything else you’ll have.” The cushaw squash makes the finest pumpkin pies, he added.

9. Practice a new dish first

Now isn’t the time to try a brand-new dish, said Arbaugh. “Don’t try something you haven’t practiced if you have a crowd. You will never have a great idea or successful food item in the last minute.” If you are looking to change up your mix, try it once before the big dinner.

10. Use the drippings for a gravy

The best gravy is made with turkey drippings, Urbanic said. “The drippings make a luscious gravy.”

11. Put pork in your stuffing

“What I prefer is to use the Italian bread that is getting stale, make it into cubes and put a locally made Italian sausage or pork belly that will keep it moist,” Urbanic said. “Add fruit— especially dried fruits like figs and dates— and local fall apples. Look at the local farmers’ market and use herbs.” Just don’t pack the bird too tight, he said. If there is extra, put it in a casserole pan to cook alongside the turkey.

12. Add a root veggie side

Any root vegetables like butternut or acorn squash, turnips, parsnips, sweet potatoes and rutabagas are good this time of year, Urbanic said. “They need to have a frost before they get sweet, so it’s perfect timing to add those recently harvested veggies to the table,” he said.

13. Have another glass of wine

Now, that’s a holiday hack from Ohlinger.

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This post was last updated on January 19, 2021