“What’s your favorite Thanksgiving dish?” That’s the question we posed to some of New Jersey’s top chefs. Here are their interesting, mouth-watering, and heartwarming responses. (And yes, the bird is also sometimes just an excuse to make stuffing, even for the pros!)
Chef Chris Scarduzio, Scarduzio’s in Atlantic City: “My absolute favorite Thanksgiving dish is baked lasagna. This is not very traditional to American households so to speak but it was and still is a staple on my table every Thanksgiving day. Brings back warm memories.”
Chef Joel Schafer, FireCreek at Voorhees Town Center: “My favorite Thanksgiving dish? Banana bread with candied pumpkin morsels and sun-dried cranberries served with Dutch chocolate ice cream and chantilly cream. When I was little, I remember my mom creating it each year and all the kids (including me) loving it. I come from a big family, so there were always parts of the Thanksgiving meal that at least one of the kids would not like. Then, there were other items that we all loved. In an effort to please us all, my mom started mixing some familiar flavors that we liked into something we all loved: banana bread. And, since a lot of the kids actually hated cranberry sauce (who hates cranberry sauce!?), my mom incorporated the dried cranberries into this dish (everyone needs a little cranberry in their T-day dinner!). The Dutch chocolate ice cream also made it a HUGE hit in my book.”
Marilyn Schlossbach Kitschens (with restaurants including Langosta Lounge, Trinity & The Popeand Dauphin Grill all of Asbury Park): “My father is Jewish and my mother is Christian so we always celebrated dual holidays in the house.” This may explain her choice for her favorite Thanksgiving foods: roasted turkey matzo ball soup and teriyaki-glazed turkey. “These are two things I make during the holidays that make me miss my family and feel goodness.” Not only does Marilyn enjoy cooking, but she enjoys giving back as well. On Thanksgiving she opens her doors to people who aren’t able to have a dinner of their own. (And in case you’re feeling grateful after trying out her recipes—see tomorrow’s post—she’s currently accepting donations of turkeys, hams, deserts, and non-perishable food items).
Zod Arifai, Chef/Owner of Restaurant Blu in Montclair who is also relaunching Daryl in New Brunswick as Chef/Partner next month. “Naturally, the favorite part of Thanksgiving for me is the turkey leg.” “This is the most succulent and flavorful part of the bird. Aside from picking on the actual bones, I also like the cavity–the innards–which most people don’t eat. Besides the turkey, I also like my Mom’s take on pumpkin pie. She makes her own phyllo, stuffs it with pumpkin, rolls it up into a log, and bakes it. Delicious!”
Chef Jesse Jones of Newark: “My mom’s stuffing is amazing, my mother-in-law’s stuffing is amazing, and my own stuffing is amazing.” This year he’s preparing his stuffing with homemade turkey sausage with sage, homemade corn bread, roast gizzard duck fat confit, carrots, onions, celery and a sprinkling of his poultry seasoning mix on top. He will miss his mom and his mother-in-law this year.
Adam Weiss, Executive Chef, Esty Street in Park Ridge: “Every Thanksgiving, I do some kind of unique stuffing (dressing) for the turkey served on the side as I am not a fan of stuffing the bird usually as I brine mine. One of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes was a maple-brined turkey with foie gras, caramelized onion, toasted pecan, and balsamic challah stuffing with a wild mushroom gravy. Of course, I like all the traditional accompanients for dinner as well. Traditionally, I make a soup every year as a starter: usually butternut squash.”
Christine Nunn, Chef/Owner, Picnic, The Restaurant in Fairlawn: “I love sweet potato gratin with cheddar and maple cream because it is a variation of my official “station” when I was at American Bountyrestaurant at the Culinary Institute of America. The blend of the flavors scream fall, and who doesn’t love sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving? No matter where I go during the holidays, I am always asked to bring this dish. But truly, I cannot have Thanksgiving dinner without green bean casserole—with frozen beans, Campbell’s soup etc. I have made ‘upscale’ versions with fried crispy shallots, mushroom veloute sauce and haricot verts. Doesn’t come close to the original!”
Chef Ryan DePersio, Fascino in Montclair: “My Mom’s stuffing is amazing. She makes it from scratch with all the drippings from the turkey.”
James Laird, Restaurant Serenade in Chatham: “I am a stuffing kind of guy, it has the most flavor, I think all the other side dishes compliment the stuffing and it is something that you only eat once a year.”
Chef Ariane Duarte, CulinAriane in Montclair: “Believe it or not, green bean casserole was a childhood favorite of mine that my step-mom made on the holidays. It was always a treat to get it. I’ve put a healthier and more sophisticated spin on it now as I have grown up.”
Thomas Ciszak, Executive Chef/Partner of Chakra in Paramus and Blue Morel in Morristown: “Butternut squash soup is my favorite Thanksgiving food. Thanksgiving is my favorite really American food tradition. Butternut squash soup is one of the first dishes that I didn’t cook in Europe before. So now, every year, I always have it on my menu. I prepare it differently today at Chakra and Blue Morel than I did in the past. It’s more refined — among other things, I add the earthy, nutty taste of Austrian pumpkin seed oil. My European roots meet American tradition!”
Chef Jeffrey Rust – Jeffrey’s of Westfield: “My absolute favorite Thanksgiving dish is, without a doubt, a sausage and sage stuffing that has fast become a much-anticipated Rust family classic! In creating this particular recipe, I combined the elements of the sausage stuffing that was such a traditional part of the Thanksgiving feast in both of my grandmothers’ childhood homes and, based on my own classic French culinary training, added sage for an even more delicious and savory flavor. No matter how much of this stuffing we prepare each Thanksgiving, there never seem to be any leftovers to enjoy the next day…a sure sign that this dish is a real crowd pleaser! Thanksgiving to me is the aroma of food cooking, the sounds of family conversations and laughter, and the pleasure of sharing both old and new dishes with people you love. I launched Jeffrey’s of Westfield more than ten years ago and, since that time, it has been my honor to host my own family’s Thanksgiving dinner, complete with all of our traditional dishes, right here at my restaurant. Nothing could make me happier!”
Joe Leone, Owner, Joe Leone’s Italian Specialty Store & Catering in Point Pleasant Beach and Manasquan: “My favorite Thanksgiving dish really comes along the Saturday after Thanksgiving. My mom used to make us a big dish of turkey tetrazzini every year—my sister and I liked it well done on top. When I think back I smile thinking how blessed we were and how [we’ve been] even more blessed every year from then to today. I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving.”
Chef Michael d’Ennery, Atlantic Bar & Grill in South Seaside Park: “My favorite ‘dish’ has to be the turkey thigh itself. Every year we have a locally grown bird and try to ‘up the ante’ on how we prepare it. Last year’s was the best yet. We always break the turkey down and cook in separate parts. I confit’d the thigh and leg in ‘franken-fat’—a mix of duck, pork, chicken, turkey and dry-aged beef fat. It was the most succulent turkey I have ever eaten! This year’s will be cooked sous vide with duck fat and herbs.”
Chef Robb Welch, Bareli’s Restaurant in Secaucus: “It has to be my mother’s wild rice, sausage, and bread stuffing. It’s what I make at home and at the restaurant every Thanksgiving.”
Chef Sofia Karakasidou of Kuzina by Sofia in Cherry Hill: “My favorite Thanksgiving dish is traditional Greek stuffing. Long before there were Pilgrims and Thanksgiving celebrations, people throughout Greece and the Middle East celebrated special occasions by roasting stuffed birds, lamb and goat and preparing a traditional stuffing of rice and ground beef. My version of turkey stuffing is a hand-me-down from my paternal grandmother. The recipe consists of rice, ground beef, chopped chicken livers, raisins, pine nuts and a concoction of fresh and dried herbs.”
Kara Decker, Executive Chef of A Toute Heure in Cranford: Stuffing in any form has always been my favorite – baked on its own so it’s crisp on the top and tender in the middle, not stuffed in the bird. Coming up with some interesting combination of flavors in my stuffing each year is always a nice challenge as I start my day of cooking.
Chef Chris Albrecht of Eno Terra in Kingston: “Sweet potatoes, rich, bright and complex. When sweet potatoes are roasted the natural sugars caramelize. That process takes something relatively simple and elevates it well into the complex zone without much effort. Boiling or microwaving, does not produce the same effect. Once they are roasted, the sky is the limit. I like them baked into a focaccia with fennel and if you are lucky some of the last of the year local jalapenos! Drizzle with a little local maple syrup and you are well on your way. Of course crispy bacon bits could complete the focaccia, but if your having sausage with your stuffing, more pork product may not be needed!?”
Bruce Lefebvre Executive chef, The Frog and The Peach in New Brunswick:
“My favorite Thanksgiving dish is the stuffing mainly because I love bread! The best stuffing would be made of artisinal bread, such as Olive Rosemary or Country-Style or Sourdough. Stuffing is a great dish because you can flavor it in so many ways (the bread as well as the other ingredients). I use the Stuffing to guide my other Thanksgiving dishes. Although we bake our own breads here, I use Witherspoon Bakery (Princeton) bread every year for our stuffing at the restaurant, as they are able to produce such a large order! This year I used Sourdough which I’m flavoring with Bacon and Brown Butter.”
Chef Mark Smith of the Tortilla Press and Tortilla Press Cantina in Collingswood: “My favorite? Stuffing, hands down. I grew up with my mom’s, which was always perfect and always consistently seasoned and moist. She made stuffing worth waiting for and even today I’ll try any kind, any time.”