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November 16, 2011 at 8:04 AM

Get cooking for the holidays: Seattle chefs share their tips

Looking for holiday cooking tips, techniques and culinary advice — plus a raft of great recipes? So were we. For this year’s holiday guide we tapped local chefs and restaurateurs for ideas and inspiration.

We came up with a heaping helping of appetizers and desserts from Dish D’Lish diva Kathy Casey; memorable main courses from the chef-instructors at Seattle Culinary Academy at Seattle Central Community College; satisfying sides from contemporary Northwest cookbooks; and a sideboard of standbys from The Seattle Times files.

You’ll find the complete Holiday Cuisine recipe-package (including turkey basics from the USDA and words of wine wisdom from my pal Paul Gregutt) linked here.

Roast turkey, or chestnut-chanterelle pork loin roast: you decide. [Seattle Times/Ken Lambert]

Meanwhile, I yakked it up with a host of local chefs, and here’s what they had to tell me:

Yes, we talked turkey

“My grandmother was a great Cajun cook, and her chicken stew would bring you to your knees,” recalls chef Kevin Davis, a Louisiana native. “But mawmaw always overcooked the turkey.” Turns out mawmaw didn’t have the right tool: a digital thermometer. Today, “there’s no reason to be without one,” says her grandson, owner of Seattle’s Blueacre Seafood and Steelhead Diner. “It takes the guesswork out of everything.”

Speaking of guesswork, “Don’t buy a frozen bird and thaw it out under running water at the last minute,” he says. “Insist on a fresh bird. Make a point to figure out where you’re going to get it, and order it ahead of time.” To stuff or not to stuff? If that is the question, “don’t bother,” Davis says. “By the time the stuffing reaches the proper temperature, the turkey’s overcooked” — just like mawmaw’s. Prepare your stuffing separately, and if you miss that baked-in-the-turkey flavor, “just take the drippings from your pan — that’s the essence — and add it to the stuffing.”

Got gravy?

“Nobody ever makes enough,” says Kathy Casey, who entertains aplenty at home and at Kathy Casey Food Studios in Ballard. “The gravy-boat comes around and you say, ‘Well, that’s enough for me!’ ” That’s why she stocks up on turkey legs, prepares a rich broth, makes a big batch of gravy and freezes it in advance. “Right before serving the turkey, add wine and the thawed gravy to your roasting-pan drippings and you’ll have mondo gravy!”

And don’t even think about tossing the carcass after you’ve sliced off extra meat, made sandwiches to-go and sent them home with your guests, Casey says. “Whack it up right away, add water and get the carcass going in a pot for turkey broth. Keep it simmering while you’re having cocktails or watching football, and when it’s done you’ll have a broth for a delicious soup — or for more gravy!”

Make it easy on yourself

Why fuss with a big bird and elaborate preparations when you’ve got other options?

Emily Crawford, chef at The Corson Building in Georgetown, sings praise for a braise. “I love a long-cooked leg of lamb or a shoulder. You can prepare it in advance and it’s even better the next day.” What to eat while the braise is warming? Canned food.

Don’t scoff, says Crawford, who regularly loots her larder for “snacky morsels.” Some of them homemade (like her pickled peppers), others store bought (“even Trader Joe’s has decent smoked oysters”). And there’s always her “go-to quickie,” a Portuguese-style tuna mousse:

“Take a pound of oil-packed albacore tuna; 3/4 pound of unsalted butter; six anchovy fillets; the juice and zest of a lemon; and Aleppo, cayenne or red pepper flakes to taste. Whiz it together [in a food processor], season with salt and serve on crackers. It’s as simple as it is delicious.”

Don’t forget the fresh seafood

“Who doesn’t love a big display of Gulf shrimp, Dungeness crab or lobster?” asks chef Davis. And if you’re saying, “Yeah, but who can afford a display like that?” why not splurge instead on Northwest oysters? “I love shucking oysters at a holiday party,” he says. “It’s a great way to bring people together in the kitchen.” Buy small oysters, Davis suggests, the better to turn first-timers into oyster lovers. “Don’t drink and shuck,” says Davis. And don’t forget to wear a protective glove or hold the oysters in several thicknesses of a clean bar towel while shucking. (How to? Watch this.)

Bradley Dickinson, chef and co-owner of Pearl Bar & Dining in Bellevue, agrees that crab is a crowd pleaser. But unlike Davis, who cooks and cracks his own, Dickinson buys crabmeat by the tubful. In fact, he buys several, available at quality seafood counters. Seek out crab legs, not the picked-over parts, he says. “Put out some cocktail sauce, and you’ve got one less thing to worry about.”

Think like a professional

At home or in a restaurant kitchen, “planning and preparation is key,” Dickinson says. “It’s all about what you’re going to do two days out, one day out, that morning.” Make lists. Check them twice. Read recipes in advance.

And if you’re a novice, schools Kaspar Donier, chef/owner of Kaspars Special Events & Catering in Lower Queen Anne, “Don’t go out and buy Bon Appétit magazine, see their big feast and think you can get it right the first time.”

Consider space restrictions in the fridge, on the stove, in the oven. Make pies and casseroles the night before. Prep your ingredients in advance, chopping, mincing or blanching, then refrigerate them in lidded plastic containers.

And don’t forget to delegate. “Why do it all yourself?” Donier asks, plugging for a potluck. “Make one or two items and ask everyone else to bring the rest.”

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