Today’s Chefs Take on Pilgrim Era Thanksgiving Ingredients

Today’s Chefs Take on Pilgrim Era Thanksgiving Ingredients

Originally published in VEGAS SEVEN magazine
By Marisa Finetti & Kirk Peterson

The huge, ungainly bird that has become the de facto centerpiece around which the entire Thanksgiving feast is built gives us a feeling of authenticity, as we imagine that America’s settlers might have chomped on a crispy turkey leg in November 1621. But the “first Thanksgiving” meal was far different from our modern holiday offerings. While the starring meats included deer, ducks and geese, cranberry sauce wasn’t invented until 50 years later when sugar became available, and potatoes were virtually unknown in the U.S. until the early 1700s. Hence, the pilgrims and their native Wampanoag guests celebrated the harvest by preparing locally sourced crops such as corn, leeks, beans, plums, chestnuts and berries, as well as eels, quahogs, lobsters and cod from the Atlantic, and consumed the prizes from their “fowling” missions. We asked five of the city’s chefs how they might handle these star ingredients from the nation’s famous foodie gathering.

Mandalay Bay executive chef Susan Wolfla remembers the time she tasted roasted chestnuts in northern Italy. She re-creates the memory at home by roasting chestnuts on a fire pit while sipping on after-dinner drinks. One hour prior to roasting, she cuts an X in the bottom of each chestnut and soaks them in salty water. “I like to use a cast iron pan over the coals and a long-handled fork to stir the chestnuts until the skin starts to peel back.”

Charlie Palmer Steak executive chef Thomas Griese recommends roasted venison loin with dark chocolate jus. He suggests marinating the loin in white pepper and herbs such as bay leaf, thyme and rosemary. “This will impart a ton of fall flavor into the meat,” he says. He also recommends roasting the bone to make jus and adding bitter, dark chocolate. “Chocolate is my secret weapon in a savory dish.” He finishes the meal by roasting and pureeing celeriac, then topping it with fresh winter truffles and roasted seckel pear.

Delmonico Steakhouse chef de cuisine Ronnie Rainwater prepares a dish that is a playful take on Peking duck. The multiday process begins with brining the bird overnight with cloves, thyme, bay leaf, brown sugar, kosher salt and water. The next day, the duck is submerged in hot brine for a few minutes, then it is dipped into a glaze made with Louisiana cane syrup, hot sauce and green onion, and allowed to air-dry overnight. This glazing/drying process is repeated for up to five days. “This helps get the skin crispy,” Rainwater says. He then slow-roasts the duck at 275 degrees for three to four hours.

Clams Oreganata (Italian-style stuffed clams) conjures up memories of Carla Pellegrino’s childhood. “The bread stuffing is perfect for Thanksgiving,” she says. To get rid of grit, the Bratalian executive chef and owner makes a cold, salty bath for the fresh clams. “Once in contact with salt water, they will open and release all sand and residue into the saltwater mixture, then they will close again.” She combines breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper, olive oil and chicken broth, then spoons the mixture into each raw clam. On a sheet pan, she pours wine, lemon juice, clam juice and butter over each clam and broils them until the tops are brown and crisp.

Using ingredients that we are already very likely to have in our pantry for Thanksgiving, Triple George Grill executive chef Brearley Hernandez makes currant bread pudding. After mixing eggs, half-and-half, cinnamon, vanilla extract and sugar, he soaks diced bread in the egg mixture, adds currants and bakes. “We need something sweet besides pumpkin pie. A little bread pudding with currants and ice cream would make a nice choice.”

A Sip to Go With So Nice on Ice
Poor lambrusco. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, it was a hugely successful wine in the U.S., made in an easy-drinking, overly sweet “so nice on ice” style. But tastes have changed, and lambrusco fell out of fashion. But this is only a tiny hiccup in the 2,000-year history of one of Italy’s most misunderstood grapes, which produces perhaps the most food-friendly red wines in the world.

Lambrusco is both the name of the grape and of the wine made from it in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, arguably the gastronomic center of the country and home of Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto and aceto balsamico. Quality lambrusco is typically made as a frizzante (slightly sparkling) red wine with varying degrees of sweetness: secco (dry), amabile (off dry) and dolce (sweet), and all are meant to be drunk while still young. Its naturally high acid and frothy carbonation make for a fresh, lively wine, while its lack of tannins and varying degrees of sweetness make it astonishingly versatile from a food-pairing standpoint.

The traditional Thanksgiving meal presents a variety of wine-pairing challenges because of the diversity of dishes presented and how they are served all at once, necessitating a wine that pairs as well with turkey as it does with sweet yams and green bean casserole. Lambrusco is that wine: explosive red berry flavors, vibrant liveliness and a sparkling personality that make it the perfect accompaniment for the holiday meal. Try a secco or amabile version for dinner and don’t forget to have a bottle of dolce ready for when everyone’s ready for pie. –Kirk Peterson

Medici Ermete Concerto Lambrusco Reggiano 2015

Riunite Lambrusco (750ml, 1.5L, 3L)

Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro

Sei Amici Lambrusco Rosso

Gionelli Red Lambrusco

Cavicchioli Lambrusco Dolce


Photography: Krystal Ramirez
Food Stylist: Ciera Pedro


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