Chef Joseph Mitchell knows a thing or two about preparing a big meal.
The director and advisor for the Culinary and Hospitality Institute at Jefferson State has worked in restaurants, country clubs and hotels just to name a few. And of course, he’s cooked a holiday meal or two for his family.
When it comes to Thanksgiving, Mitchell says he and his family often refer to a poem written by his late father, James C. Neel:
“Thursday, last, of each November, Has a very special ring, And we’re certain to remember, Nature’s blessing that she brings. Kindness, love and brotherhood, Seem to flourish on this day; God’s great promise understood, In the most compelling way. Very certain it’s the season, Into which we wish to stray. Nothing in our rhyme or reason, Gladdens like Thanksgiving Day.”
Mitchell shared some of his tips and tricks to ensuring a successful Thanksgiving dinner.
1. Do plan ahead. Mitchell said that having family over for a large meal can be a stressful experience if you don’t plan ahead as much as possible.
“Don’t try to do too much the day of,” he said. “Have all of your sides finished and ready to be heated.” He also advises having your table settings ready, buying fire logs for the fireplace ahead of time and purchasing wine and other items ahead of time.
“‘Mise en place’ is a French culinary term used in professional kitchens referring to organization and preparation,” he said. He advises employing that same ideology when approaching your holiday meal.
2. Do involve others. Mitchell says an easy way to reduce stress is to get other family members involved. He said your menu should be fun but limited, meaning that you shouldn’t try to prepare 20 side dishes. Instead, focus on preparing the basics and letting others bring dishes to lessen the work.
3. Do keep it simple. “This is a great time to enjoy family and friends, not labor endlessly in the kitchen,” Mitchell said. “Stick with tradition. Everyone has a special recipe that a relative has passed down. Share those memories and print the recipes for others to share.” If you are looking to be adventurous on Thanksgiving Day, Mitchell recommends putting a different twist on a traditional dish, like deep-frying or smoking the turkey.
4. Do keep it safe. “Remember that poultry is a potentially hazardous food if not handled properly,” Mitchell said. “It is highly perishable and particularly susceptible to contamination by salmonella bacteria.” Mitchell said it is critical to store poultry at the correct temperature – between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit – and to thaw it gradually in the refrigerator over the course of at least two days, with larger birds thawing for up to four.
“Never cook poultry that is partially frozen,” Mitchell said. “Cook turkey and all poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees and juices should run clear.” Once you serve the turkey, Mitchell recommends storing it after two hours at room temperature. He also reminds everyone to wipe down surfaces after handling raw turkey.
5. Do remember the reason for the season. “Give great attention to the food with lots of love and care, but remember the most important thing is to spend time with family, friends and ones that you love,” he said. “Give thanks for all you have and consider ways to make others’ lives more rewarding.”
You can view some of Chef Mitchell’s favorite Thanksgiving recipes here.