TURKEY DAY REDUX
The Natural Traveler Gourmet Presents the 7th Annual Keens Steakhouse Thanksgiving Dinner Preview
By JR Rosenthal
Get ready for the best Thanksgiving dinner you’ve ever had! For the seventh consecutive year we bring you a gastronomic teaser for the All-American Thanksgiving Day Dinner at Keens Steakhouse, located at 72 West 36th Street in New York City.
On the occasion of a holiday that’s better known for quantity of food than the quality and nuances of ingredients and flavor combinations, Executive Chef Bill Rodgers always strives to take his parade of dishes up a notch.
In this exclusive Q & A with Chef Bill, we cover all the behind-the-scenes issues that go into preparing this mega-event. His answers are guaranteed to make you want to throw your frozen Butterball turkey into the garbage and head to New York City for the Macy’s Parade and a memorable meal at Keens.
Natural Traveler: What’s the focus of the menu this year?
Bill Rodgers: “We added a couple of new items, including Truffled Small Potato Dumplings, a scratch-made Celery Root Soup, and a Wedge Salad with Stilton. The goal is to always improvise and push the boundaries of creativity, but the greatest hits on the menu are still the foundation of the meal.”
NT: Why should I order the turkey at Keens, given that the USDA prime steaks and prime ribs are the stock in trade of your restaurant?
Rodgers: “The turkey is something we really take great pride in presenting to our guests, and it is a very special dish. This is an organic, free-range turkey from Quattro Farms in Pleasant Valley, New York. I place my order for 54 turkeys in late October. We save four turkeys for the staff; they have their Thanksgiving meal at noon just before we begin the first service at 1 p.m. Once the fresh turkeys are delivered to the restaurant just before the holiday, we brine them overnight. I arrive in the Keens’ kitchens at 4:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving, and the work begins as I start to roast the birds, about 15 at a time, until by 11:30 a.m. all the turkeys are cooked to perfection. As soon as they are cool enough to butcher, I will have three or four members of my staff carve them and set the meat aside in hotel pans, separating the white and the dark meat.”
NT: How would you describe your stuffing and gravy? What are the components that set them apart?
Rodgers: “The stuffing starts with toasted Parisi Bread (baked fresh at the famous Parisi Bakery in NYC) that’s really delicious and crisp. I have one of my sous chefs assigned to the task of just making the stuffing on Thanksgiving morning. The gravy starts with turkey stock and we fortify it with the reduction of turkey necks. We put a lot of time into making the roux and cooking the stock down in four different sequences until it has the rich, dark flavor that’s complex and delicious.”
NT: It must be a challenge to order food for this menu, as you never know how many people are going to go traditional and order turkey versus something out of the box like lobster.
Rodgers: “The thing about Thanksgiving is that you can’t run out of anything on the menu. I base my ordering on the history of how people order their meal, and so if we sold 90 lobsters last year I will order between 110-120 lobsters just on the chance that it could be more popular. Last year we sold a lot of prime rib early in the day and the goal is to make sure that the guests in our last sitting at 8:30 p.m. can still order any type of prime rib they desire—rare, for instance—and so I might take that into consideration this year. Prime rib is one of those things that takes 3 ½ to 4 hours to cook. We cook them in groups of 12, and so at 7 a.m. on
Thanksgiving morning the first group goes in. At 10:30 a.m. we’ll start the next 12, and so on. Based on what is selling there comes a point later on in the day where there’s no point in roasting any more of them because by the time they are done, the service will be over. We did about 28 total prime ribs last year and I expect this year we will do a couple of more so we don’t run out of rare prime ribs. It’s essential to have enough of everything, and that’s always true in my approach at Keens. We are not the type of restaurant that runs out of things on the menu. That’s not an option on a special day like Thanksgiving.”
NT: How did you come up with the truffled potato dumplings?
Rodgers: “I had been playing with this dish as a garnish for the buttermilk roasted chicken entrée on our regular fall/winter menu. This is a traditional potato gnocchi that’s enriched with truffle butter and truffle oil. As an appetizer, it’s crisped in a sauté pan and finished with chanterelle mushrooms that are sautéed with veal jus and deglazed with white wine, butter and chicken stock.”
Rodgers: “We use roasted (with brown sugar and spices) Kenosha squash, figs and serve with a salad composed with house-made citrus vinaigrette and adorned with Ben’s Herb Cheese. Ben’s is an artisan herbed cream cheese that’s made in New York City, and it has a superb flavor profile that goes perfectly with the autumn notes of this dish. This is one of the most popular appetizers because it smacks of the special seasonal flavors and unique ambience of the Thanksgiving holiday.”
THE ALL-AMERICAN THANKSGIVING DAY DINNER
Iced Relish Tray
Appetizers (One of 5)
Truffled Small Potato Dumplings
Grilled Thick-Cut Berkshire Bacon
Roasted Pumpkin with Figs, Arugula and Ben’s Herb Cheese
Maryland Lump Crab Cakes
Soup or Salad
Iceberg Wedge with Stilton
Entrée (One of 5)
Organic-Free Range Quattro Farms Turkey with Dressing and Gravy
Two Double Colorado Lamb Chops
Prime Rib of Beef (King’s Cut)
Prime Filet Mignon
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Smashed Candied Yams
Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes
(One of 5)
Pumpkin pie with Ginger Cream
Pecan Pie with Bourbon cream
Assorted Ice Creams and Sorbets
IF YOU GO
Keens Steakhouse, 72 West 36th Street, New York City, New York 10018
Reservations are required for Thanksgiving Dinner