There’s nothing that celebrity chef Ming Tsai can’t handle: After all, he was a contestant on The Next Iron Chef
! And now, the star of TV's Simply Ming
has his recipes featured in the must-have cookbook of the season: The Macy's Culinary Council Thanksgiving & Holiday Cookbook
(it also features with recipes from friends and colleagues like Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse and Todd English).
We asked Nesties to tell us their trickiest, stickiest holiday cooking issues (and we polled some of The Nest
staff as well). Ming was kind enough to give us his pearls of culinary wisdom. Here are his answers to your top 10 questions!
1. Vegetarian and first-time Thanksgiving host here. How can I make a meatless dinner that will still impress my non-veg family? -- Susan Waits
"I’ve personally never done a tofurkey," says Ming. "But in Asian cuisine, there are lots of amazing vegetarian dishes that look impressive and are completely delicious." One great ingredient to use is a banana leaf (which you can get in Hispanic and Asian markets) because you can wrap it and shape it around almost anything – like a savory rice-veggie-protein mix. Ming recommends starting with a glutenous rice, like sticky rice, and preparing it with traditional holiday ingredients like sautéed chestnuts, cranberries, mushroom – even soybeans -- plus tons of herbs and a great soy sauce or oyster condiment. Then wrap up the mixture in your banana leaf and form it into whatever shape you’d like. Sautee it in a wok or steam it in a big pan -- to emulate the way you’d prepare a roasted turkey. "It makes a delectable presentation," says Ming. And when you slice it down the middle, you’ll release those mouthwatering aromas -- just like carving into a turkey!
2. Any tips for pacing? I feel like I’m always pulling things off the stove and out of the oven at the same time. It’s mayhem! – Kelly Crook
"Absolutely. The key is to have a lot of things done in advance," advises Ming. "Not even a pro can do eight things at once." For instance, Ming suggests preparing the stuffing the day beforeThanksgiving – and outside of the turkey. "I do one with spicy pork sausage and fennel. It’s delicious because it gets crispy on top." Other dishes Ming suggests preparing in advance: Sweet potatoes (“Roast them with the skin on or puree them; I do both"), green bean casserole, and homemade cranberry sauce. "Remember to prepare some things that you can just nuke in the microwave on Thanksgiving,” says Ming, “because your oven is going to be very crowded."
3. What is the best recipe for a turkey brine? I tried one with Riesling but I wasn't all that impressed with the taste. Thanks. – buschnfl
"First of all, you have
to brine a turkey
," says Ming, who explains that the process makes the turkey both flavorful and moist – and lets the turkey cook 15% faster because it’s partially cured. But he suggests sticking with a traditional salt-water brine. After you’ve cleaned out the turkey’s innards (and saving them for later), washed it and patted it dry, Ming recommends getting a large cooler – big enough to hold your turkey with room to spare – and filling it with about 2/3 cups tap water and equal parts sugar and kosher salt until the mixture tastes like sweet tea water. Then submerge the turkey completely and add four to six nontoxic gel packs to keep the water cold ("If you add ice to the water, it’ll melt and dilute the brine."). Or, if you live in a cold climate, simply keep the cooler in your garage. Brine the turkey overnight, then remove it, rinse it and pat it dry.