Tips from Tom Douglas: How to ‘fancy up’ your holiday meal

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For 25 years, Tom Douglas has been at the epicenter of Seattle’s restaurant scene. Now, this three-time James Beard award-winning chef is partnering with Alaska Airlines to bring his iconic flavors to Alaska Airlines customers.

Beginning earlier this month, Alaska customers flying from our Seattle hub will be treated to a rotating selection of Tom Douglas signature items. The iconic chef and his team work to bring a flavor ‘punch’ to each item in his 15 Seattle restaurants and knew whatever they brought to the table would need to have that same punch of flavor.

The partnership kicks off with a smoky brisket chili – tender chunks of brisket in an ancho-chile-tomato sauce, topped with melted cheddar and a charred pepper, and served over a baked Yukon Gold potato.

In the coming months, Douglas also plans to weave a new element into the items he and his team develop: a spotlight on a cool northwest seasonal ingredient: the cranberry.

“We had kind of forgotten about the lovely cranberry until recently we were reminded of their perky brightness by a farmer in Longview who has a big harvest to sell. She asked that we think of more ways to use this fruit than just a condiment one day a year,” says Douglas.

Right now, Douglas and team are testing a cranberry chocolate chunk cookie that Alaska will be sharing with customers in various ways this holiday season – beginning this morning, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

And now to kick off the holidays, Tom Douglas offers these simple tweaks to take your holiday meal to the next level.

Tom Douglas’s holiday cooking tips:

Stuffing

Don’t stuff that bird! I always roast my turkey unstuffed because the bird cooks more quickly and evenly. Aromatics, such as lemon zest, garlic cloves, and sage sprigs go into the cavity, and the stuffing goes into a casserole dish to be baked separately. As a bonus, you get a far superior stuffing this way- golden brown, crunchy and delicious!

Turkey

I prefer to buy organic, free-range turkeys. For another option: try an heirloom turkey sometime- they’re small and tasty and delicious- but you need to order them well ahead. Also it’s best to thaw your turkey naturally, rather than trying to quick-thaw under cold running water, so buy a frozen turkey three days ahead to give it enough time to thaw in the refrigerator.

The best way to tell if your turkey or chicken is thoroughly cooked is to use an instant-read meat thermometer. I like the digital read-out type the best because it’s truly instant and much faster than a dial so you don’t lose all the heat from your oven when you’re checking the bird’s temperature. Insert the stem end of the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh which should read 155ºF. Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes. The temperature will go up another 10° while the bird is resting.

A ten-pound turkey is easier to cook correctly, with crisp skin and moist meat, than the 25-pound behemoth that often ends up dry as sawdust after hours and hours of roasting. In fact, even if you’re cooking for a large crowd, you’re better off roasting two medium turkeys than the biggest turkey you can find.

Gravy

Often, I brush the bottom of my roasting pan with bacon fat and make a bed of sliced onions in the center of the pan. (Be sure to use a roasting pan that can go directly from the oven to a burner so that, after the turkey is roasted, you can make your gravy in the same pan and scrape up all those delicious browned bits!) I put the seasoned turkey, with butter and sage leaves stuffed under the skin, right on top of those onions and roast, basting a few times.

After the first hour, which gives the onions some time to brown, I add a few cups of chicken or turkey stock to the pan and continue roasting until the turkey is done.

When the turkey has finished cooking, I remove it from the roasting pan, and those deliciously roasted onions and drippings, sprinkled with a bit of flour, get whisked right into the gravy with more hot stock and a final seasoning of salt and pepper for the most delicious sweet onion gravy you have ever tasted.

Potatoes

Turkey, gravy … what’s left? Don’t forget the mashed potatoes! To dress up your holiday mashers and give the flavor a little more depth, boil up some cubed celery root and chunks of parsnip in addition to the potatoes then mash everything together with plenty of butter, salt and pepper.

Our team is so thrilled to be working with our spunky hometown airline. When the culinary folks from Alaska first came to our office this summer to ask if we would get involved in creating some onboard food items in took us about one second to say yes. I need to do a quick shout-out to my partner, Eric Tanaka, who has put a lot of time into the recipe development for the new dishes that will begin flying on Alaska this winter – thanks for your great palate. We look forward to having lots of fun with this project.

Happy holidays!

Cheers,

Tom Douglas

What are your tips for jazzing up traditional holiday meals?

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