What Four First-Generation Texas Chefs Are Cooking on Thanksgiving
There’s more to the holiday than turkey, stuffing and gravy
In the U.S., Thanksgiving commemorates the fateful day when immigrants (the Pilgrims) shared a table with some locals. Around the world, many countries celebrate their own Thanksgivings or similar harvest festivals, so the holiday is inclusive by nature. This is great news. Because while turkey and stuffing have their place on countless tables, the duo is just one example of the foods that will be eaten this year on the fourth Thursday in November.
Below, four first-generation chefs share what they’ll be cooking on Thanksgiving. These dishes may look different than many “traditional American” feasts, but they’re equally important and arguably more delicious.
Turkey Pozole Verde
Hugo Ortega of H Town Restaurant Group, Houston
Hugo Ortega was born in Mexico City. He immigrated to Houston in 1984 and worked as a dishwasher before showing talent in the kitchen and moving up the ranks — today, his restaurant empire includes Hugo’s, Caracol, Xochi, URBE and Backstreet Cafe. Over the years, his Thanksgivings have ranged from Mexican-inspired to a traditional Southern meal cooked by his wife, Tracy. But one item always makes an appearance during the holidays, whether on Thanksgiving or Christmas: pozole.
“Our tradition is to use the leftover turkey to make pozole verde on the day after Thanksgiving,” says Ortega, but the dish can also be served on the day-of, with or without the turkey. “It is quick and easy, and so full of flavor and memories for me.”
For the pozole:
4 cups hominy, cooked
¼ cup slaked lime (calcium hydroxide)
13 cups turkey stock (or chicken stock), divided
4 cups turkey (cubed or shredded)
2 cups tomatillos, chopped
2 cups poblano peppers, seeded and chopped
1 cup white onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, roasted
1 serrano pepper, roasted
3 whole cloves
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
For the colorant:
½ cup cilantro, chopped
½ cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped4 epazote leaves
3 hoja santa leaves, chopped
Salt, to taste
For the garnish:
To cook the hominy:
Soak 3 cups of dry hominy in water overnight. (Once cooked, it will be 4 cups in volume.)
Before cooking, drain the hominy and place in a stockpot with fresh water, approximately 6 inches above hominy. Add the slaked lime and mix well. Bring to a gentle boil, and cook for approximately 90 minutes or until soft. Once ready, rinse with cold water until water comes out clear. While rinsing, remove the small hard kernel at the top of each piece of hominy. Optional: you can use canned hominy.
To make the pozole:
In a small stock pot, bring turkey stock (reserve 1 cup for next steps) to a gentle boil. Add the cleaned hominy. In a blender, place ½ cup turkey stock, tomatillos, onion, garlic, serrano, cloves, peppercorns, cumin, and roasted pumpkin seeds and blend well. Add to pozole pot and stir to incorporate, then bring to a gentle boil for 10 minutes. Stir in turkey. In a blender, place ½ cup stock, cilantro, parsley, epazote and hoja santa and purée. Add to pozole and mix well. Season to taste and simmer for 5 minutes to meld flavors.
Garnish with onion, radish, avocado and fresh lime juice, and serve with tostadas on the side. Enjoy hot.
Roasted Chicken with Sticky Rice
Minji Kim of Nuri Grill, Dallas
“This Thanksgiving is especially meaningful to us because it’s our first-ever Thanksgiving since we moved to the U.S. last February,” says Kim, who just opened Nuri Grill with her husband, Ben Lee, after running a restaurant in Seoul. “In Korea, we don’t eat turkey, but we eat a big Korean chicken instead,” she says, noting that she stuffs the chicken with garlic and sticky rice—a Korean staple — and then either roasts it or boils it in a pot to make soup.
For the chicken:
6 pounds chicken
5 grams salt
5 grams pepper
100 grams glutinous rice
5 whole garlic cloves
4 pieces jujube
50 grams ginseng
20 grams celery
200 grams mini potatoes
100 grams asparagus
For the seasoning butter:
80 grams salt-free butter
1 teaspoon rosemary
4 whole garlic cloves
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
For the Sriracha mayonnaise sauce:
500 grams mayonnaise
250 grams sriracha
125 grams pearl onion
5 grams Tabasco
15 grams Italian parsley
Salt and pepper the chicken the day before cooking, and keep in the fridge.
Remove any moisture from the chicken, then slather on the seasoned butter, reserving two teaspoons.
Stuff the chicken with glutinous rice, whole garlic, ginseng, jujube, celery and two teaspoons of seasoned butter.
Place the chicken on a roasting pan, breast side up, and bake at 330 degrees for 3 hours, adding the potatoes and asparagus to the pan one hour before completion time.
Prepare the side vegetables and sauce to serve with the finished chicken.
Saigon Special Báhn Mì
Carol Nguyen of Ngon Vietnamese Kitchen, Dallas
Carol Nguyen’s restaurant has two meanings: Ngon is “delicious” in Vietnamese, and Ngôn is her mother’s name. For Thanksgiving this year, she’s making a Vietnamese staple: the bánh mì. “It seems like a simple sandwich, but it’s made with lots of love and depth,” she says, noting that it’s representative of the blend between Vietnamese and French cultures. “I add my own touch of love with cognac in it, so it’s different from most and popular with everyone.” If you prefer a more traditional Thanksgiving protein, Nguyen says you can swap out the grilled pork for turkey.
For the foie gras pâté:
1 whole duck liver
5 cups fresh whole milk
100 grams white bread
250 grams unsalted butter
1 medium-size white onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon chicken flavored bouillon
3 ounces Hennessy XO Cognac
For the char siu:
2 pounds skinless pork belly
1 pack char siu seasoning (Lobo Brand found at Asian supermarkets)
For the mayo:
3 egg yolks
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon lime juice
½ teaspoon sugar
300 grams avocado oil
For the pickled veggies:
2 large daikon
4 large carrots
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
3 cups water
Cucumbers (cut ⅓-inch width and 3-4 inches length)
To make the pâté:
Soak the duck liver with 4 cups of milk in a bowl and allow it to refrigerate overnight. Thinly trim off the crust of the bread and cut it into 1-inch sized cubes. Soak the cubed bread with 1 cup of milk in a bowl and allow it to sit. Drain the milk from the soaked liver, pat dry, and cut the liver down to 1 cm of thickness. In a saucepan over medium heat (300 F), melt unsalted butter and add the chopped onion. Sauté until it’s lightly browned and then add the duck liver and cubed bread. After 25 minutes of cooking, take the pan off heat, add the cognac and set it aside. Once it has completely cooled down, blend until the pâté is creamy and smooth. Pour into a tray or serving container with a tight cover. Keep refrigerated for 6 hours and it’ll be ready to serve.
To make the char siu:
Clean and wash the pork belly with salt water, pat dry, and marinate with seasoning for at least 5 hours. Grill the pork in an oven at 325 F for 1.3 hours and then increase the temperature to 350 F for 30 minutes. Once the pork belly is ready, allow it to cool down, and then fully wrap the meat in plastic wrap before refrigerating overnight.
To make the mayo:
Combine the egg yolks, salt, lime juice, and sugar in a mixer at medium speed for 5 minutes. Slowly drop oil into the egg mixture (don’t add too much at a time) and then mix at high speed until finished. The mayo should be light yellow, creamy, and soft.
To make the pickled veggies:
Cut the daikon and carrots into ⅓ -inch width and 3-4 inches length and soak in iced water with ½ cup salt for at least 30 minutes. In a large container, combine white vinegar, sugar, salt, and water. Add the daikon and carrots to the container, mix the contents well, and refrigerate overnight.
Split your baguette in half lengthwise. Spread the mayo on one side of the baguette and the foie gras pâté on the other.
Begin filling the bánh mì by arranging the thinly sliced char siu and placing the pickled veggies, jalapeños, cucumber and cilantro on top. Add a dash of Maggi seasoning (optional).
Bacalao à la Vizcaína
Felipe Riccio of Goodnight Hospitality in Houston
Felipe Riccio grew up in coastal Veracruz, Mexico, the son of a Spanish mother and Italian father, moving to Houston as a teenager. After working in some of the best kitchens in Europe, he returned to Houston as a chef and partner at Goodnight Hospitality, whose restaurants include Goodnight Charlie’s, Montrose Cheese & Wine, Rosie Cannonball, and March.
“This is a recipe my grandma would make for Christmas pretty much every year,” says Riccio. “Once we moved to the U.S., we would enjoy this during Thanksgiving, too.”
2.5 pounds cod if fresh (2 pounds if salted), in small filets*
1 large yellow onion, sliced
1 pound marble potatoes, pre-cooked in salted water
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
7-9 ounce can piquillo peppers, drained and medium diced (or high quality pimentos)
2 teaspoons dry oregano
½ teaspoon cumin
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup white wine
15 ounces tomato puree or passata
2 small Roma tomatoes, small diced
15-20 pimento-stuffed olives (Manzanilla, if available)
2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon each caper and olive juice
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
*Traditionally this recipe uses salted cod, which can be found in specialty food stores or online. To prepare the salted cod, rinse off excess salt, then soak it for 24 hours, changing water every 8 hours. Cod should be soft and seasoned but not overly salty. Fresh fish works very well, too.
Heat a large skillet on medium high heat, then add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once oil is hot, add onions and sauté until soft. Then add garlic and peppers. Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently for approximately 3 minutes. Add herbs, spices, salt, white wine, and tomato puree. Bring to a simmer on low heat, cook for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and add capers, olives, and their juices.
Line the bottom of a casserole dish with potatoes and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Pour half the sauce onto potatoes, and top with half of the diced tomatoes. Place the cod filets side by side atop the tomatoes. Cover cod with the other half of the sauce, and top with the rest of the fresh tomatoes. Cook in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes, or until the cod is white and flakes with a fork.
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