Charlotte Chefs on Dealing with Holiday Dinner Mishaps

IT ISN'T a holiday dinner if you don’t face some kitchen mishap. We asked local chefs give their advice on several common dinner disasters.

“I forgot to buy a turkey roasting bag! How can I still have a moist bird?”

Don’t panic. If time allows, make a brine and soak the bird (six hours minimum for brining). If not, stuffing the interior of the turkey with aromatics (onions, apples, lemon, garlic, cinnamon sticks, sage, etc.) would help contain some moisture in the interior of the turkey. Coat the exterior with softened butter. Start roasting at a high heat in the oven, then drop the temperature, cover the turkey with foil (tip: form the foil to the shape of the bird prior to cooking) to finish roasting. And remember, it’s more about who you share your table with than the food on the table. You got this, bon appétit! —Joy Turner, food and beverage director/executive chef at Pine Island Country Club


“It’s the day before dinner, and I forgot to thaw my turkey.”

Don't sweat it! Put the wrapped turkey in an igloo cooler outside. Tape the garden hose to the cooler and run COLD water until thawed. A 15-pound turkey will take 6 hours—plenty of time to make your accouterments.—Tom Condron, chef/owner of Lumiere and The Liberty


“I took my stress out on my mashed potatoes, and now they’re too gummy.”

It’s easy to turn the mash into potato bisque. Add some warm milk, salt, nutmeg, and sage to the overcooked potatoes. Whisk in more milk if too thick; more potatoes if too thin.—Greg Collier, chef/owner of The Yolk


“My turkey is too dry!”

If it is past the point of no return, spike your gravy with a little extra acid (lemon juice or vinegar) and some fresh herbs. The brightness of the acid and vegetal freshness of the herbs will trick your taste buds into thinking the bird wasn’t savagely nuked.—Chris Coleman, executive chef at Stoke


“I over-salted my casserole.”

Dishes are all about balance, so a little something spicy, acidic, or sweet might help to adjust the overall flavor. Try bringing another element into play by creating a garnish or sauce that will help to neutralize the salt. For example, a squash casserole that is creamy could use a pesto that has a little kick of red pepper flakes to top it off, or add a salsa or fresh tomato salad for a bit of acidity. Another option is to bulk up the casserole to mellow out the saltiness. For instance, add some unseasoned ingredients like cooked potatoes, beans, or squash, something that pairs well with the casserole at hand. Toasted nuts are a great way to add a more neutral flavor too.—Alyssa Wilen, chef/owner of Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen


“My ham is too dry!”

I like to keep my ham moist during the baking process by adding just enough liquid on bottom of pan to create a steam effect. In my case I use apple cider & butter. Rub your ham with your blend of spices and brown sugar and cover with foil. The foil will lock in moisture. Over cooking is key factor as well to dry ham. I would give it about 15-20 minutes a pound and baste occasionally. If you over do it, thinly slice the ham and let it rest in the juice drippings from the roast. —Jamie Barnes, chef and co-owner of What The Fries food truck


“I can’t fit everything in the oven!”

Well first and foremost your meat (turkey, ham, whatever) is going to have to rest, so get that in early in the day and pull out an hour or more before your event. It will retain heat for a long time, and be way juicier if it rests. That will give you a whole hour to heat up your sides. We always par bake all our heated sides (cook them till done, but not browned on top/finished) and then toss them in the oven to heat them thorough and finish them. This means you will have to do a little work the day before but you'll thank yourself later! Joe Kindred, owner/chef, Kindred and Hello, Sailor


“I don’t know which wine to buy.”

Avoid buying wine from a grocery store. Local wine shops have relationships with small, family-owned wineries and have staff that can introduce you to new things and have tried the wines. I try to keep it simple by offering a white and a red. I feel Gigondas Rhone wines are great for crowds. They are masculine enough for Cabernet drinkers and soft enough for Pinot Noir drinkers. The 2015 Rhone wines are great and ready to drink. For whites, I would offer something neutral. Not too acidic and not too oaky. I've long been a fan of the picpoul grape from France; it’s inexpensive, easy drinking, and not too floral. For planning purposes, figure four glasses per bottle and most people will have two glasses.—Greg Zanitsch, chef/owner, The Fig Tree


“Eek! I don’t have enough drippings to make gravy.”

The short answer is to add chicken stock. And worst-case scenario is to add chicken broth. I make my gravy by making a roux with turkey fat and flour, and add a turkey stock made from the neck and giblets until it gets to the right consistency. Then, finish it with a little buttermilk.—Bruce Moffett, chef/owner of Barrington’s, Good Food on Montford, and Stagioni

Categories: By Kristen Wile, Food + Drink