FR Thanksgiving Interview: Amanda Freitag

We're big, big, big fans of Amanda Freitag, the veteran New York City chef turned Chopped judge and all around cool girl. That's why we invited her to star in our Food Republic Thanksgiving In October Test Kitchen, where she schooled us on how to brine a turkey, which ultimately led to the making of our Pomegranate-Brined Roast Turkey.

Of all the chefs who joined us that day, Freitag has the most relevant perspective, perhaps; she has been taking a break from running restaurant kitchens for the past couple of years, forcing her to cook at home, just like the rest of us. So we certainly encourage you to read our other FR Thanksgiving Interviews, but give extra weight to Ms. Freitag's advice.

Imagine you're having 8 or 9 people over, and you're gonna make the turkey. What's a good tip? You were just showing us how to brine a turkey. Is that a good start?

It is, but I don't think the home cook can brine! Where do you put it? With Global Warming you can't put it outside anymore because it's been pretty warm on Thanksgiving.

So what can you do?

You could break it up into drumsticks and breasts and maybe clear out your fridge and put it in a bag and brine. I for years have done a turkey roulade. Many many years I've cooked in restaurants for thanksgiving and I take the breast off the bone and butterfly it a little bit — herbs and whatever you wanna put in there, and you roll it back up. I think it's the best way to do it. You don't have to deal with carving. For leftovers it's amazing, because you can slice off whatever you want and just leave it.

Is it hard?

You do have to have a bit of knife skills, but if you can take a chicken breast off the bone, you can do it with a turkey. It works great.

Favorite side dish that's not obvious?

I don't know, I'm a fan of the green bean casserole. I like the old school creamy green bean casserole, but make it yourself. I think the recipe is like a can of cream of mushroom soup and like Durkee onions on top. But do it yourself and put some beautiful mushrooms, a little bit of butter, a little bit of cream, and then make some fried shallots, put that on top.

It's been two years since you were running a restaurant, so what have you been doing for Thanksgiving?

I do misfit Thanksgivings at my mom's house. Any of my restaurant friends or friends who live in other countries who don't go home to their families all come to my mom's in New Jersey. We usually have a carbo-load brown meal; I try to put kale and green beans. Everybody else brings brown stuff. And it's been amazing. We've had some fun Thanksgivings.

What about the rest of the year: Are you ever eating turkey?

Yeah! Oh my god, I eat turkey all the time. I eat turkey sandwiches. I love turkey. It's like a really good protein when you're trying to watch your weight, like I always am because I'm usually eating too much. I'll go for turkey on salad or turkey sandwich or turkey and scrambled eggs. It's a high protein power breakfast.

Are you an organized home cook?

Yes. Here's my tip. I hate cooking at home. I admire people who do it. I've been in restaurants for 20 years and now I cook at home, and it's really hard. It's all about the shopping and the prepping. I only recommend acting like a pro chef and shopping ahead of time for the staples, and then day-of, get your produce and your protein. And prep — make your sauce or your stock; cut up onions and put it in Tupperware, have it ready.

What about buying a turkey?

I think you really should buy fresh if you can. Source where you're getting your turkey from — not just buying a frozen turkey in a market somewhere.

What about size?

I think smaller is better, just because you have to cook it less. You can handle it better. I think the biggest stress for people is how do they carve the turkey? If you have a smaller bird, get two of them — make one, let one rest. It's easier to handle.

OK, on to the best part, leftovers. What's your favorite way? A sandwich, maybe?

You know what's funny? I have a lot of arguments with chef-y friends about mayo.

Are you anti?

No, I'm not anti, but you've gotta make your own. I'm sorry. That's the only thing I'm gonna be pretentious about. The jarred stuff? I can't do it. I will either have some sort of sour cream-y, mustard-y mixture to kind of circumvent the mayo making, because you're tired and the kitchen's a mess and don't want to take out your Cuisinart or Roboku and make mayo. So I use sour cream, mustard, something a little tart, or a straight-up vinaigrette. I'm that total Jersey girl who likes those Italian sub sandwiches with red wine vinegar and olive oil. Oh my god!

That sounds good. It's a new invention: A Jersey-style leftover sandwich!

Yes! Some salami, provolone, leftover turkey and lots of vinegar, put it in pan, press it, get it hot, yum.

More FR Thanksgiving Interviews: