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Vail Daily food feature: Time out from turkey

Katie Coakley
Special to the Weekly
Executive chef Kevin Delonay, of Maya in the Westin in Avon, prepares tequila-braised chipolte shrimp.
Townsend Bessent | townsend@vaildaily.com |

It’s that time of year again, a time when the humble turkey finally gets the rock star treatment that some, Benjamin Franklin included, think it deserves. Though it didn’t make as the country’s national bird, the turkey does have the dubious honor of being the protein of choice for the Thanksgiving table. There are discussions on the various ways to prepare it, from roasting to frying; there are even folks who drive to the ends of the state (Alamosa, for example) to find the perfect bird.

However, this year, you should seriously consider taking a time out from turkey.

PASSIONATE ABOUT PORK

“For me, I think Thanksgiving is about conviviality and getting together with your loved ones, sharing in the experience and eating together,” said chef Chris McKenzie, chef and owner of Nudoru Ramen Bar in Vail. “It comes down to how you grew up. If you grew up in Texas like I did, barbecue is what we do when we get together.”

For McKenzie, having a barbecue for Thanksgiving was the last hurrah before winter really set in. This year, he’s planning a Thanksgiving with friends and yes — there may be some pulled pork involved.

“You can embrace people and fill them with warmth when you feed them a really great meal,” McKenzie said. “It’s evident on days like Thanksgiving.”

Another great option for switching up the turkey and stuffing is porchetta, which is a piece of pork — often the shoulder — that is pounded out and then stuffed and rolled before being roasted in the oven.

“It’s nice in a lot of different ways,” said Brian Brouillard, chef de cuisine at Mountain Standard in Vail. “First of all, it’s not turkey.”

Though preparing the porchetta can be a bit time consuming, it’s possible to make it a day or two ahead of time. For those who can’t have Thanksgiving without stuffing, porchetta also solves this dilemma.

“You can get crazy with (the ingredients in the porchetta),” explained Eric McCue, sous chef at Mountain Standard. “If you don’t like bread, you don’t have to the use the bread. Instead, you could put in citrus or whatever you want.”

Much like traditional stuffing soaks up the flavor of the turkey, McCue said, the stuffing in the porchetta does the same, soaking up the rich flavor of the pork.

Porchetta has yet another check on its list of benefits — the leftovers.

“The best part is that whatever you don’t serve for dinner, you can save and make a Cuban sandwich with it for the next couple of days,” said Brouillard.

Take that, turkey.

LOVIN’ ON LAMB

Maya at The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon is eschewing its Mexican flavors for a traditional Colorado Thanksgiving dinner on Nov. 27. Though a traditional roasted turkey is one of the entree options, bass and lamb — both from Colorado — are also on the menu.

“This dish (the lamb) is one of my favorites,” said Kevin Delonay, Executive Chef at Maya. “The sirloin is one of the best cuts of lamb. It has great flavor and can be used for any lamb dish; it also celebrates one of Colorado’s most famous products.”

Chef Kelly Liken, another “huge fan of lamb,” explained that it itself lends perfectly to a celebration because there are so many different sizes and cuts of the meat that are available. If it’s a smaller dinner for just two people, she suggested grilling a rack of lamb. Hosting a large dinner party? A leg of lamb can serve 12 people.

“I think that sometimes people feel like it’s cheating, or they’re cheating their guests (by not serving turkey), but … once they arrive and indulge, they will enjoy it even more,” Liken said. “It’s a nice break for a year.”

DON’T SKIMP ON THE SIDES

There is one portion of the Thanksgiving dinner that often plays second fiddle to the bird or pig or lamb, but should not be so easily dismissed.

“I’m not a huge turkey fan,” Liken admitted. “It’s all about the sides.”

Not necessarily as an alternative to turkey, Liken said, but she often ends up with six to eight roasted veggies and sides on her plate.

“The bounty of fall vegetables this time of year is so amazing,” Liken said. “I think because the turkey is such a chore, people forget about the things that go with the meal. There are dozens of creative things to put on the table.”

During the Thanksgiving preparations, she suggested thinking about oven space and what can be made ahead of time. For example, roasted root vegetables like beets, carrots and parsnips can be roasted the day before or the morning of and served at room temperature with an orange vinaigrette.

“I try to think of different temperatures and stack my oven,” Liken said. “Cold, room temperature and hot. You end up with a beautiful spread that isn’t hard to pull off.”

GATHER ROUND THE TABLE

No matter what ends up on the Thanksgiving table, the most important part of Thanksgiving is, of course, gathering together with family and friends and giving thanks.

“It’s tradition — that spirit of conviviality. Everyone’s tradition can be different,” said McKenzie. “The spirit of Thanksgiving doesn’t have anything to do with turkey and dressing. If that’s your tradition, that’s what you do. There’s nothing defining what we eat when we get together to share. It’s a time to share.”

So whether it’s lamb or turducken, pork or pizza, enjoy Thanksgiving and consider giving the turkey a break this year.


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