News & Politics

Thanksgiving Menus: Todd Gray’s Historical Menu

Todd Gray’s Thanksgiving spread takes its cues from the Algonquin and Rappahannock tribes that lived around the Chesapeake Bay. He roasts his venison on a bed of fresh pine needles. And those buckskin cakes? They’re a variety of cornbread made with hazeln

This article is from 2006's Thanksgiving Dining Guide. To see 2007's guide, click here.

Pine-Roasted Rack of Venison With Buckskin Cakes and Red Currant Jus
Serves four

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or vegetable oil)
1 rack of venison (about 2 pounds), trimmed (scraps reserved)
1 large bunch Blue Spruce pine branches
1/4 cups shallots, sliced
1/2 cups venison scraps
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup cassis liquor, plus more to taste
1 cup veal glace or demi glace
1/2 cup dried red currants (or dried cranberries)
1 pint fresh red currants (or dried cranberries)
1 tablespoon olive oil

Buckskin cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Heat the grapeseed oil in a pan set over medium-high heat. Sear the venison rack until it’s golden brown—about five minutes on each side. Turn the venison onto a roasting rack lined with pine branches and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the meat is medium-rare.

In a medium pan set over medium heat, sweat the shallots and venison scraps in olive oil for two minutes or until shallots are tender. Deglaze the pan with red wine and cassis liquor, let reduce by 3/4, and add the veal glace and dried currants. Let the sauce come to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain; stir in the fresh red currants and additional cassis liquor to taste. Keep warm.

Cut the venison into chops and serve with red-currant jus and a slice of buckskin cake.

Buckskin Cakes
Yields nine-inch square pan

1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup hazelnut flour
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and ground
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Line the bottom of a nine-inch square pan with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients except the ground hazelnuts. In a separate mixing bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, and butter. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet and mix well. Stir in the ground nuts. Pour the mixture into the baking pan and bake until golden brown, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Grilled Chincoteague Oysters With Ale Butter and Preserved Lemon
Serves four

1 12-ounce bottle Virginia ale
1 teaspoon preserved lemon skin, minced, or 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 teaspoon fresh horseradish, grated
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 shallots, sliced
3 cups spinach
24 Chincoteague oysters, washed
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the grill to high temperature.

In a medium sauce pot, bring the ale to a boil and reduce by 3/4. Add the lemon and remove the pot from heat. Whisk in the butter until it is melted. Add the horseradish and season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.
In a sauté pan set over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil for two minutes. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent, about one minute. Add the spinach and sauté for one minute more. Keep warm.
Place the oysters on the grill and cook until they begin to open—about six to eight minutes. Remove the oysters from their shells, reserving the bottom half of the shells. Set a pinch of spinach into each shell, top with an oyster and drizzle with the ale butter. Serve immediately.

Stewed Kabocha Squash With Hen-of-the-Wood Mushrooms, Juniper, and Rosemary
Serves four

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 kabocha squash, peeled, seeded, and diced into 1 1/2-inch cubes (butternut squash may be substituted)
1/2 cup kabocha-squash purée (recipe follows)
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup chicken broth or water
1/2 cup hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, grilled or sautéed until just cooked
6 juniper berries
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste

In a sauté pan set over medium-high heat, heat the grapeseed oil and caramelize the squash cubes on all sides—it should take about four minutes. In a small sauce pot, combine the caramelized squash with the remaining ingredients. Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes or until the squash in tender. Serve warm.

Kabocha Squash Purée
Yields three cups

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1/2 kabocha squash, peeled and diced (butternut squash may be substituted)
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium sauce pot set over medium-low heat, warm the vegetable oil. Sweat the onions and celery for three minutes or until translucent. Add the squash and cook for two minutes more. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Slowly add, in equal batches, enough vegetable broth, milk, and cream to barely cover the vegetables. Simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are very soft. Remove the pot from the heat, strain the vegetables, and reserve the liquid. In a blender, purée the vegetables in small batches. Add the reserved liquid to adjust the consistency—it should be like soup. Pass the purée though a fine mesh strainer.

Black Indian Rice Cakes With Spiced Pecans, Spring Onions, and Pickled Okra
Serves four

1 1/2 cups long-grain black rice
1 onion, peeled and minced
1 leek, cut into 1/3-inch slices
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups spiced pecans, chopped (recipe follows)
1/3 cup spring onions, sliced
2 eggs
1/2 cup clarified butter or olive oil
1 cup whole pickled okra (recipe follows)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small sauce pot, combine the rice, onion, leek, and water. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and cook 30 to 40 minutes or until the rice is cooked and fluffy. Remove from the stove and stir in the spiced pecans and spring onions. Season with salt and pepper. When the rice is cool, add the eggs and mix well. Form the mixture into eight cakes, approximately 1/2 cup each.
In a medium sauté pan, heat the clarified butter over medium-high heat. Carefully sauté the rice cakes until golden brown on both sides. Garnish with pickled okra. Serve immediately.

Pickled Okra
Yields one pound

1 1/3 cups water
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4 teaspoons pickling spice
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 pound okra, blanched

In a medium sauce pot, bring the water to a boil. Tie the minced garlic and pickling spice into a cheesecloth sachet. When water is boiling, remove the pot from the stove and add the vinegar, salt, sugar, and sachet. Stir until salt and sugar are dissolved and let cool for ten minutes (at room temperature). Place the blanched okra into a large plastic container and cover with the pickling liquid. Let the mixture completely cool at room temperature, then refrigerate for 24 hours.

Spiced Pecans
Yields one pound

6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 pound pecan halves
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all the ingredients except the pecans. Toss the pecans with spice mixture and spread onto a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. Bake the pecans, stirring frequently, about 12 minutes or until toasted. Remove from the oven and cool. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Pumpkin Tartlets With Honey Molasses Ice Cream
Makes one nine-inch tart or six four-inch tartlets

For the tart shell:
1 1/4 cups flour, plus more as needed
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound butter, chilled and cubed
1/4 cup ice-cold water
Cooking spray, as needed
For the tart filling:
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin purée
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup evaporated milk

Place the flour, sugar, salt, and butter into a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Blend until the butter turns into pea-size balls. Add the water and mix until just blended. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, knead it into a mass, and wrap in plastic. If making tartlets, divide it into six pieces and wrap each one. Refrigerate overnight.

Spray the tart pan or tartlet rounds with cooking spray. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the crust and press the dough into each tart pan. Refrigerate at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, mix all the ingredients for the filling until well-blended. Pour the filling into the tart crusts and bake until each crust is golden brown and the filling is puffed and slightly set—the smaller tartlets should take 30 minutes, a larger tart should take one hour. Let cool before serving. Serve with honey molasses ice cream.

Honey Molasses Ice Cream
Yields one quart

1 quart milk
6 ounces sugar
2 ounces honey
1 ounce molasses
12 egg yolks

In a medium sauce pot, set the milk, sugar, honey, and molasses over medium heat. When the mixture reaches a boil, remove it from the stove. In a separate bowl, very slowly pour the hot mixture into egg yolks, whisking constantly and taking care not to curdle the yolks. Pass the mixture through a fine mesh strainer and refrigerate until completely cooled. Freeze in an ice cream machine according to its instructions.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.