Chef Robert Wiedmaier Answers Thanksgiving Questions

To brine or not to brine? How to stuff? Fresh or canned cranberry juice? The man behind Marcel's prepares you for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and if you’re like us, you’ve got some cooking questions. Here’s your chance to get some advice from a pro–Robert Wiedmaier, the chef/restaurateur behind Marcel’s, Brasserie Beck, Brabo, and Mussel Bar. When he’s not out game-hunting in the woods or riding his Harley, Wiedmaier is putting out the kind of wintry, robust cooking that is perfectly suited to the holiday table.

So whether you’re still wondering how to whip up the juiciest bird, make the creamiest mashed potatoes, choose the best wine and beer pairings, or figure out the tastiest sides and desserts, Wiedmaier is here to help.

Thanks, everyone. And remember if you’re not going to cook, go to the Butcher’s Block in Alexandria!

Silver Spring, MD

Morning Robert. To brine or not to brine?

I’m not a briner. Especially turkey that’s very low in fat—I don’t believe in it. It takes away the natural flavors of the bird. But some people swear by it. People swear I brine my chicken at Marcel’s, but I don’t. It’s just cooking it properly: getting the right temperature in the oven, getting the skin nice and crisp.


Hey Chef! One of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving is the sandwiches the next day. What do you do with turkey leftovers? And if you make sandwiches, what’s on them?

If I’m going to have a sandwich, it’s toasted sourdough bread with avocado, Havarti, applewood-smoked bacon, fresh mayonnaise, salt and pepper, and arugula. I love that sandwich. With my leftovers we’ve made chili and turkey soup by taking all the leftover turkey, putting the carcass in a stock pot, pouring over chicken stock, putting in a lot of vegetables, and letting it simmer on the stovetop for a couple of hours. Keep skimming it. You can do a lot to it from there. You can add the leftover turkey meat back in, add scallions, pasta noodles, or rice, or just leave it as it is and have a great broth.


If you don’t brine, what do you do instead?

I bone it all out, take the leg meat, and  grind that with onions, shallots, nuts, raisins, and diced-up root vegetables that are cooked slowly in chicken stock. I split the breast, open it up, put the stuffing inside—the dark meat has all the moisture in it—and do a roulade by rolling it in cellophane and tin foil. Then I poach that for about an hour and ten minutes. You’ll have a beautiful moist product. You can then put it in a cast-iron skillet to brown the skin, or a really hot oven.

Burke, VA

Good morning, love all of your restaurants. My turkey recipe calls for putting herbs and oil under the skin; what’s the easiest way to pry the skin on the white and dark meat loose without breaking it?

Get your fingers under the front of the breast and underneath the skin, and keep lifting it up. It takes a little time and effort, but once you do, you can put anything from compound butter to herbs to truffles in there. And don’t forget to season your bird! For a 25-pound bird, I’d put a half tablespoon of salt and fresh-ground black pepper inside the cavity, and then another half when you’re crisping it up.

Cleveland Park

Hello Robert! How do you go about stuffing a bird?

I like to use an egg bread for stuffing. Take your celery, onions, leeks, garlic, thyme, chicken stock, lots of parsley. Everything fresh—nothing dried. Put that in a smaller bird. I would prefer to do two smaller birds, 8 to 10 pounds. Then it’s all going to cook evenly in about 2 ½ hours at 325—the slower the better. Then blast it at the end at 400 degrees for about ten minutes until the skin is nice and crisp. And then let it rest for about ten minutes.

Arlington, VA

Morning Chef:
Fresh cranberry sauce: Is it worth it?


I can’t stand that canned stuff. It’s so easy to make fresh cranberries. Take a half-pound bag of Ocean Spray cranberries, half a cup of orange juice, a cinnamon stick, 3 tablesoons of sugar, and two ounces of Grand Marnier sugar. Reduce it by half, and then add those cranberries, and it’s about ten minutes until they break down a little bit and becomes a nice jam.  You can make that really far in advance.


Hey Chef! Any tips on making gravy?

Yes! Take the neck bone, chop it up, and take the giblets and sauté those with shallots, onions, and garlic and let it brown together nicely. Add chicken stock, and let it simmer for about two hours, nice and slow. My mother used to then add cream and let it reduce down, and then thicken it up with a little corn starch. Put your fresh herbs in at the last second–fresh thyme or tarragon–and whip in a half stick of butter (for a quart of sauce) at the last minute. That’s something you can make way in advance, too.

Washington, DC

Hi Chef, what are your plans for Brian McBride?

I knew that was going to come up! We’ve been friends for the past 20 years. I’ve been telling him he should open his own restaurant for years. And finally I was like, “Come aboard with me.”

We have great plans as a culinary team now. I can’t do it all by myself—I need to bring in another well-seasoned and respected chef to help with operations.

We’re planning a restaurant in 2013, a whole animal butchery concept. Very rustic. We want the customer to come in and feel they’re in a place where we’re using whole local animals. We’re doing that now with Martin’s Beef and Chapel Hill Farms, but we really want to embrace that so the customer can get more of a visual on what we’re doing. You’re going to walk in and see the market—all the animals and birds—and in the back there’ll be the restaurant. I’m already working on the design with CORE. We have no location yet.

Heritage Turkeys

Hi Robert, big fan. Are heritage turkeys worth it? Thinking of buying one this year. . . . 

That’s a good question. You get what you pay for. Obviously if you’re going out adn buying Butterball turkeys and the big-named, processed animals, you’re getting antibiotics, hormones, and buying into the whole evil empire of what’s going on in this county with food. If you’re buying a heritage turkey, you’re buying into the health factors. The taste difference is marginal, but you’re not going to eat antibiotics and hormones. A good medium is D’Artagnan birds that we sell at the Butcher’s Block. Whole Foods does a nice job, as well; they do their homework. At Whole Foods you’ll be safe buying a good bird that’s properly slaughtered, properly fed, and probably a good price point.

Washington, DC

I’m thinking of trying Brussels sprouts as a side this year. What’s your favorite way to prepare them?

The biggest problem with sprouts is that people don’t cook them all the way through. It’s like eating rocks; you could hit someone in the head with them. Cook them in boiling salted water, and shock them in ice-cold water immediately so they remain bright green. From there, there’s a million things you can do with them. I like to quarter them and cook them slow with bacon and butter until they brown. You’ll get the nuttiness out of them. Then I shake Madras curry and cayenne over them at the last minute.
If you want to take the time, get the small ones on the stalk at the farmers’ market. The smaller the better. The large ones are good to shred for coleslaw with carrots and red onions.

Rockville, MD

I’ve been tasked with bringing dessert to Thanksgiving dinner, but I am so not a baker. Any ideas for a no-bake dessert I can bring?

Traditionally people like to stuff themselves to oblivion, so dessert is a big thing. I was with my buddy David Guas down in Greenville, and he did a sweet potato tarte Tatin, which still requires baking but very little, and it’s super easy to make. He has it on his Web site. He did it with a burnt-butter ice cream, but you could buy vanilla ice cream.

Washington, DC

Any tips for a first-time Thanksgiving hostess on how to prepare a turkey breast? We are having a small gathering, with some vegetarians, so we don’t need the whole bird. Thanks!

If you want to do a main course, do a risotto with wild mushrooms and Parmesan cheese. You can par-cook your risotto, heat it up with some vegetable stock, sauté mushrooms with shallots and garlic, and add butter, Parmesan cheese, and white truffle oil. If they’re not happy with that, you can ask them to leave! Also, keep at least three of your side dishes vegetarian so they can have lots to choose from.

Washington, DC

What’s the best way to sober up my drunk uncle after the meal before he drives home?

You don’t let him drive home, period. Just call the police. Or hog-tie him. Just don’t let him get behind the wheel of a car.


What’s the worst mistake people make on Thanksgiving and how do I avoid it?

Overcooking their turkey, period. Too high heat, leaving it in there too long. It’s drier than dry can be. Slow and steady almost always wins. And also letting their drunk uncle and others drive home.


Hi Chef, big fans of your Mussel Bar here. So here’s the question: what are your thoughts on apps and snacks? Seems like we always fill up on finger food before the meal but I don’t want people to go hungry.

I don’t recommend it, because you’re going to sit down and have a lot of food. If you’re doing something formal and you want to make turkey consommé to pass around in a demitasse, then fine. Maybe put out some cheese. But I’m not heavy on doing appetizers before sitting down to a feast. It should be festive to sit down to an abundance of food.

Washington, DC

What is your favorite Thanksgiving dish? And how do you make it?

Not turkey! For me, it’s seared venison loin or teal duck with cherries. I prepare most of the things at my restaurants and bring it home. That’s the beauty of having more than a hundred cooks.

Washington, DC

Speaking of drunk uncles, what’s your favorite Thanksgiving hangover remedy?

Huevos rancheros at Mussel Bar! Or a hot shower and lots of water and aspirin.