Even professional chefs get the Thanksgiving Day jitters. Just ask Quinn and Karen Hatfield, the couple who own Hatfield’s restaurant (he’s the chef, she’s the pastry chef) and the recently opened Sycamore Kitchen.
“I feel like I forget how to cook a turkey every year,” says Quinn, who’s inclined to prepare it differently each time: roasted; grilled; the legs removed, deboned and rolled into a roulade stuffed with foie gras or chorizo; butterflied; deep-fried.
This year it’s smoked turkeys (a couple of Willie Birds ordered from Harvey’s Guss), prepared on his Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, a Father’s Day gift from Karen, their 2-year-old son, Bennett, and 5-year-old daughter, Paige.
Also on the holiday menu: a potato and mushroom gratin layered with bechamel and goat cheese and topped with a flaky pastry crust, cherry-pear mostarda for the turkey, roasted squash and Karen’s pumpkin pie with browned-butter-pecan-and-pepita streusel.
Smoking the turkey is a preemptive maneuver on Quinn’s part. “Cooking out of the house frees up kitchen space,” he says. “I’m a big proponent of not fighting over the oven.”
No matter how he cooks the turkey, it is always brined, Quinn says, with a mixture of water, salt, brown sugar, garlic, peppercorns, rosemary and thyme. “Brine is critical,” Quinn says. “It helps get that beautiful color and absorb the smoke flavor.”
His brining tip: Place the turkey in a bucket filled with brine, then top it with ice so it doesn’t have to go into the refrigerator. “Trying to find room for a bucket in the refrigerator is impossible, and we have a big fridge.” (The same brine, by the way, is used before roasting the turkey breasts at the Sycamore Kitchen for Karen’s excellent turkey sandwiches.)
The gratin, warm and rich and cheesy, is a throwback to the Hatfields’ early Thanksgivings, back when they used portobellos instead of maitake mushrooms. “One of our best Thanksgiving Days was in a tiny New York apartment after getting off of work at Jean-Georges, crammed with people, with no ventilation, so we’d have to open the windows but it’d be freezing outside,” says Karen.
Since then they’ve moved into a house in the lush hills of Laurel Canyon, and this Thanksgiving it’s a tossup between hosting dinner on their patio or, as is tradition, heading to the Pacific Palisades home of Karen’s parents. “It’s great, two chefs doing the cooking,” says Karen’s dad, Larry Friedman. “But I’m the one dishwasher.”
On the Hatfields’ kitchen counter is a recent farmers market score: a pile of confection and kabocha squashes from Weiser Farms for roasting with honey, sherry vinegar, a little chile de arbol, rosemary and black pepper until the cut edges are browned and slightly curled.
“Kabocha is my favorite,” says Quinn. “You can make it savory; you can use it in dessert. It has a deeper flavor. And you can eat the skin.”
Karen always makes extra desserts. Being chefs, “we don’t know how to cook for just six,” she says. “And we don’t hold back.”
The same dough that tops the gratin can be used for an apple galette. Cut the dough into a desired shape, top it with thinly sliced apples and brush them with jam, then bake.
Her piece de resistance might be the pumpkin pie. “I never make the same pumpkin pie recipe twice. But this one we’ve been doing on weekends at the Sycamore Kitchen, so I’m kind of fond of it.” Her crust is among the flakiest. She says it all comes down to technique. All of her pie dough is mixed by hand (no food processor), folding and rolling the butter in, almost like a rough puff pastry dough. “It can make a mess, but once you’re in the habit of doing it, it yields a more flaky, delicate crust. Doing it by hand is the only way you can get a feel for what you’re doing.
“I’m always looking for the perfect pumpkin pie recipe,” not too sweet with a dark crust (“brown is good”), “not too much spice but a little is nice, the right texture -- not too firm, not too soft.”
She cuts into her pumpkin pie, revealing a custardy interior and layers of flaky, golden-brown crust. This one might be it.