Thanksgiving tends to be a time of tradition — from the people who sit around the table to the food served and even the stories told. That makes sense because it pre-dates most of the other holidays we commonly celebrate in America. Seriously, pilgrims loved them some trees, but there was no Arbor Day. Strongly espoused opinions about the quintessential menu items for a proper feast largely revolve around those nostalgic dishes that bring us back to times when we just thought Uncle Danny was funny, and didn’t realize he was a full-on drunk. Even the grossest yam and marshmallow monstrosity can conjure up the feel of a pile of freshly raked fall leaves, and grandma’s perfume lingering on your sweater after a hug. Sense memories, yo!
It was no surprise that the chefs we asked about their favorite Thanksgiving sides did, in some cases, go for homey and wistful remembrance. However, given what mavericks these men and women are in the culinary world, it was awesome to receive responses that spoke of experimentation and the integration of ingredients from other cultures, which lay the foundation for new traditions and memories. Believe me, there are some stunner call-outs here that will make you wish you had an invite to a chef’s table this holiday.
Plus, some of them even included rough instructions for the side, so you can try making them at home.
Chintan Pandya — Chef, Rahi (New York, NY)
I love macaroni and cheese because it’s pure comfort food, which is what Thanksgiving food is all about. My favorite recipes use macaroni, cream and loads of cheese. The best part is you can use different kinds of blends of cheeses that you like, and it always comes out good.
Garrett Pittler — Executive Chef, City Winery Nashville (Nashville, TN)
Thanksgiving is the holiday for those of us in the industry. All holidays basically revolve around food, but Thanksgiving is actually about the food! I mean what holiday, other than Thanksgiving, is it okay to eat the mascot? (I have been working on Easter, but my kids aren’t going for it.)
My personal favorite side dish has always been green bean casserole. And just for those of you how have read other articles I’ve done for Uproxx before, this is not a plug for French’s onions or Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup!
It’s about my Mom, wife and my dear sister. My mother has always made green bean casserole for Thanksgiving and the joke was when I was a kid, she would hide the French’s Onions because we would always eat them before she made the casserole. My wife continues to make this all-American delicacy for me, even though she’s from Italy and doesn’t like American-style casseroles in the least. And my sister tries to mess with perfection and create a new spin on the casserole that is always a topic of conversation at the Pittler Compound every year. “This year, I used two different types of wax beans instead of green beans!”
Bottom line, I love green bean casserole because I love my family, and that’s what I’m thankful for.
My favorite Thanksgiving side dish is cope’s corn pudding. Cope’s corn is a type of dried sweet corn that is produced where I grew up in central Pennsylvania. We make our own version of it at my restaurant Josephine in Nashville, TN. The dried corn is soaked in buttermilk overnight to rehydrate it and mixed with eggs, butter, some dairy and cornstarch. It’s then placed in a buttered casserole dish and baked until it is just set. This simple side dish feels like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold day. The addition of the dried corn takes me back to my childhood and where I grew up. It’s my favorite way to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Jose Mendin — Chef and Partner, Food Comma Hospitality Group (Miami, FL)
Being from Puerto Rico, we try to incorporate our culture into our Thanksgiving meal. For a side dish, you can’t go wrong with my Grandma’s mofongo – a typical Puerto Rican dish made of fried plantains. It may not be a traditional Thanksgiving side dish, but it’s a staple at our holiday table.
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Maria Orantes — Corporate Pastry Chef, Food Comma Hospitality Group (Miami, FL)
Naturally, as a pastry chef, my favorite Thanksgiving side dish is more of a dessert than a side. Every year, I make pumpkin cheesecake for my family, and I can’t imagine our Thanksgiving meal without it. I won my first prize with this recipe, so it’s something that’s very special to me. I’m thankful I can share it with my family each Thanksgiving.
Chef Isaac Toups — Owner and Chef, Toups South and Toups Meatery (New Orleans, LA)
My favorite Thanksgiving side dish is my mom’s crawfish cornbread dressing. It’s sweet and savory and pairs well with the main dish – whether it’s brisket or turkey. I also like to have rice dressing on Thanksgiving, which was a part of my family’s Thanksgiving growing up. My version includes a roux, beer, flavorful stock, lots of garlic and green onions. What’s more Louisiana than crawfish cornbread dressing and rice dressing?
Carl Schaubhut — Chef and Co-Owner, DTB, which stands for Down the Bayou (New Orleans, LA)
This is a very hard question but if I had to pick one side, I would say oyster dressing. It’s tied with mac and cheese, but with a 7-and-4-year-old at home, I get to eat mac and cheese all year round. This dressing typically calls for stale New Orleans French bread, cooked trinity, creole spices, butter, fresh herbs, and lots of oysters just barely cooked. The liquor from the oysters soak the bread and provide a great consistency. I find that fall fruits and vegetables such as apples, fennel, and butternut squash also add great flavor to the dressing. Top the warm dressing off with some giblet gravy and I’m not even looking for turkey!
Stephen Ullrich — Executive Chef, The Strand Bar & Grill (Miami Beach, FL)
I think any Thanksgiving needs a bread component. I always try and make it because people have a hidden crush for fresh warm bread and the best part if there is any left-over you can make mini- sandwiches with the turkey, stuffing or ham that is left-over. Don’t get bogged down by the steps; it’s really easy and fun to make. Once you have mastered how to make these they will forever be part of your dinner party repertoire.
William Crandall — Chef de Cuisine, StripSteak by Michael Mina (Miami Beach, FL)
Two words come to mind when I think of what makes up my favorite Thanksgiving side dish: versatility, and crave-ability. When both traits are in balance, sides surpass expectations and become a “supporting actor” to your “star” bird of choice.
For me, stuffing really is the perfect example of this, but I don’t mean any old “plain Jane” stuffing. I’m talking about brown butter roasted chestnut and challah stuffing – garnished with forest mushrooms and miso dressing. I’ve made this stuffing multiple times, and it has yet to fail whether I’m dining with friends or my family. The brown buttered chestnuts add a layer of texture that’s often forgotten about in a traditional stuffing. The miso adds a depth with its salinity while the wild mushrooms offer umami flavors. Using challah as the bread offers a unique tenderness and richness. I feel that this a tried and true side dish. Enjoy it on its own, with some of grandma’s gravy, or pair it with a plethora of your family’s bites.
Chef tip: Season the stuffing with the same spices as your turkey to create a marriage of flavors throughout your Thanksgiving meal.
Santiago Gomez — Executive Chef, Cantina La Veinte (Miami, FL)
I have been celebrating Thanksgiving since I moved to States. I love this holiday, and love to celebrate it by cooking with my friends and family. Side dishes are really important in order to make a more diverse dinner. I love to put my Mexican touch to some classic Thanksgiving side dishes such as mashed potatoes with poblano pepper. I also love roasted carrots with chipotle-agave and my favorite roasted potatoes with cilantro, lime, and garlic.
Raul A. Del Pozo — Executive Chef, Lightkeepers at The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne (Miami, FL)
Sweet potato puree with cinnamon sugar and tarragon marshmallow. There’s something about the smell of sweet potatoes baking in the oven before making the puree that always makes me smile. The sugars caramelizing, and the skins charring brings a sweet and smoky smell to the air. When you finally create the puree and top it with a toasted tarragon marshmallow, all of the senses seem to come together. The burst of flavor from the candied marshmallow, bitter anise taste of the tarragon, and the sweet and tangy flavors of the sweet potato swirl in your mouth and bring delight.
Paula DaSilva — Chef de Cuisine, Burlock Coast (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
I was introduced to this dish called stoemp years ago by one of my chefs. It’s a traditional Belgium dish that consists of potatoes and root vegetables. There are many variations to the dish, but the one we used to make was a Brussels sprouts stoemp. We would cook equal parts of potatoes and brussels sprouts in a pot with just enough water for them to be tender. We would then add cold butter, hot cream and mash this together really quickly, so you have nice creamy but chunky potatoes and Brussels. We then mix with salt, pepper and some truffle oil!
It’s a delicious dish that warms your belly and makes it feel like the holidays!
Brian Doyle — Executive Chef, Council Oak Steaks & Seafood at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Hollywood (Miami, FL)
Being a chef, it’s always challenging because we work on Thanksgiving, but I try to enjoy my favorite sides around the holiday. One of my favorite dishes growing up was one my mom made – roasted acorn squash with sugar pumpkins and confited shallots. It’s been a staple in our home for many years. Another important item for Thanksgiving is the gravy. It can make or break the whole meal. If the turkey isn’t moist or the mashed potatoes aren’t seasoned well enough, the gravy can change the whole dinner.
Sean Brasel — Executive Chef and Co-Owner, Meat Market Miami Beach and Meat Market Palm Beach
My favorite Thanksgiving side dish is definitely stuffing. It’s actually my favorite thing about Thanksgiving. Every year, I play around with different ingredients and come up with new killer stuffing recipes. Combined with some good turkey gravy, you can’t go wrong.
Alex Q. Becker — Executive Chef, Kuro at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (Hollywood, FL)
With our half-Japanese household, my wife and I like to create hybrid renditions of traditional American holiday dishes. This year we are going with a pretty traditional dressing, but we are turning it into croquettes and serving with kewpie mayonnaise and tonkatsu sauce. I’m also working on serving a kabocha pumpkin two ways – one as a salad with arugula, parmesan, almonds and raisins and the second is a kabocha toast topped with a creamy kabocha puree spread, cotija cheese and shichimi (a Japanese seven spice blend).
Mike Molloy, Executive Chef, The Don CeSar (St. Pete Beach, FL)
My favorite dish for Thanksgiving is green bean casserole. My mother used to make it, and I looked forward to it all year. This year I have put my own spin on it while still keeping true to her flavors, and I call it deconstructed green bean and goat cheese casserole. It keeps the basic ingredients the same with just a touch of molecular gastronomy. I start by doing a quick sauté of shallots, garlic, and raw smoked bacon. Then, I deglaze the pan with white wine, add the beans and finish off with some whole butter. I then render down more smoked bacon for some lardons, saving the bacon fat and turning it into a bacon powder using maltodextrin. It’s a derivative of potatoes and turns high-fat items or oils into powder. Finally, I make a goat cheese sphere using some molecular gastronomy magic.
Yosuke Machida — Executive Chef, Chambers Eat & Drink (San Francisco, CA)
I’m Japanese, so Thanksgiving isn’t a tradition or memory for me before I moved to the US. I’m more inspired by the season, the history of the original Thanksgiving dinner, as well as flavors from Asia for a twist. My favorite side dish is green beans with pickled shellfish. First, heat grated garlic and ginger with sesame oil in a frying pan slowly, until the flavor is released. Then add fermented black bean paste, which can be purchased at a Chinese or Asian grocery store. Then add blanched green beans and sauté. At the end, add the pickled shellfish, and salt and pepper to taste. For a nice finish, sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on top.
Oscar Cabezas — Executive Chef, Teleferic Barcelona (Walnut Creek, CA)
I’m Spanish so I celebrated my first Thanksgiving two years ago. Now I am a young expert! I invented a side I like to call the foick’n’cheese. It is macaroni cooked al dente, sautéed with foie gras fat, garlic, parsley and chicken stock. This paste is to hold the flavor of the broth. Cut the duck liver into 1” slices and sear in a really hot pan. Before this, we would make a comte cheese sauce and season it with a small amount of black pepper. Mix the foie with the pasta and add the cream of comte cheese. Arrange bread crumbs and share!
Michael Stebner — Culinary Director, Sweetgreen (Nationwide)
Often overlooked, salad is a great addition to your holiday spread. It’s the perfect vehicle to incorporate seasonal ingredients such as apples, sweet potatoes, cauliflower and brussels sprouts, and also showcase your culinary creativity. The key is to choose one or two in-season vegetables to be your salad’s stars; at Sweetgreen, we follow the philosophy that what grows together, goes together. Right now, as we head into the colder months, lean on building a base of heartier ingredients, such as warm mushrooms, quinoa, and hot chickpeas. Layer in textures and flavors, and mix in creamy and crunchy elements, such as goat cheese with hazelnuts, and herbs that will add spice, acid, sweetness or creaminess. Salad offers a lighter, yet still filling, alternative to the heartier dishes you often find at the Thanksgiving table.
Ashlee Aubin — Executive Chef and Partner, Salero (Chicago, IL)
I always love to make a potato gratin for Thanksgiving (in addition to mashed potatoes!). Start by bringing two quarts of whole milk up to a simmer and season with salt and pepper. Then peel about a dozen nice local Yukon Gold potatoes. Slice them a quarter inch thick with a mandolin, then simmer them in the milk for 3-5 minutes. They should be firm and just barely cooked through. Layer them in a large casserole dish, alternating layers with grated Gruyere cheese. Bake, covered with foil for 2 hours, then uncovered for 30 minutes.
Greg Biggers — Executive Chef and Partner, Fort Louise (Nashville, TN) and Executive Chef, Café des Architectes (Chicago, IL)
Thanksgiving for me is ALL about the sides! I always like to have a ton of options, but a good stuffing is the key. Although Stove Top is delicious, I like to make it from scratch using brioche. The best way to start is to sauté finely minced, garlic, onion, celery, and onion in way too much butter. Once that is cooking, I will add chopped sage, rosemary, and thyme and let that get toasty before I add the brioche, dried cherries and chicken or vegetable stock. Throw it in a casserole dish and bake it off (Fat Guy tip: slice off a piece of this the next day and put it on a sandwich with the leftover turkey and cranberry sauce).
Sean Ragan — Executive Sous Chef, Ocean Hai at Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach (Clearwater, FL)
Harvest corn chowder. This chowder starts with the roasting of freshly harvested corn. Once the corn is charred, the kernels are removed, and a creamy stock is made of the husks which fortify the flavor. The soup is then enriched with the charred kernels of corn, chunks of a red bell pepper, cubes of Yukon gold potato, aromatic applewood smoked bacon and enhanced with sweet green onions. The end result is a heartwarming velvety harvest chowder.
For me, it was only natural to serve this for Thanksgiving. Together, the components encompass and embody the soul of Fall. Freshly harvested corn is delicious and plentiful this time of year and just aches to be used. Attending culinary school in New England broadened my palette to an array of distinctly different chowders. It was only a matter of time before I was experimenting and enjoying creating my own interpretations.
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With the weather gettin’ cold it’s officially the season for endless bowls of hot soup! 🍲💕 Looking for a new soup to try? I just posted the recipe for this deliciously creamy and flavourful Farmer Sausage Corn Chowder to my blog! This one is absolutely in my top three favourite soups ever! What are some of your fave soups?? (I’m always looking for new recipes to try so I’d love to hear yours!) 😘
Fabio Viviani — Owner and Executive Chef, Siena Tavern (Chicago, IL)
I love anything sweet, so one of my favorite holiday dishes is sweet potatoes. It’s dessert while eating veggies! I’m obsessed with the brulee sugar on the sweet potatoes.
Josh Sauer — Executive Chef, Avenue (Long Branch, NJ)
Stuffing is by far the best Thanksgiving side dish. For Thanksgiving dinner at Avenue, we make a classic vegetarian stuffing from day-old French baguettes that have been toasted in olive oil, tossed with vegetable stock and then mixed with plenty of vegetables and aromatics. We add carrots, celery, onions, parsnips and celery root, along with fresh thyme, sage, and rosemary.