Thanksgiving Secrets: Cooking Tips From Chris Kimball of America's Test Kitchen A cook's secrets are meant to stay in the kitchen — and many chefs feel that their techniques and special ingredients are their own property. Luckily, Chris Kimball of America's Test Kitchen is happy to share his secrets, as he offers tips to make a great Thanksgiving meal.

Thanksgiving Secrets: Cook's Tips From Chris Kimball

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This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

We're about to embark on a covert culinary mission.


INSKEEP: Washington, D.C., 8:00 AM: an NPR team seeking information slips into a local restaurant. They continue through the dining area, through a set of double doors and into the kitchen for a prearranged meeting with a man wearing an apron and a bow tie.

His code name is Chris Kimball. That's because of his resemblance to the host of the public television program "America's Test Kitchen." Our team for this mission includes a person who - at least according to the official logs - is off today: MORNING EDITION's Renee Montagne.


I left my Thanksgiving preparations to come here and join you the two of you here at the restaurant Zola, here in Washington, D.C. But why, Chris, did you have us come here?

CHRIS KIMBALL: Because we're just a few feet away from the International Spy Museum. And today, we are actually doing some recipes that have some secret techniques with secret ingredients.

INSKEEP: Secret ingredients, like I'm going to, like, fire the turkey out of a cannon in the front of the James Bond car, or something like that?

KIMBALL: I'd love to see that.


INSKEEP: We will not see that. But as with all covert operations, the key is precisely what you don't see. In this dimly lit space, far from any window, we're quietly preparing a turkey. Chris Kimball, the man with the bow tie, plans to add something to that traditional dish.

KIMBALL: A lot of people want something a little bit new, so they decide to do an herb-roasted turkey. So what they do is slather some herbs, a paste on the skin or maybe they shove some herbs in the cavity. If you just put herbs in the cavity, there's no flavor. And the herbs on the skin get dried out and get sort of bitter. So we have to figure out a secret way to solve the problem.

INSKEEP: Decades ago, during the Cold War, a notorious spy case turned on papers supposedly hidden in a pumpkin. We're not sure, but maybe this inspired Chris Kimball's idea to hide that bright green mixture of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme inside the turkey.

KIMBALL: But the real secret was we actually take the breast - and I have a paring knife, and I'm going to make an incision, as a doctor would, into the breast about an inch and a half, like this. And I'm putting the paste inside the middle of the breast.

INSKEEP: It's like you're creating a secret chamber here.

KIMBALL: A secret chamber.

INSKEEP: This is the equivalent of hiding a document in the secret chamber inside the heel of your shoe.


INSKEEP: And just as you steam an envelope to open it undetected, you will not find the true meaning of the secret herbs unless you apply some heat. Roast the turkey for 45 minutes upside down, then flip it, then wait.


MONTAGNE: Let's talk about stuffing next, because stuffing seems to be a natural for something secret in there.

KIMBALL: I have a stuffing with a very secret ingredient: corn flakes.

MONTAGNE: Now, wait. I just have to back you up.

KIMBALL: Look, this just shows how far you can go in the kitchen to do something interesting. It can be the base for stuffing. And so we saute a bunch of onions, some celery. We take a box of corn flakes.

MONTAGNE: And that's a big box.

KIMBALL: This is a large box.

MONTAGNE: I'd say economy size.

KIMBALL: Yeah. Well, this is Thanksgiving.

MONTAGNE: Now, it would seem the obvious advantage here is that the corn flakes are crispy. But from what I know of corn flakes, they get soggy very fast.

KIMBALL: Well, all stuffing gets soggy very fast because you're cooking it in a bird for two or three hours. So it almost doesn't matter what you put in the bird, because the bird itself is flavoring the stuffing.

We have a few eggs that have been beaten up, here. We'll add those. We have some chicken stock.

MONTAGNE: You know, this moment with the chicken stock being poured over the corn flakes is kind of disgusting.

KIMBALL: It's just too much for you.

MONTAGNE: Too much. I'll just step back a couple of...

KIMBALL: You can't take breakfast and dinner together. Now it's starting to look a little better, because we have chicken stock with the onions. We have a little green from the parsley. Renee's getting a little closer to the bowl now. You've stepped in.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, it's turned to fascination. Horror has turned to fascination.


INSKEEP: You can put some of the stuffing inside the turkey. The rest you can bake in a foil-covered pan for about 30 minutes. When you're done, your secret will be hidden in plain sight.

Oh, it's still crunchy in places. This is awesome. You can still taste the corn flakes in there, in a good way.

MONTAGNE: If I were to ask you at dinner what this delicious stuffing was - what was in it, Chris? Come on, tell me. How did you make it? What would you say?

KIMBALL: I'd lie, of course.


INSKEEP: Of course he'd lie. In wartime, as Churchill once said, truth must be protected by a bodyguard of lies. But we have to be brutally honest about the next dish: green beans.

KIMBALL: I think green beans are - they're called the massacre dish. It's one of things you think are easy, therefore you don't spend much time thinking about it. And they always end up awful.

INSKEEP: Chris Kimball aims for better beans with a secret ingredient, something that James Bond would expect to find in his well-shaken martini: vermouth.

KIMBALL: Now, this is something that Julia Child, I know, always had on hand, and it's a great way to add a little flavor to a dish at the last minute that's also more concentrated, and, of course, as Julia knew well, has higher alcohol content. There's nothing wrong with that. So we'll add a little bit of - just a couple tablespoons of Vermouth at the end, and nobody will know what it is. It's a lot more interesting than your basic boiled beans, with the shallots and the vermouth.

INSKEEP: So if you're one of those people that really doesn't enjoy Thanksgiving and hanging out with the family at Thanksgiving, I mean, if you eat enough of these green beans, will it kind of ease the pain a little bit?


KIMBALL: If you have relatives you really don't like, eat the beans.

INSKEEP: Oh, those are delicious.

KIMBALL: You're definitely not getting drunk on those. I'm sorry.

INSKEEP: Very tasty.


INSKEEP: Now, I spy the end of the meal - not pumpkin pie. Kimball suggests spiced pumpkin cheesecake. It requires a secret technique for preparing the canned pumpkin filling.

KIMBALL: The problem is it has a lot of moisture in it, and you don't want that extra moisture in the cheesecake, because you want the texture of the cheesecake to be just right, and extra water really ruins it. So we've lined the bottom of the baking sheet with a triple layer of paper towels.


KIMBALL: We then have the pumpkin filling, and we're going to, as if we were five years old...

INSKEEP: Spread it out everywhere.

KIMBALL: ...spread it. This is a great things for kids, yes. They can make a big mess and spread it out.

INSKEEP: On the paper towels.

KIMBALL: On the paper towels.

INSKEEP: Take three more paper towels and place them on top of the pumpkin filling.

KIMBALL: So now we press this down.

INSKEEP: May I say it looks different. The pumpkin looks visibly different because...


INSKEEP: ...of so much - yeah. So much less water.

KIMBALL: One thing you should remember is that - and I've done this a million times. When you go to make cheesecake, you've got to remember to take the cream cheese out of the refrigerator ahead of time, because if it's cold and you put it in a standing mixer, or electric hand mixer, it's just not going to mix properly. You got to take it out at least an hour ahead of time, preferably two, and that's a little secret.


INSKEEP: Then you'll drop that pumpkin into a blender, where you've already been mixing cream cheese. Gradually add eggs, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and heavy cream.

KIMBALL: So there we have it.

INSKEEP: Pour it in on top.

KIMBALL: Pour it into the spring-form pan. We prebaked the bottom crust.

MONTAGNE: So those little lumps don't matter. They'll just melt down.

KIMBALL: Thank you, Renee, for mentioning that. Yes. The little lumps are fine. Okay. I took a taste, even though there are raw eggs.

MONTAGNE: You don't mind raw egg?

KIMBALL: You want some?

INSKEEP: Sure. Sure. We can all get sick together.

MONTAGNE: I don't mind raw egg.

KIMBALL: Hosts of MORNING EDITION killed in food segment.


INSKEEP: And as it goes in the oven, you may not even see: on the bottom of the cheesecake, hidden from view, a graham cracker crust.

Boy, this is the quickest cooking job of cheesecake I've ever seen. Oh, this is really delicious.

MONTAGNE: Do you mind if I scrape some crust off the bottom of the pan here?

KIMBALL: No. Go right ahead. (unintelligible)

MONTAGNE: I can do anything I want, huh?



MONTAGNE: Chris, Steve, you know, I'm actually sorry, since this is so delicious, but I have to run right now. I'm going to leave you with the rest of the show, Steve. I've got to run out and make my own dinner for my own family.

INSKEEP: And Chris Kimball, thank you for coming by once again this Thanksgiving.

KIMBALL: My pleasure. Happy to feed you.

INSKEEP: Good to meet you here next to the International Spy Museum and get a few secret ingredients, which you can find - they're not so secret anymore - at Chris Kimball is the host of "America's Test Kitchen" and the editor and publisher of Cooks Illustrated magazine.

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