Fort Worth chef Jon Bonnell shares his delicious holiday traditions with Walsh.
One of America’s best chefs, Jon Bonnell has built a career on refining Texan flavors and wild game ingredients into award-winning dishes lauded by everyone from Texas Monthly to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The owner and proprietor of both Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine and the seafood restaurant Water’s, Bonnell is most definitely the chef to turn to when looking for holiday inspiration.
A fan of Thanksgiving traditions, Bonnell says the biggest meal of the year always starts with a wild turkey he sources himself on one of the Walsh ranches.
“Every year since I was 13 when I shot my first one, I’ve gotten a wild turkey for Thanksgiving,” he recalls. “It’s a got a little bit of a richer flavor, and if you treat it right, it’s got a great texture. The only year I didn’t get one was when I was working on Thanksgiving when I was in culinary school.”
The chef begins by brining and soaking the birds overnight before placing them on a smoker for two or three hours. Although he’s lucky enough to have a commercial smoker at his restaurant, he says, “A Big Green Egg is also awesome” to get the job done. Load the grill with some charcoal, add wood chunks on top and let the bird burning low and slow for about three hours. The breasts will be tender and flavorful, but Bonnell recommends taking the legs off to cook in a pot with herbs and chicken stock for a next-day turkey and rice soup.
Because the chef typically hosts 35 to 40 friends and family each year, the wild turkey is just part of the feast. He also cooks a roasted bird for those who prefer more traditional flavors and begins each meal with oysters on the half shell, striped bass, bluefish, and shrimp.
“Chesapeake Bay seafood was a common thing (in early Thanksgivings), so we start with shrimp and oysters and have chilled seafood, Bloody Marys and a little bubbly when everyone shows up.”
To complement the main dish, Bonnell also serves two different gravies—one with giblets, one without—roasted garlic mashed potatoes, green beans, squash casserole, a salad and his famous green chile and oyster stuffing. Dessert is an “awesome potluck of whatever the guests bring,” plus Bonnell’s pumpkin cheesecake and his grandmother’s Amaretto cake.
The feasting continues into day two, but—surprisingly—the food is not what the chef looks forward to the most about the holiday.
“It’s our family tradition that we go out to my parent’s lake house on Eagle Mountain. Sometimes family has to spend one year at this one or that one’s house, but we try and make it these days. For me, it’s all about the kids playing in the yard, going on walks, and the cousins getting to know each other. It’s fun for me to see.”
We are thankful that this year, Chef Bonnell is sharing recipes for both his roast turkey with a Creole twist and his famous stuffing. Use them to inspire your holiday menus this year and in the years to come!
Creole Roasted Turkey with Southwestern Sage Gravy
For the Brine:
1 ½ cups honey
2 cups kosher salt
2 cups orange juice
1 ½ gallons water
Warm the water slightly and add in all ingredients. Stir until the honey and salt have completely dissolved, then cool the water down (ice works well) and submerge the turkey in the brine overnight. The brining turkey needs to stay at refrigerated temperature.
For the Turkey:
1 12-pound fresh turkey
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup Texas Red Dirt Rub, Creole Blend
Clean and rinse the turkey thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels. Combine the sugar and seasonings, then liberally season the entire turkey, even inside the cavity. Truss the bird with kitchen twine by tying the legs and wings in tight so that the bird cooks evenly. Roast the turkey in a 385- degree convection oven for the first 40 minutes. Turn down the oven to 325 degrees and cook until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees. This should take approximately 2 to 2 ½ hours, but ovens will vary. Always check the temperature with a thermometer to ensure the bird is cooked through. It helps to use a roasting pan and roasting rack so that the turkey can be cooked evenly on all sides, and the pan juices can be captured for making the gravy.
For the gravy:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 tablespoons shallots, minced
2 cups pan drippings (supplement with chicken stock if needed)
¾ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon ground coriander
In a heavy-bottomed skillet, melt the butter, then stir in the flour over low to medium heat. Do not stop stirring once the mixture is combined. Cook until the roux becomes bubbly and starts to smell like sourdough toast, but do not allow it to become dark brown. Add in the shallots and garlic and stir while cooking for 1 to 2 minutes, then add in the pan drippings (and/or chicken stock) and whisk until the mixture comes to a simmer. You will not see any thickening until the liquid simmers. Once the gravy thickens, add in the cream, sage, and seasonings and simmer lightly for 3 to 4 minutes. Taste for the right amount of salt and pepper, then serve hot.
Do not be alarmed when this turkey gets a really dark mahogany color on the outside. The sugar will caramelize and get darker than most people are used to seeing. If the bird gets too dark, lightly cover with a tent of foil to protect the exterior of the bird from burning. Depending on the type of roasting pan that you are using, sometimes it can also help to add a little water to the bottom of the pan to keep the oven environment nice and moist while the bird cooks.
Green Chile and Oyster Dressing
4-5 slices day-old bread (a rich, hearty bread like challah works best)
4 poblano peppers
1 small onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons dried sage
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups chicken stock
1 ½ cups clam juice
2 dozen Texas oysters, freshly shucked
1 ½ tablespoons Texas Red Dirt Rub, Creole Blend
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
Dry the slices of bread in a 250-degree oven until crisp, but not browned. Cut into cubes and save for later. Roast the poblanos over a flame until blackened on all sides. Allow to sweat in a paper bag or Ziploc bag for 10 to 15 minutes, then scrape off the skins with the back of a knife blade. Remove the stem and seeds and chop. Sautee the onions, roasted chiles, celery, and garlic in olive oil until soft. Season with all dry seasonings, then add in the chicken stock and clam juice. Bring the mixture to a light simmer, then add in the fresh oysters. Simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Add in the breadcrumbs and dried bread, combine and serve.
There are so many different ways to make the traditional dressing that accompanies roasted turkey, and each one has its merit, but this particular dressing is my all time favorite. It’s got just enough spice to be flavorful, but not enough to hurt anybody, and the slightly salty oysters are my favorite bites in the dish. I do not recommend stuffing this type of dressing (or any for that matter) inside a turkey when it cooks. Turkey will roast better without any filling whatsoever.