Holiday Sides

These Thanksgiving sides easily double for any holiday get-together.

Chef Tyler Thomas, River and rail, Va Oyster and Cornbread dressing

Tyler Thomas

The River and Rail Restaurant, Roanoke

Chef Tyler Thomas, River and rail, Va Oyster and Cornbread dressing

Every chef dreams of a day off, and for Tyler Thomas, Thanksgiving is it.

“I love Thanksgiving because to me it is a holiday in its most pure form,” he says. “You spend time with loved ones while bonding over food and memories with no expectations of gifts or extravagant activities.”

“Also, it is one of the holidays where I relax most, because outside of cooking the bird, making the gravy, and one or two side dishes, I am always encouraged by my family to stay out of the kitchen and relax.”

Heading outside with a cold drink, he’d babysit the turkey in the smoker. “Then, a few years back, I began introducing oysters into the mix,” he recalls. “I love to shuck them for my family and serve them with lemon and hot sauce, as well as doing my version of Oysters Rockefeller on the grill.”

It’s those oysters—one of Virginia’s culinary calling cards—that also find their way into his traditional cornbread dressing. Homemade cornbread mixes with hot Italian sausage (he recommends one by Yard Bull Meats), vegetables, seasonings, and fat, rich Virginia oysters to create a very Virginia side.

Virginia Oyster and Cornbread Dressing
  • 2½ quarts cubed cornbread (not sweet)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 12 ounces hot Italian sausage 
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large stalk of celery, finely chopped
  • ½ medium fennel bulb, finely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
  • 1½ cups chicken stock
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, minced
  • 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, minced and divided
  • 16 medium raw oysters, shucked and chopped,
  • liquor reserved
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425°F. Spread the cornbread evenly over two rimmed baking sheets. Stagger sheets on oven racks and bake until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

In a large pan, melt butter over medium-high heat until foaming subsides, about two minutes. Do not allow the butter to brown. Add sausage and mash with a stiff whisk or potato masher to break up into fine pieces, no larger than ¼-inch. Cook, stirring frequently, until only a few bits of pink remain, about 8 minutes. Add onion, celery, fennel, garlic, and thyme, and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and add half of the chicken stock.

Add the remaining chicken stock, eggs, tarragon, and half of the parsley to a medium bowl and whisk vigorously. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon, and slowly pour the egg mixture into the sausage mixture. Add cornbread cubes, oysters, and oyster liquor, folding in gently until evenly mixed. Season lightly with salt and pepper. 

Transfer dressing to a buttered 9 x 13-inch rectangular baking dish. The dressing can be covered with aluminum foil and refrigerated for up to two days at this point; the flavor will improve as it sits. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375°F. Uncover the dressing and bake to 150°F internally at the center of the dish and the dressing is crisped on top, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool for 5 minutes, sprinkle with remaining parsley, and serve. Serves 12-16

Alvin Williams

Cobalt Grille, Virginia Beach

Chef Alvin Williams, Georgina FIre Bussels sprouts, Cobalt Grille

Raised by Jamaican parents, Alvin Williams didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving as a child growing up in England. But during his two-plus decades at the Cobalt Grille in Virginia Beach, his carefully crafted Thanksgiving menu has become a much-anticipated tradition for families dining out on the holiday. And along the way, he’s managed to pay homage to customary dishes while putting his own signature on this uniquely American holiday. 

“I notice that stuffing always starts a great debate about what makes the best stuffing and everyone has an opinion, whether it be the addition of oysters, mushrooms, or certain herbs. It always makes for a great conversation,” Williams says. “If stuffing were absent from the table, things would not be the same for me.”

Williams has two Thanksgivings: dinner with guests during the day at his restaurant and later with his family once he gets home. On the table he mixes American classics with a taste from home including Yorkshire pudding and sherry trifle. 

They’ll be enjoyed alongside stuffing, buttery mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and an addictive bacon and garlic-spiked dish of roasted Brussels sprouts.

Georgian Fire Brussels Sprouts
  • 16 ounces, or about 2 cups, Brussels sprouts
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 ounces roasted Georgian Fire (a very hot garlic with intense flavor) garlic cloves confit*
  • 1-2 slices applewood smoked bacon, chopped
  • 2 ounces dried cranberries

Chef Alvin Williams, Georgina FIre Bussels sprouts, Cobalt Grille

De-stem and half or quarter sprouts, depending on size. Place into a foil pan or oven-proof glass dish, and season with salt and pepper. Pour over garlic confit and oil.

Cook bacon, then add it (with fat) to Brussels sprouts. Roast at 400°F for 30 minutes until sprouts are roasted and heated through. Five minutes before removing from oven, stir in dried cranberries. Serves 4-6

*Editor’s note: Garlic confit is easy to make by cooking the peeled cloves from two heads of garlic in one cup extra virgin olive oil on a low temperature, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes until the garlic becomes a rich golden color and soft to the touch. 

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