On the chef’s table

Roland Passot’s warm Dungeness crab custard. photo: la folie

Hearty appetites always accompany heightened expectations when professional chefs invite guests to their homes, and especially for a food-laden holiday like Thanksgiving. Ordinary green bean casseroles? Really, now. Boxed mashed potatoes or canned yams? Fuggedaboutit. Guests know and expect that these particular hosts can dish out dishes like none other. Let’s peek behind the aprons of three renowned local chefs and see what Thanksgiving specialties they have up their sleeves.


Chef-owner, Piperade (1015 Battery Street) and Bocadillos (710 Montgomery Street)

Gerald Hirigoyen may have grown up in the Basque region of France, but he’s embraced our American day devoted to family, friends, and food.

“We serve buffet style so each person can pick and choose what they want,” he says. “For our family it’s an especially relaxing day since it’s one of the few when our restaurant is closed.”

Does that mean Hirigoyen takes a break from kitchen duties?

“Every year, I do all the cooking and baking, but I really enjoy it,” he admits. “My wife and kids help set the table and organize all of the food once it’s ready, but the cooking is definitely all me.” Surprisingly, his menu features a traditional Thanksgiving spread with turkey, stuffing, yams, and cranberry sauce. “My kids get a bit upset if I don’t,” he laughs. “But I also make sure there are plenty of greens to balance all the starches.”

And the crown jewel of Hirigoyen’s table? This savory turkey dish.


Serves 8

Suggested wine pairings: Longboard Sauvignon Blanc for those who enjoy lighter wines. For those who prefer reds, Hirigoyen recommends B. Kosuge Pinot Noir. “Definitely a lighter Pinot, but [it] still has some body for those who prefer something a little more substantial.”

  • 1 6-pound boneless whole turkey breast
  • 1½ cups heavy cream
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 egg whites
  • ½ cup olive oil plus 1 tablespoon
  • ½ pound chanterelle mushrooms
  • ½ pound roasted chestnuts, halved
  • ¼ cup pistachio nuts, shelled
  • 2 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • Kitchen twine

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Lay meat skin side down and trim off the two large fillets attached to each side of breast. Cut fillets into small cubes and set aside.

Trim a few layers of meat off the edge of each breast and use them to fill in the cavity between the double breasts to create a somewhat flat surface.

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the cubed turkey fillets and the heavy cream. Pulse a few times to break down the meat, then mix on low speed until meat and cream are uniformly incorporated.

Add about 1 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and the egg whites, and blend just until the mixture is smooth; set aside in refrigerator.

In large sauté pan, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chanterelles and a pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté until mushrooms are just wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.

In large bowl, combine meat mixture, chestnuts, pistachios, parsley, and mushrooms, and mix well. Season with salt and pepper, then spread stuffing in an even layer on top of the turkey breast. Roll the turkey up as tightly as possible. If there is extra skin on the ends, try to pull the flaps around the meat. Tie in several places with kitchen twine.

Place the rolled turkey roast seam-side down in a roasting pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour remaining ½ cup olive oil on top of the roast and scatter the carrots, onions, and celery around the pan. Roast for 15 minutes, then add the white wine. Return to oven and cook 30 minutes, then add 2 cups of water. Continue to cook until the turkey is done, about 45 minutes longer, basting every 10 to 15 minutes. (It should have an internal temperature of at least 185 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.)

Transfer roast to cutting board. Strain pan juices into a small saucepan and discard the vegetables. Heat juices over medium-high heat, skimming any visible fat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Slice the turkey into ½-inch-thick slices, and serve with warmed pan juices on the side.


Executive chef-owner, La Folie (2361 Polk Street)

Another France native, chef Roland Passot experienced his first Thanksgiving in 1976 when co-workers invited him to their home for a traditional meal complete with over-cooked turkey. He recalls thinking, “I guess that’s why you need gravy — there was no juice! And I’d never had cranberries — what is this? I think they were from a can. They also served undercooked squab.”

Given his less than stellar introduction to the holiday’s cuisine, it’s a wonder that Passot ever returned for another; however, he soon found himself in charge of the main course. “I cooked my turkey less and basted it so it was juicy,” he remembers. “I keep it simple, rubbing butter under the skin with thyme and rosemary. I roast veggies with it, too, like parsnips, and I use the bones to make gravy.”

Today Passot’s Thanksgiving tradition includes hosting up to 30 people in a casual and family-style manner. “We start with Dungeness crab because it’s just coming into season. A nice wine and of course, cheese.”


Serves 4–6

Suggested wine pairings: A light and lively, fruit-forward white wine with good palate-cleansing acidity, and little or preferably no oak character, such as Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon or Fume Blanc, Riesling, sparkling wine, or unoaked Chardonnay. “Too much oak will overpower the delicate flavor of the fresh crab.”

  • 2 large Dungeness crab, live
  • ¼ cup coriander seed
  • ¼ cup fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups kosher salt


  • Shells from cooked crab
  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 1 medium leek, diced
  • 1 medium bulb fennel, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1 cup dry white wine (unoaked)
  • 2 bay leaves


  • 2 cups crab stock
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Reserved crab meat
  • 1 cup king trumpet or other mushroom, cooked
  • 1 Fuji apple, sliced
  • 1 cup small mustard greens
  • 1 cup celery, finely diced

Fill a large stockpot (big enough to fit both crabs) with water and add the coriander seed, fennel seed, cayenne, and kosher salt. Bring to a boil. Add the crabs, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.

Remove crabs from the pot and start picking the meat as soon as possible to make it easier to remove all meat cleanly. Separate body and leg meat. Save the shells and the crab “butter” (the liquid inside of the body cavity) for the crab stock. Set aside the crabmeat to cool.

To make the crab stock: Lightly crush the large shells so all the shells are of similar size. Heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a medium-sized stockpot and cook the onion, leek, fennel, and carrot until softened.

Add the crab shells and continue to cook for about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the wine and add the bay leaf. Add just enough water to cover the crab shells.

Simmer for 30–40 minutes, skimming any surface film. Season with salt to taste. Strain using a fine chinois (conical strainer) or fine mesh colander into a bowl. Cool in an ice bath to separate any impurities. You may need to skim the surface once more after the stock is completely chilled. Some sediment will settle to the bottom, which you do not want to use, so be sure not to stir before adding the stock to the crab custard.

To make the crab custard: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a small saucepan, heat 2 cups of crab stock to a simmer and check again for seasoning. Whisk eggs in a mixing bowl. Ladle 2 tablespoons of stock into the eggs while whisking, continuing until you have incorporated half of the stock into the eggs. Whisk the egg mixture back into the remaining stock and mix thoroughly. Ladle about 4 tablespoons of the custard base into each (small bowl) baking/serving dish to cover the bottom by about half an inch.

Wrap bowls in plastic wrap. Bake in a water bath until the custard is set (check by softly shaking the bowl). Remove from oven.

Melt the butter in a sauté pan with the lemon juice over low heat. Add the reserved crabmeat and cooked mushrooms and warm through. Season with salt to taste. If the custards have cooled, rewarm them in the water bath in the oven for a few minutes.

Sprinkle the diced celery on top of custards followed by the warm crab mixture. Garnish with mustard greens and Fuji apple slices. Serve warm.


Executive chef, Palm House (2032 Union Street)

A graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Ricketts says his childhood Thanksgivings were large family affairs with traditional dishes. But today, his Irish relatives are spread across the country, so he and his wife, the sous chef at the Mexican restaurant, Cala, on Fell Street, host what they refer to as “Friendsgiving.”

“We’re lucky enough to live near the co-chefs of Lord Stanley,” Ricketts says, referring to the San Francisco restaurant on Polk Street. “We usually end up having a sort of chef potluck, where each of us makes one or two things. There’s a bit of friendly competition involved and each year, the bar gets raised.” But Ricketts just might be the winner with his signature Thanksgiving dish that he attempts to improve upon every year.

“It’s a modernized version of a very classic French holiday dish,” he says. “I have a soft spot in my heart for classic French, and it pains me to see it disappearing in San Francisco.”


Serves 6–8

Suggested wine pairing: Beaujolais Nouveau or a fruit-forward Pinot Noir


  • Legs and breast meat from 1 guinea hen*
  • Legs and breast meat from 1 duck*
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup Armagnac (brandy), divided
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • *may substitute chicken or Cornish game hen

Marinade for Breasts

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoons black pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt

Marinade for Legs

  • 1½ cups white wine
  • 3½ ounces shallots, whole
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 5 cloves garlic, whole
  • 1 teaspoon juniper berries
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Aromatics for Legs

  • 3½ ounces carrots, roughly chopped
  • 14 ounces button mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 bunch parsley, chopped coarsely
  • Sautéed Autumn Fruit
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 Bosc pears, halved
  • 4 Mission figs
  • 5 ounces red grapes
  • 2 tablespoons Armagnac
  • Pie
  • 2 sheets puff pastry
  • 7 ounces duck liver pâté
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons honey

Combine marinade ingredients for breasts and rub mixture into the meat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Combine marinade ingredients for legs in a nonreactive container. Place legs in marinade, cover, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight. Reserve shallots and marinade liquid for braising.

To cook the breast portions: In a sauté pan, melt butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add the thyme sprigs and breast portions and sear until the meat is just browned and still slightly pink inside. Deglaze pan with 2 tablespoons Armagnac and continue to cook/coat breasts in the glaze. Remove from pan, cut breasts into lengthwise pieces, and set aside.

To cook the legs: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove legs from marinade and pat dry. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add legs and sear until browned. Add the aromatic mixture and continue cooking until legs are cooked through. Remove from heat and place in a stew pot. Add remaining 2 tablespoons Armagnac, the marinade liquid, and the whole shallots from the marinade. Cover and braise for three hours until meat is tender. Let cool, then remove legs and shallots and set aside.

Strain braising liquid through a fine sieve into a medium saucepan. Reduce the liquid over medium-high heat until slightly thickened.

Separate meat from leg bones and dice finely. Mix with the cooked aromatics, braised shallots, and two tablespoons of the reduced braising liquid. Set aside for the pie filling.

To make the sautéed fruit: Melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add pears, figs, and grapes and cook until softened. Deglaze with Armagnac and set aside for serving with the pie.

To make the pie: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out each puff pastry sheet to ⅛-inch thick. Using a plate as a guide, cut large, even rounds out of each sheet.

In the center of one round, spread half the cooked leg mixture. Top with reserved breast pieces and pâté, followed with the remainder of the leg mixture.

Close the pie with the other puff pastry round, trimming to ensure a perfect circle, and pinching and crimping the edges to form a decorative seal. Brush the top with egg yolk. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes, then bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 30 minutes. Allow pie to cool slightly, then glaze with honey.

Transfer pie to a large serving platter and serve with the sautéed autumn fruit and sauce on the side.


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Eileen Mitchell is a freelance writer and Bay Area native. Contact her through her blog at