Q&A: Local Chefs share their top turkey tips

Try their recipes for a favourite side dish and an adventurous new way to cook your turkey

Photo supplied, albertaturkey.com

By: Chris Standring
Postmedia Content Works

Turkey! All home cooks have their favourite way to prepare the main attraction of the holiday feast. The range in methodology is surprising: covered/uncovered, dressing in/dressing out, breast-side up/breast-side down.


We wanted to know where the pros weighed in on these turkey bones of contention. We contacted Edmonton’s Chef Paul Shufelt and Calgary’s Chef Liana Robberecht. Both celebrated professionals who trained at NAIT, they recently wowed guests at Christmas in November, the pre-holiday festival, at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.

One thing both share is a passion for sourcing foods locally.

After leading the culinary team at Calgary’s Petroleum Club for more than a dozen years, Robberecht now oversees the three kitchens at WinSport’s Canada Olympic Park.

“I spend Christmas with close friends that I consider family. This family has many chefs. I'm invited to stay at their home and for three days and it's food heaven — barbecue pork, sushi, lobster, prime rib ... and, yes, turkey. This turkey is cooked to perfection, by the executive chef of Buchanan’s Chop House and Whisky Bar. Every year I look forward to Chef Philip Ng’s amazing turkey. Amazing food, amazing friends, that's what the holidays are all about for me.” 

Shufelt followed 10 years as executive chef of Century Hospitality Group by opening his own dining spot, Workshop Eatery, on Edmonton’s southside. His favourite memories of Christmas dinner are gathered around his grandmother's dinner table.

“One of my uncles would carve the bird. Chances are he would nudge grandma by saying the stuffing needed more sage. Everyone would eat too much, drink too much and, most of all, laugh too much. While the meal was always delicious, it was less about it being perfect and more about the sheer joy of having everyone in the same room. It’s amazing how much we take the for granted until it’s gone.”


1. What do you think of first when buying your turkey?

Robberecht: Making ethical purchasing decisions has always been a core part of my philosophy. Shopping local, supporting our farmers and producers, just makes sense. It’s good for our economy and good for our bodies.

Shufelt: I think the most important concern when buying turkey, or any meat for that matter, is buying it from a reputable source — someone who has a vested interest in taking care of the animal,  and raising it, slaughtering it and processing it in the most humane way possible. I think it’s also imperative to ensure that the whole animal is used in some capacity or another. Buying your turkey locally ensures the carbon footprint or impact on the environment is lowered and it adds money back into the local economy. 


2. Where do you get your turkeys?

Shufelt: I really like what Corey does at Acme Meat Market, and Darcy at Real Deal Meats is great, too. My pal Warren at Wild Game Consultants doesn't do much retail, but if you call ahead he would be glad to arrange something for you.

No matter where you go I would encourage you to pre-order, as things get pretty hairy for the producers during the holidays and you don't want to be stuck defrosting a frozen supermarket bird.


Robberecht: I love the Calgary Farmers Market and I am also a big fan of Co-op. You can find Winter’s free-range organic turkeys there, which I highly recommend. Winters turkeys are amazing in taste.



3. What is the secret of cooking a moist, tender bird?


Robberecht: I like to pre-salt the bird with a mixture of salt and cracked black pepper and leave it uncovered in the fridge for one or two days. This will dry out the skin, to ensure crisp skin and juicy meat.


Shufelt: The best advice I would give to keep everything moist is to break it down and cook the sections separately. If you're not comfortable doing that, ask your butcher to prepare it for you. This dramatically speeds up the cooking time, and allows you to cook the breast and leg meat for separate durations, ensuring the legs are cooked without overcooking the breast.

For those who just have to see the whole bird on the table, I highly recommend getting your hands on a probe thermometer. It’s well worth the $20 or so for a decent one. Take your bird to 165F on the thigh and then let it rest out the rest of the way. If you must stuff the bird, remember to ensure you check the dressing reaches that temperature, too. 

Recipe - Yam Casserole

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Feeds: 8-12 as a side dish

Special Tools: an approximately 8” by 8” casserole dish helps, and so does a food processor, but neither is necessary.


4 lbs.  (2 kg) yams, peeled, about 3-4 large ones

½ cup (125 ml) sugar

¼ cup (60 ml) maple syrup

1 tsp.  (5 ml) vanilla bean paste (or extract if necessary)

2  eggs, whisked

½ cup (125 ml) butter

1 tbsp. (15 ml) chipotle paste

¼ tsp. (2 ml) cinnamon

Salt and pepper to taste


For the topping:

1/3 cup (80 ml) flour

1 cup (250 ml)  brown sugar

1 cup (250 ml)  chopped pecans

¼ cup (60 ml)   melted butter


Chop the yams into large cubes, as if you were preparing mashed potatoes

Place the yams in a large pot and cover with cold water, salt

Place the pot on the stove and bring to a simmer

Allow to cook through, until fork tender, but do not overcook to mush, about 20 minutes

Remove from the heat and drain thoroughly.

If using the food processor, place the yams in the food processor and puree in batches, adding the sugar, maple syrup, butter, eggs, and seasonings bit by bit. Once all batches are pureed ensure that they are all blended well so that the mixture is evenly seasoned.

If mashing by hand, use a potato masher and mash until fairly smooth, then add the remaining ingredients, and whip until smooth and flavours are evenly distributed

Place the yam puree in the bottom of the casserole dish, layering it about 1 inch thick

In a bowl combine the topping ingredients and mix until evenly combined.

Place the casserole dish on a baking sheet to avoid any mess or spillover during cooking

If you don’t have a casserole dish, you can use pretty much any baking pan similar in size

Layer the topping over the yam puree, refrigerate until ready to bake

Everything up to this point can be done in advance, saving you the mess during the big day

Preheat the oven to 350F

Place the casserole in the oven and bake until warmed through and nicely browned on the top, 30-35 minutes

Serve immediately.

Recipe by: Chef Shufelt

4. What new or favourite dish will you be serving to complement your turkey?


Shufelt: You can never go wrong with this yam casserole. It almost tastes like dessert. (See recipe)


Robberecht: A traditional roasted turkey for the holidays is always wonderful, but I also like something a little adventurous and different. I’m all about Turkey Confit these days, using only the leg and thigh. Confit is a method of slowly cooking the meat in oil and fat. I like to use a combination of duck fat and canola oil. (See recipe below.) Serve it sliced, alongside turkey breast that’s been roasted traditionally or use it in appetizers. It pulls easily off the bone like pulled pork. A great way to cook turkey confit is in a crock pot.


5. Do you cook the dressing in or out of the bird?

Robberecht: I like to cook it outside of the bird. I add poultry stock and vermouth for moisture and flavour (along with the regular goodies — onion, sage, parsley, lemon zest and bacon.)

Shufelt: I typically don’t cook my dressing in the bird anymore, although I will concede that it does add some flavour that doing it in a pot or casserole dish just won’t achieve. Remember to remove your stuffing from the bird right away. Leaving it in there can lead to some serious food poisoning because the bird will take forever to cool down.


6. Do you cook the bird breast up or down, covered or uncovered?


Shufelt: I cook the bird breast up, uncovered. I have tried the breast down technique in the past, but I love that golden, crispy skin too much to give it up. 


Robberecht: I roast breast-side up, uncovered, starting in a hot oven at 450F for 10-15 minutes then lowering the temperature to 350F.

Chef Paul Shufelt says you can’t go wrong with this recipe for his yam casserole. It almost tastes like dessert. Photo by Donna Christensen

Chef Liana Robberecht

Buying your turkey locally ensures the impact on the environment is lowered and it adds money back into the local economy. 

Chris Standring is a writer for Postmedia Content Works, a custom content studio that creates, deploys and measures programs for brands.

For more information on how to roast a turkey and Alberta turkey farmers - check out the Alberta Turkey Producers website at www.albertaturkey.com

Confit is an ideal way of cooking turkey or other meats with connective tissue. Although the meat is covered in a combination of oil and fat, the results are not greasy, but tender and moist. Unlike deep-fat frying where temperatures are high, the confit method involves slow cooking at temperatures under the boiling point. 




1 turkey leg and thigh (skin on)


Rub :

5 tablespoons (75 ml) dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon (15 ml) kosher salt

1 tablespoon (15 ml) dried garlic

1 tablespoon (15 ml) dried parsley

1teaspoon (5 ml) dried thyme

1 teaspoon (5 ml) Montreal Steak Spice

½ teaspoon (3 ml) black pepper

Zest of one orange

Zest of one lemon

½ teaspoon (3 ml) ground juniper


Other ingredients

Approximately 3 litres of duck fat

1 litre canola oil

2 bay leafs

½ cinnamon stick 2 pieces of star anise

3 slices of orange

2 slices of lemon




1. Mix the ingredients of the rub together.

2. Rub mixture in turkey, refrigerate overnight.

3. Pre-heat oven to 250 F. Place turkey in roasting pan cover with melted duck fat, add bay leafs and remaining ingredients.

4. Slow cook for approximately 4-6 hours or until tender.

5. Remove and place in a hot skillet to crisp skin, serve and enjoy.

Turkey Confit
Recipe by: Chef Robberecht