How Marcus Samuelsson Is Planning His Holiday Menu This Year

When it comes to holiday entertaining, there are those who stick to the classics and some who like to switch things up each year. So, what approach does noted celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson use for his holiday menu at home? "Every holiday, we try to do something new, Maya and I," Samuelsson tells Tasting Table. "You start [menu planning] early because you want a little bit of tradition, and then you tweak it."

Tasting Table recently caught up with Samuelsson at the inaugural Honeyland Festival in Houston, Texas. In addition to curating Honeyland's menu, Samuelsson offered live cooking demonstrations for festivalgoers to enjoy over the weekend. 

Sponsored by Pepsi Dig In, the event showcased Black-owned food and beverage vendors nationwide, from "Shark Tank" alumni Sienna Sauce to up-and-comers like Cranky Granny's Sweet Rolls. "I've had a long relationship with Dig In, and I'm just grateful because whether you hit the mom-and-pop store or do an event like this, it all matters," Samuelsson tells Tasting Table. Following the successful launch of Honeyland, Samuelsson intends to bring the same energy to his holiday menu this season. "It's been such a celebration year for us," he says. Speaking exclusively to Tasting Table, Samuelsson revealed his tips for a winning holiday spread.

Samuelsson's strategy for crowd-pleasing turkey

The first dish on Marcus Samuelsson's agenda is, of course, the table's centerpiece. Talking turkey with Tasting Table, the chef explained that he and his family prefer two cuts in particular. "We were already talking about maybe just getting thighs and legs because that's what we're eating," he says. However, he acknowledges that plans can certainly change. "I know what's going to happen as we get closer," Samuelsson tells Tasting Table. "She's going to want the big turkey, the big picture."

When asked about his tips for cooking a perfect turkey, Samuelsson was quick to offer some cooking suggestions. "I actually like [to] brine it and then slowly roast it on two different heats," he says. Once you've set the stage for a tender, juicy interior, it's time to focus your attention on fixing the bird's skin. "In the last 35, 40 minutes, really crank it up a little bit and start to deglaze. Brush it so you get that crispy, beautiful outside." While working this turkey technique, the chef recommends a lot of patience and attention. Like pouring boiling water over a whole turkey, turning up the heat and basting regularly can help the skin contract and crisp up for delicious results.

To offset indulgent holiday fare, Samuelsson lightens up classic recipes

There's no shortage of delicious dishes around the holidays, but we all know what it's like to overindulge in our favorite foods. "When these holidays start stacking up, no one wants to feel like, ah," Marcus Samuelsson gestures as though mimicking someone who's had a bit too much turkey. From flavorful mashed potatoes to classic pecan pie, it can be hard to say no to seconds this time of year.

Thinking ahead, Samuelsson uses a surefire method to minimize that 'too-full' feeling as he menu plans. "I always try to figure out how [to] make it lighter," he says. "In my mac and cheese for the kids, for example, I put vegetables in there." Samuelsson's twist on the classic macaroni and cheese has even earned the recipe a new name in his household. "We call it mac and greens," he tells Tasting Table. "You just have to be smart about where you can fold in vegetables and make it lighter and brighter." For those wishing to try the chef-approved tactic at home, use any leafy green you'd like or consider other veggies like butternut squash, yams, or carrots.

Samuelsson shares his favorite ways to ring in the New Year

As winter feasts and festivities draw to an end, there's just one holiday left to celebrate: New Year's. When asked to list his favorite New Year's libations, Marcus Samuelsson nominated two drinks that embody the spirit of the season. "Coquito's great, but I also love Glögg," he says. "I grew up in Sweden, so [I'd say] a glögg wine, which you flavor with cinnamon sticks." Though Swedish mulled wine recipes can vary, Samuelsson likes his glögg spiced and, he adds, "served with some almonds and raisins."

Reflecting on the end of the year, Samuelsson also shared his most memorable meal of 2023 with Tasting Table. "We've just opened Metropolis, and I've just been in the world of these two restaurants," he says, referring also to Hav & Mar, which opened its doors in 2022. 

Wondering what his two top dishes are at each new eatery? "I would say our Seafood Tower at Hav & Mar and our Hamachi Taco at Metropolis." According to Samuelsson, one of his favorite plates of the year would also be his ideal New Year's meal — along with "some bubbles," of course. "I'd probably use the Hamachi Taco at Metropolis with a little bit of caviar just because we're ringing in the New Year," he says. While we're not sure what the restaurant's official bring-your-own-caviar policy is, we'll agree that smoked hamachi tacos sound like the perfect way to welcome 2024.