Thanksgiving is the Super Bowl for home cooks, and even if you’ve already planned your menu, it’s never too late to think about spicing up your flavors with seasoning. “It's of the utmost importance,” Josh Mamaclay, marketing and engagement manager at Curio Spice Company and a chef instructor at Milk Street Kitchen, said on Morning Edition Wednesday.

“I feel like nothing's more disappointing than rolling up to a Thanksgiving dinner, whether it be your own or somebody else's, and taking a bite of the turkey or the mashed potatoes and realizing, ‘oh, there is, there is very little seasoning to this,” he told host Henry Santoro.

Mamaclay shared some of his tips and tricks for making flavor pop on your Thanksgiving table.

Don’t forget that salt is a seasoning.

Mamaclay says that salt is “arguably one of the most important seasonings to bring to the table at your Thanksgiving prep” because it not only brings out the flavor of your dish but develops flavors over time. “It could bring out nuanced flavors that you would otherwise not notice,” he says.

Season all at once or sprinkle as you go?

That depends on what kind of dish you’re making, Mamaclay says. For turkey, it’s a good rule of thumb to get all of the seasoning in there from the beginning. “Because as it cooks in the oven, a lot of those flavors will start to impart themselves into the fats that are circulating throughout all of the meat,” he said. “So you want to really kick it off with as much seasoning as you can right from the get go.”

If you are making a soup or stew, sprinkling in spices as you go is helpful to make them pop after laying a foundation. “You could throw [in] things like coarsely ground cumin seeds [or] coarsely ground coriander, both of which have been toasted right at the end to get that nice bright pop of flavor as well as texture.”

"You want to bolster that line of, 'is this too much?' And then go just a little bit beyond that."
Josh Mamaclay, Curio Spice Company

Don’t forget to season the cavity.

When you are cooking any bird — turkey or otherwise — don’t forget to season the inside of the cavity, Mamaclay says. There’s a lot of ground to cover when you are working with a large 18-pound turkey. “Season inside and out and you want to be liberal,” he says. “You want to bolster that line of, ‘is this too much?’ And then go just a little bit beyond that.”

Use fresh spices when possible.

We’re all guilty of buying spices and keeping them too long. Mamaclay recommends buying in smaller amounts.That stuff is going to be very much exposed to oxygen and is simply just going to degrade,” he says. “And that's not necessarily going to give you the best flavor.” To test if it’s still good, he says you can throw the spice in a pan over medium heat. If it’s aromatic, it’s still good.

Even better, he says, use whole spices instead of ground. “If you have whole spices, it's way easier to toast without them combusting into flames in your pan,” he says. “But on top of that, you can control the texture by grinding it to different grates.”

Santoro asked Mamaclay how he would spice up some staple side dishes. Here are his recommendations:

  • Cranberry sauce: Because of the cranberry’s sweet and sour profile, Mamaclay recommends playing with heat in this side dish. “I like to throw in fun things like pink peppercorns just to introduce a slightly fruity flavor, but a very distinct pepper flavor as well.”
  • Sweet potatoes: The sweet, saccharine, marshmellow-doused dish can be jazzed up with ginger, ground or fresh, or Chinese Five Spice for an extra kick.
  • Mashed potatoes: “Mashed potatoes, as far as I'm concerned, is a canvas that could totally be kind of painted upon with any sort of flavor,” Mamaclay says. He has taken inspiration from the Irish dish colcannon and recommends loosening the potatoes with some crème fraiche or sour cream. And don’t forget to add acidity — which can come from smoked salt or some more peppercorn.