Little did I know, when I began blogging, that a world of cyberfriends awaited. I appreciate each and every one of you for you own interesting blogs, your helpful, funny and insightful comments and the feeling of connection to a larger world I get every time I log on. Here’s a little piece I wrote for for the Ventura County Reporter when my daughter was editor. It is a little snide, based upon an antipathy for turkey…but I hope it will give you a chuckle without detracting from your appreciation for the bird.
A Turkey by Any Other Name
I cried the first time it fell to me to prepare a Thanksgiving feast. My distress had nothing to do with feelings of culinary inadequacy. It was the naked vulnerability of the bird, stripped of its plumage, shivering in my sink. How could I possibly further assault the poor fowl by stuffing its cavities with however delectable a mixture of bread cubes, herbs, etc., augmented by a fine dice of its own organs? Worse than that, my recipe called for inserting a puree of other tasty ingredients beneath its skin. It would require a couple of glasses of sherry to stiffen my resolve. Even then, it was only the prospect of a house full of people expecting traditional fare and a festive mood that spurred me to action. The occasion, by all accounts, was a success, right down to my children dressed as pilgrims. Fortunately, it was a large gathering. In the spirit of reciprocity, it would be years before I need face a repeat of the ordeal.
Now, with the burgeoning of specialty groceries and deli’s, a squeamish cook has options undreamed of even a few years ago. Tofurkey has been around for some time, but its appeal is more to the politically motivated menu planners amongst us. I don’t care for the real thing all that much, even when it is served up pre-carved with a side of cranberry relish. Still, the holiday spirit seems ill served by a fake bird fashioned from soybean curd.
Goose conjures up images of Ingmar Bergman in his nostalgically extravagant phase. The romance of the idea of goose as a main course quickly fades as the subject shrinks before your eyes, while the roasting pan fills with grease (more Eraserhead than Franny and Alexander). Only Babbette could pull off this Feast. But wait. Here is where the new-age markets come in. Staffed by Babbette Wannabe’s, they have cooked up all kinds of exotic alternatives to the same old meal. What kind of magic they work behind the scenes remains a mystery, but somehow the goose is picture-perfect.
Or you might opt for quail: de-boned, stuffed and rearranged into a tidy little package with a sprig of sage for garnish. It will take two of them, even with all the side dishes from the family archives, to satisfy a normal appetite. Capons might be a better choice for hearty eaters…or even game hens.
The heights of gourmet inventiveness are scaled with the advent of the “turducken” (careful how you parse that word). It sounds like a feat of genetic engineering, but instead owes its creation to the splicing skills of the meat department’s own Dr Frankenstein. What, exactly, is it? Here again, a lot of de-boning is involved: first a chicken is placed inside a duck, inside a turkey. The turkey is allowed to keep its legs and wings, so the final product looks pretty much like the real McCoy. Since there are no bones to contend with, you needn’t have a skilled carver in the crowd. Just slice crossways, and each serving yields a cross section of all three meats. To be sure that all meat involved is organic and free-range, you can order one from Whole Foods. Cajun versions with cornbread or seafood jambalaya stuffing are available over the Internet for $78.
Be forewarned that the cooking time for such a concoction is about 8 hours. I am told that the typical turducken will serve 12 to 14 people, but that is allowing each diner a one to one and a half pound portion. I don’t personally know anyone who can down that much protein in a sitting, but the meat coordinator at Whole Foods (yes, there really is such a person) apparently travels in heftier circles. If you are committed to the do-it-yourself approach and are skilled at wielding a hammer (Paul Prudhomme’s recipe on the web required the use of this unusual kitchen tool for the de-boning process) you can log on and pull up recipes. Hats off to you for your courage and dedication.
But what is the fascination with winged creatures? Give me a nice crown roast any day. It makes a perfect crater to fill with stuffing (isn’t that what the Thanksgiving meal is all about?). Once you pull it from the oven and trim it with those frilly little paper cuffs, what could be more celebratory? What I like best about it is its complete lack of resemblance to the beast from which it came, sparing the need for endless glasses of sherry if I happen to be the cook.