Turkey Post Mortem
So I approached Thanksgiving with great anticipation and planned to play in the kitchen for several days. I made a fresh cranberry relish, tart and kicky, which sent off whiffs of aromatic orange zest and glowed in the small green bowl I serve it in. I made my own cornbread, crumbled it and then mix it with caramelized onions cooked with diced red and green peppers, celery, a large bunch of chopped parsley, sage, salt, pepper and a touch of honey. This would be baked in a separate dish and served as dressing.
I took my own pumpkin pie recipe and baked it into a pumpkin tart—prettier than a pie I think—and surrounded it with a piped necklace of fresh unsweetened whipped cream rosettes. Small purple, yellow and red potatoes would be roasted with olive oil, sea salt and rosemary. Brussels sprouts and broccoli would be steamed . A mesclun salad was tossed with black grapes and ruby pomegranate seeds.
The table was set with large white, deeply rimmed plates, red napkins and glasses. There was wine and for the recalcitrant, a pitcher of water. And of course, there was the turkey.
Now I rarely cook meat or fowl anymore and when I do, I make sure the animal has been raised humanely. I only buy from a provider I trust. I’m no vegetarian, but I am very careful about this. So imagine my delight when I found out that my Coop had added, to the two providers who fit my bill, yet another humane turkey raiser.
“Free range!” the label trumpeted. “No GMO feed, no antibiotics, no cages whatsoever……” and so on. Not only that, some of these turkeys were small, smaller than I had ever seen a turkey. I didn’t know dinner birds came that small and I was pleased. We were only four. A small turkey would be perfect. With great satisfaction, I took my turkey home, where it roosted on the second shelf of my fridge, sending out, I liked to think, vibes of a life well and happily lived.
On the appropriate morning, I washed it and seasoning it with oregano, basil, marjoram, salt and pepper, placed it on a bed of sliced carrots and added a cup of water to the pan. I always do this; the carrots roast with the turkey and become succulent and raise the bird out of the pan so the bottom browns. I did my calculations—fifteen minutes per pound, more or less—plus thirty minutes for the bird to rest before carving. I set the timer for half an hour. My method for roasting a bird is to flip it every half hour. This gives a wonderful juicy interior, evenly cooked, and a browned skin all around. At least it always has.
Time passed. I took the turkey stock I had made the day before from the neck and giblets out of the fridge. I washed and cut the Brussels sprouts in halves. I broke the broccoli into small trees. I peeked at the turkey periodically and finally pricked a thigh: the juices ran clear and I removed the bird from the oven, just in time for its half hour resting stage. I made gravy from the turkey stock and pan drippings.
And then, with newly sharpened carving knife, I sliced into the bird. There was some resistance but I assumed it was my angle. And I’m not the best of carvers….I changed my position and tried again. Still quite difficult. And again. Clearly, this wasn’t going to get any easier.
And finally I understood. Free range?! Who were they kidding? This turkey had taken a concept and literally run with it. I bet this turkey knew all the highways and byways in the entire state of Vermont. I bet this turkey never had a mellow quiet day in its life. This was a Lance Armstrong of turkeys, an Arnold Schwartzenegger of birds. This turkey was a major athlete with not an ounce of fat, not a scintilla of undeveloped muscle. And now I knew why it only weighted eight pounds.
But what was wanted in a meal bird, if one was absolutely truthful, was the opposite: a couch potato of a turkey. A TV watching, pizza hogging person of a turkey. A turkey who never took out the garbage and whose only pronouncement was “Pass me another beer”.I’ve learned my lesson. Next year I will mitigate my standards. Yes, I want my turkey to be happy. But I wouldn’t mind enjoying Thanksgiving myself. Something will have to give......