American Thanksgiving: Talkin’ Turkey
by blue midget
In a couple of weeks, Americans everywhere will cook up the traditional Thanksgiving feast. For some chefs it will be an honor, and for others, a curse. Like every major American holiday, marketing campaigns explode with the latest gadgets, recipes, and foods that will make your Thanksgiving spread the most amazing and memorable dinner ever in the history of your lives thus far, in fact even Henry VIII would cry out in jealousy if he were able to cast his eyes upon your amazing feast. Some time between now and the next three weeks, consumers will rush out and purchase large quantities of whatever they can get their hands on so their guests may gorge themselves on the delicious delights of their Thanksgiving table. Families and friends will come together to hold hands, sing songs, and resemble something out of an ABC Special.
What a bunch of crap.
Most Americans live well beyond their means. Advertisements and slogans do their best to make the average consumer feel as though their lives will not be fulfilled unless they purchase X, Y, or Z. This is a lie, and yet every year we rush out to the stores to purchase enough food for an army and, dare I say, while some people have none. (Remember the times you have been needy and donate to a family in your area that could use a helping hand!)
When I was young, my mother would get up very early on Thanksgiving morning and start cooking up our feast. She would cook all day long for a family of four, and we couldn’t even eat half of it. Much of it would get packed up and sent to the freezer, but there were many things that would have to be thrown out. One year she decided that all of the work she went through was ridiculous and cut back to a few main essentials. Because I will only be cooking for two this year, I will be taking the same approach: turkey, mashed potatoes, a small quantity of peas (you know that you mix up your potatoes and peas, don’t lie), stuffing, and gravy to smother everything. Keep your dessert simple, too. Before you go to the grocery store, just decide on what everyone likes the most and only make that. Don’t be afraid to cut back.
A couple of months ago I said that when we got closer to Canadian Thanksgiving we would talk turkey. And even though I wrote up an article with recipes, I realized that the one thing I hadn’t mentioned was turkey. Honestly, I’m not really sure what I could tell you that more qualified, gourmet chefs can’t — unless you really do not cook at all and get that deer-in-the-headlights look when anyone says “sauté” or “broil” because a lot of food shows and recipes don’t explain themselves as well as they think they do. I enjoy cooking very much and have been doing it for a long time, and when it comes to dessert I like my recipes to contain a lot of different steps and be very difficult. But when it comes to regular meals, I don’t think it should be overly expensive and time-consuming to make your dinner so I slice and dice things for efficiency, without losing the taste. I’m a food hacker of sorts.
Williams-Sonoma is currently giving out free booklets that include Thanksgiving recipes and tips on turkey. If you’re a decent cook and you feel like it, take a gander over at their website, where they are listing some Thanksgiving Recipes and Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes. Just don’t fall for their gadgets and crap. Their recipes call for a “special blend of herbs” that you can purchase from their stores. You don’t need that.
Buy yourself a free-ranged turkey. If you really want to know how to make your basic, delicious bird and you’ve not really cooked a lot, go pick up the Better Homes & Gardens red-and-white-checkered cookbook. It won’t steer you wrong. The recipes contained within (including the instructions on turkey) are basic and easy to follow. I promise. Their instructions are generally the ones I follow, but I spruce up the recipe portion quite a bit. Remember – you will have to start thawing your turkey a couple of days in advance. The packaging should explain it all to you. Just stick it in your sink or an unused bathtub while it’s defrosting.
The night before Thanksgiving, soften up about one cup of butter in a small bowl. Add some garlic – if you want to use some bottled, pre-minced garlic, feel free. The bottled garlic has higher acidity, but it’s faster and easier (I use it to make regular dinners). If you prefer fresh garlic, use it. Put about two tablespoons into the butter, along with:
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon sage
2 teaspoons parsley
1 teaspoon chives
1 teaspoon rosemary
Or whatever you’ve got. If you don’t have all of these spices don’t run out and buy more, just put in the ones that you do have (you really can’t go wrong with this). Mix the herbs into the butter, cover it with some plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. The next day when you get ready to put your turkey together, smother your turkey with the herbed butter. Coat the bird inside, into the crevices and joints – I even like to coat it underneath the skin. (To quote Emeril, “Ooh yeah, baby!”) Just stick your fingers in there and get it all over. For everything else, you can just follow the basic instructions on the bird packaging or in the Better Homes & Gardens book. (Or if you really don’t want to get the book, email me and I’ll send the directions to you.)
Turkeys seem really overwhelming, but they aren’t. When in doubt, take your knife, cut it and make sure it’s no longer pink. (Well, the dark meat will be a little pink but the white should not be.)
Lastly, do you know why I like eating a Thanksgiving turkey so much? Because Fiona Apple, my evil nemesis, thinks that it is cruelty against turkeys. A few years ago she set up a turkey hotline for people who wanted to call and speak out against this ritual of turkey eating. So even if I were a vegetarian, I’d eat turkey on Thanksgiving just to spite her. Mmm… turkey.