In years past, and well before Thanksgiving, I would assault you with reminders about selecting your menu, sourcing your ingredients, make a plan and schedule for prep, making sure all the equipment needed was located (where IS that damn roaster - did you (or your Mom?) ever have one of these?)
And so on. Well, guess what. I can’t do that as day after TOMORROW is, in fact, Thanksgiving itself. I can only assume that you have done all the above and are calmly approaching the day without any trace of angst or apprehension. So unfortunately I can’t help you. But, I decided I would at least see what the foodie world had in store for turkey day this year. So I went through the Thanksgiving issues of most of my magazines
And thumbed through over 250 recipes for turkey, sides, salads, breads, on and on to see if I could find any trends. The first thing that dawned on me was that I would not like to be a magazine editor. “Oh, God, here it is Thanksgiving again and I have to come up with what appears to be original ways to cook that damn bird”. As an aside, as I have often (always?) said: you start out with a turkey, and you end up with a turkey. Do what you want, turn it, high temperature followed by low, the other way around, etc., and you still have a rather tasteless hunk of protein, some of which is cooked and some of which is dry or undercooked. To avoid that situation is what engenders the flopping of the creature, changing the temperature and so on.
But I digress. A note on the cover of one of the magazines Bon Appétit (above) caught my eye (enlarged here for clarity)
First of all, it uses my least favorite “B” word (of the year? really, a humble turkey?), and secondly, one assumes that the “turkey” is indeed the fowl, not your housemate - which probably does have a better chance of changing your life.
Anyway turns out that this life altering event is because you use the technique called “spatchcocking”. Which is basically butterflying the bird, as one source says: “Cutting a chicken in half for broiling is almost as routine as chopping an onion. But keep the halves together in that same flattened position, and it looks as if you've done something complicated to the little bird”. So I guess they think this is revolutionary. You have to remove the back and also the breast bone of the bird “or have your butcher do it for you”. Yeah, sure. The reason you would do this is that the thing cooks more quickly since more surface is on the actual heat. You end up cooking a 12 – 14 pound specimen in about an hour and a half. Roast at 450 degrees for about thirty minutes, reduce heat to 350 and go another hour or, in the time honored phrase, until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees. At that point I would wonder what the temperature is in the less thicker breast. De-constructing the bird into individual pieces (breast, thigh, legs) and cooking is pretty common technique, and in fact is recommended in a few of the magazines.
Going through the publications engendered a lot of notes
So, things I found (in random order) were:
The fad of rotating and flipping the bird repeatedly with large variations in temperature seems to have abated as most magazines just said start at 450 and reduce to 3 something after a while (or until….)
Dry Brining seems to have replaced the wet version (although brining was very common (again in hopes of improving moisture and taste).
Brussels Sprouts always rear their little head at this time of year in a multitude of preparations all (IMHO) designed to cover up the taste (Brussels Sprout Leaves with Chorizo and Toasted Almonds; Baked BS Custard; BS with horseradish and pomegranate seeds;..etc.)
Salads are all over the place, Kale with Pomegranate dressing; Arugula, Apple, and Parsnip; our friend BS with hot bacon dressing; Bloody Mary Green Bean (don’t get your hopes up, it’s the ingredients: haricot verts, red onions, okra pods, tomatoes, celery ribs (dressing does have BM mix);
Yams and Sweet Potatoes are not as prominent as they once were, but (regrettably, again IMHO) are still with us (The Season’s Sweet Spud: Beef and SP stew; Twice Baked SP; SP dinner rolls (?) and even weirder, SP Flan! – no thank you just pass the Pecan Pie)
Speaking of which, it is still very popular: Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey (?), Maple, Chocolate Caramel.. etc.
Wine: a general de-emphasis on this, but once again it appears that (within reason) DWTHYL still applies. The only common thing in the “pairings” is that lighter bodied rather than the heavier varietals are recommended. Pinot Gris, Cote du Rhone Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Domestic Riesling, and on the “rouge” side, wines like Nebbolio, Barbaresco, Pinot Noirs, Beaujolais, etc..are suggested. I may have missed something, but I don’t think I saw the “C” wines, Chardonnay and Cabernet. Oops I did, on pg, 146 of F&W they do recommend a 2013 Simi Chardonnay (with the soup course).
One dodge to get away from the boredom of the roasted bird is to couch the story with a personality: "Thanksgiving from America’s Best Artisans who share their Ultimate Recipes"; John Waxman shows (F&W’s apparently bumbling) Dana Cowin how to fix her mistakes; Marcus Samuelsson celebrates his favorite holiday with spiced turkey….; recipes to follow.
They appear to assume you have trouble boiling water as there are numerous “tip” columns, particularly when it comes to gravy: “how to make gravy like a pro”; “how to make silky gravy”; “making gravy is easy”.
Non Turkey entries were few. Only lamb patties, and not really for dinner, Spiral ham, but no standing rib roast.
Surprise: Garden and Gun, that paragon of Southern Culture had NO articles on thanksgiving.
No Surprise: Cook’s Illustrated has a piece called: “The Ultimate Roast Turkey” which tells us how to cook Heritage Birds (Turkeys). Oh, if you don’t raise your own on your farm, you can order a: MARY’S Free – Range Heritage Turkey, where a 7 to 14 pound gobbler will only cost you $166 (23 to 12 dollars the pound) oh yeah, plus shipping. This is getting long, but of course they start out by saying it requires “a different cooking method”, which turns out to be .. dismember the bird and cook pieces separately. (since they are separate, I guess it doesn’t qualify as “spatchcocking”. Gottal love Chris (Vermont is Heaven) Kimball..
Okay, so what does all this rambling foolishness mean to you?
- Don’t worry about the turkey. Just (carefully) cook the damn thing. If you want to get fancy, cut it up first. It will be okay either way.
- Have fun with the sides. Limit to a few, make what you like and enjoy eating (just don’t ask the feeder to eat the Brussels Sprouts).
- Don’t over course.
- Keep a glass of wine close at hand.
- Involve everybody in the process, set the table, serve the apps, everybody give tips on keeping the gravy free of lumps (which will take care of themselves), and the clean up.
- Personally I think a dessert is required (pie: pecan (or pee- kan), pumpkin (my only accommodation to this taste), apple, or mince)
- Pay attention to the football schedule. It’s an American tradition. Hopefully enjoyed with naps.
And, dear reader, the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT thing of all about Thanksgiving: Food is a focal point, but It is a time to enjoy family and friends, and think about those who can’t be here, keep them in your thoughts, they would like that. Who knows what next year will bring.
Oh, and be sure to