If we took a poll, I think we’d find most people are ambivalent about turkey.
When was the last time you heard someone say, “You know what sounds really good for dinner tonight? A big ol’ slab of turkey!”
When was the last time you ate at a nice restaurant, the server appeared to tell you about the specials, and half of them featured turkey? The server says, “Our chef can prepare that one of three ways: tough, dry or with leftovers.”
If the turkey is such a beloved centerpiece of our Thanksgiving dinners, why do we spend so much time and effort disguising it?
We bury it under mashed potatoes, smother it with gravy and plaster it with cranberries. Is that really how you treat a bird you love?
This year the trend is to give the turkey a crustier, crunchier skin. You do this by boiling maple syrup down until it has nearly crystallized (give yourself two weeks) then baste the turkey during the final hour of cooking.
The end product, depending on your perspective, looks tantalizing and appealing, or like a bird with a bad case of psoriasis.
There are times when I wonder if our dedication to the turkey has been a mistake. A big one.
A lot of the turkeys I’ve cooked have been roughly the size of a Smart Car. And they’ve tasted like a Smart Car. Deep fry a Smart Car and it could beat a turkey in a taste off. A deep-fried Smart Car would beat one of those tofu turkeys, too.
It’s not like the early settlers were wild about turkey either. They didn’t visit the local butcher and find themselves torn between fabulous beef tenderloins, marvelous filet mignons or a turkey.
Turkey became the main dish at the first Thanksgiving by default. The pilgrims served turkey because turkeys are lousy runners and easy to catch.
Several years ago, I encountered the most memorable turkey in the history of fowl. One of our 20-something kids hosted a pitch-in Thanksgiving dinner at our house and the fellow who signed up to bring the turkey was French.
He’d never made a turkey before. He called his sister in France and she talked him through it. He entered the house with a large roasting pan covered with foil. It smelled exceptionally fragrant.
He used 100 cloves of garlic. He stuffed the turkey with couscous and more garlic. He hard boiled eggs, peeled them and dyed them neon orange, yellow, green, red and purple. Colored eggs were stuffed in and around the turkey alongside black and green olives, whole carrots, stalks of celery and halved onions.
This was a turkey with personality. If that turkey could have danced, it would have tap danced. If it could have sung, it would have belted out show tunes.
There was nothing subdued or quiet about that bird. It was like a turkey at Mardi Gras. It was what every turkey dreams of being.
I couldn’t help but think that turkeys everywhere would have been pleased.