Let’s talk turkey. It’s a mystery to me why this species was ever selected as a celebratory centerpiece. The truth is, while formidable in size, turkey is bland in flavor and dry in texture. I’ve made a few over the years, and each time the stuffing far outshines the meat by a megawatt. The bird does not inspire me to take the measures necessary to make it palatable, such as brining, deep frying, or transforming it into the show stopping turducken.
Before we continue with alternatives to our main course, we wanted to slip in an original Julia Childs Turkey making video which will send you back…such fun to watch.
Instead, I’ve come up with festive alternatives. One year I flew in the face of tradition and patriotism and served paella. Two years ago, I perused several magazines filled with holiday dishes in order to find a more exciting option. The recipe that got my vote was “Ginger-soy lacquered Cornish game hens”. The photo of glossy, ruby-colored miniature chickens looked absolutely luscious. However, I underestimated the amount of meat on each hen and bought six to feed the three of us, where three would have been plenty. By the time I’d purchased all the ingredients to embark on the two-day project, I’d spent over $200 on this dish alone, $44 of which was for 4 bottles of mirin for the marinade.
A 24-pound, free-range, organic turkey that was homeschooled and pampered every day of its life costs about half that much and feeds 12-16 hungry people. I can’t say my experiment was worth the expense, because the meat barely picked up the taste of the marinade, but in my opinion, the result was still more interesting than turkey.
For years, my sister hosted Thanksgiving dinner for her friends and students in her home in Minneapolis. The turkey itself was her special domain, and after fifteen years she remains unchallenged in this role. A teetotaler herself, she nevertheless marinates it overnight in a mixture of bourbon, maple syrup and orange juice. Since moving to New York City, she still flies to Minneapolis each year for the feast, drives from the airport to the turkey farm to pick up the star of the show, and prepares it at her hosts’ house, along with stuffing that includes at least a dozen ingredients such as corn bread, chestnuts, pecans and dried cranberries.
This I can’t compete with, and I don’t try. In fact, I’ve gone to the other extreme.
Last year I finally let go of the notion that hosting Thanksgiving dinner means I have to make the entire meal from scratch. I shamelessly opted for the radical but sensible solution that many fine citizens have chosen before me: I left it to the professionals, figuring that if anyone can coax some spark out of the thankless fowl, they can. My favorite restaurant offered a very good turkey dinner for $35 a plate that included everything but dessert. No one was in danger of overeating since there were no seconds, and no one shouldered the burden of the success or failure of the meal. It was a win-win—for everyone but the turkey, that is. And of course, everyone was free to choose something altogether different from the menu.
If you’re among the home cooks who still tackle the job singlehandedly or as a joint venture, I applaud you. But this year I’m following the same wisdom and making my reservations early. It will give me peace of mind and not deplete my budget for the holiday season. I can spend a little of the savings on a toothsome dessert to be enjoyed at home after the outing. And I will hold my head up high!