Down on the Farm -- Good turkey
Thanksgiving: When millions of Americans gather together and try to convince themselves that turkey actually tastes good.
What we're trying to do, of course, is fulfill expectations created by that Norman Rockwell painting of Grandma setting the turkey on the table for Grandpa to carve.
The picture looks great, but that's the end of it. Once carved and served, turkey is a profoundly mediocre meat.
Like lutefisk, if turkey were any good, we'd eat it all year. But it is not, so we don't.
Before hand, everybody compares methods for cooking turkey. They're all trying to figure out how to make it taste better than it did last year.
The basic goal when cooking a turkey is to keep it from turning out dry and stringy. Success comes if the dark meat is like rubber and the white meat is dripping wet.
To that end, everybody has their own trick.
A few years back, I decided to do it up right and go by Martha Stewart's recipe. Martha said to soak a cheesecloth in a $27.99 bottle of Chardonnay and lay it gently on the breast to keep that part moist.
I don't know what cheesecloth is, so I used a wine-soaked bath towel. Martha also had about three sticks of butter in the equation, which any idiot knows could make shoe leather edible.
Martha's turkey tasted fine, but nothing spectacular. But boy did it sound high class!
The next year I used one of those oven bags, and it worked well. The turkey got nice and brown on the outside and moist on the inside. The bagged turkey tasted the same as Martha's, except it was $30 cheaper. And less glamorous.
This year, I had two Thanksgiving dinners. At the first, I was the guest of friends from the suburbs who brought up a turkey from an exclusive organic butcher somewhere down in Ritzville.
They had chosen their turkey weeks in advance, while she was still living. Her name was Lucille.
As an organic turkey, Lucille lived a quiet, contemplative life in the rolling hills south of Long Prairie. She was allowed her space and wasn't injected with drugs or force fed.
Industrial turkeys have a big breast due to hormone injections, but Lucille's breast was well below average, which, according to the butcher, is a sure sign that she's truly organic.
Before her date with destiny, Lucille was given pre-mortem counseling by an avian hospice nurse who helped adjust her to her fate. Not one drop of bad karma flowed through her veins as Lucille bravely stepped forward to join the food chain.
A Vivaldi concerto played as Lucille's severed head plopped in an organic wicker basket woven by Guatemalan peasant women. The rest of Lucille was respectfully plucked by union labor and rushed off by Prius to the organic meat market.
At least that's how I hope it all went, because when my friends showed up at the organic meat market for their appointment to pick up Lucille, they were charged $8.50 per pound!
So, how did Lucille taste?
As good as turkey possibly can. Which is to say, she tasted about the same as a turkey deep fried in a tin tube out on the back porch, or drunk on Chardonnay, or cooked in a bag, or drenched in butter.
The next morning, it was my turn. As I peeled off the white plastic bag, I noticed the word "microwavable" on the wrapper. Since when is a turkey microwavable?
Turns out, the bird was already cooked. All I had to do was leave it in the bag and warm it up for a couple of hours.
It was just too easy. You're supposed to struggle with a turkey, try a new recipe.
But this was the most effortless turkey I had ever cooked. It browned up just right. The dark meat was like rubber. The white meat was dripping wet.
It was about as good as turkey gets.