As you know, it’s been a contentious week filled with controversy. Yglesias kicked it off by declaring that "Turkey Sucks." That led to rejoinders from Ezra Klein and Atrios, some parsing of words by Matt, and clueless sniping by Jonathan Chait, later updated. Note: While instinctively anti-Chait, I think it’s possible that Patrick Nielsen Hayden reads Chait’s update more harshly than it was written. Once can interpret "Ezra Klein, who takes this very seriously" as a non-dismissive acknowledgement and quasi-apology rather than as a dustoff. Each of us has to decide whether, by 2008, Jonathan Chait deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Comes this morning Ashley Halsey III in the Washington Post food section, writing about turkey blandness. In honor of Ezra, I’ll quote this part:
"It’s bland if it was frozen six months ago and given the industrial treatment," said Mike Cleary, mid-Atlantic research and development chef for Whole Foods. By coincidence, Cleary was in the store shopping for Thanksgiving dinner.
"A turkey that never walks on land and lives in a building with 10,000 other turkeys and never sees the light of day and always eats the cheapest feed, it’s going to be bland," Cleary said. "If it walks on land and mimics the diet it would eat in the wild and more or less has a life before you slaughter it, it’s going to have flavor."
The Henley family Thanksgiving turkey will be half a turkey from our official poultry provisioner, Groff’s Content Farm in Rocky Ridge, Maryland. The other half is in the freezer, double-bagged, waiting for Christmas. Good poultry sheers are a life-changing and expanding possession. By the time we got to the farm Saturday, the smallest available bird was 22 pounds. That is a lot more turkey than four people can eat. Truth is, 11 pounds is too, but some of it will make dog food.
I am dry-brining it. Among other things, I have no container big enough to wet-brine something that big. The bird was pastured it’s entire life – we saw the chicks in the shelter when we visited in August and there were still some live birds waiting to be processed out in the paddock Saturday afternoon. )Maybe some of them would’ve weighed less than 20 pounds, who knows?) I did the salting itself two days ago, mixing in some dry sage and thyme for good measure. I’m a little concerned that I didn’t get the rub under the skin – I was leery of opening much of a slit between skin and meat – but we’ll see how it goes.
While I can say that this turkey didn’t spend its life being tortured before undergoing a surprisingly sadistic industrial murder, I can’t yet say that it will be tastier than commercial turkey I’ve eaten in past years, on account of, I haven’t eaten it. I smell live-blogging!
Stuffing is an issue, since there’s no cavity with half a bird. However, a "bread and butter chicken" recipe I picked up at the Silver Spring farmer’s market last month looks promising. Butter the bird and stick bread to the sides (using skewers to hold the slices to each other and make a tent – no, don’t skewer them to the bird itself: you think I’m some kind of idiot???). Then baste the turkey/bread combination with drippings as you go. Remove the slices about an hour before the bird is done and toast them in the oven. Seems like a reasonable stuffing base. The trick would then be making sure the bird browns. We shall see.
Now, my own hobby horse. The dry-brining link includes a video on proper turkey carving. At the end, the carver advises you to secretly consume the two "oysters" of dark meat along the spine underneath the turkey, calling them the moistest, tastiest parts of the bird. It is true and his advice is sound. It applies to roast chickens too. But why will nobody call these "oysters" what they are? They’re the bird’s butt cheeks. This shows that Americans have become alienated from the realities of the food chain, surely.
(Postscript: Let me associate myself with Klein’s rejoinder to Chait.)