They're Not Called Turkeys For Nothing
Last year, Salon.com announced that it was very fashionable to fry your Thanksgiving turkey, a tip which the truly fashionable regarded as at least 12 months out of date. For those out of the loop — not that it matters now — frying involves injecting the turkey with hot sauce and submerging it in 6 gallons of lard heated to 450 degrees.
The height of fried-turkey fashion was 1999, which was also, not coincidentally, the top of the bull market, when innovation and speed sold at a premium, and risk was said to be an anachronism. Anyone who fried a turkey last year probably held on to technology stocks through the summer of 2000.
Those people were evidently averse to recognizing the incredibly obvious: tech stocks were overvalued, and heating five gallons of hot lard to 450 degrees creates a horrible and hazardous mess. With that kind of effort, you could paint the shed or trim the tress.
The reason turkey-cooking techniques come and go is that turkey isn't delicious. But that is a hard fact to face, because turkeys are cheap and have a fantastic quantity of meat. So we keep trying to drum up ways to fix them, making them not just beautiful but also edible. It can't be done, of course, but there's sport in trying.
By the way, turkeys were a luxury for the rich until the 1950s, when capitalist technology made it possible to freeze and transport them. Prices plummeted, so that for the first time the masses could discover that being rich isn't so great after all. The truly rich today eat goose, which is blessed by glorious amounts of delicious fat.
The question of the hour is: What's the turkey fashion for 2001? There are four possible methods that I can think of: Fry, Grill (Barbecue), Smoke, Bake (Roast). Yes, you can also cook them on the stove top, but I won't comment on that level of marginalia.
As I said, frying was the last discernible turkey fashion. Before that it was smoking, on one of those black stand-up smokers that looks like a time capsule. This was very fashionable during the mid 1990s, mainly because smokers were suddenly the cooking gizmo to have because it permitted the city-dwelling middle class to affect rural sensibilities once a year.
But it turns out that smoking is actually quite difficult, and takes far too long. You have to have freshly cut wood, preferably from a fruit or mesquite tree. You have to take off a day of work, and sometimes you have to get up in the middle of the night to stoke the darn thing.
Also, in truth, there's only so much smoky flavor that you really want, and the amount that goes into the food is just about impossible to control. The smoking fashion was killed by some medical professional who warned that blackened food can cause cancer. Nowadays, giving a smoked turkey as a gift comes across like a curse.
Before smoking there was grilling. In the late eighties and early nineties, when it was believed that outdoor cooking would replace indoor cooking. Why not a turkey? The problem is that it makes the legs inedibly hard. It also makes a terrible mess of your grill, insuring that whatever tiny amounts of juice are in a turkey end up on the coals and the lid of the grill. The more sauce you put on, the larger the mess. That fashion lasted a season or two.
Before that there was the Cold War, and the technique of cooking a turkey that lasted from the 1930s until the Fall of the Berlin Wall: Roasting. Yes, it is sort of gross. No sane man would actually eat the "stuffing" that has been cooked inside the bird. The stuffing must be cooked separately, and include real meat from a pig.
No matter what you baste it with, it still tastes like turkey, and no one really eats the skin. Once it lands on the plate, it must be smothered with gravy. No matter what you do, just about any other technique creates a better-tasting turkey (if we can talk in such terms).
But with the roasting of the turkey, we have other benefits: the smell in the house, slow at first and then rising to a peak just before dinner. We have the piles of edible leftovers, which can be used to make turkey enchiladas (no lumpy, caulky turkey sandwiches, please!).
But above all else — and this is extremely important — it is fantastically beautiful. It can be put down in the middle of the table. Everyone takes his seat, and, sure enough, the family looks like it is posing for Norman Rockwell. That makes it all worth it.
Down with the hot grease, the messy grill, the absurd smoker stoking. In peace, in prosperity, we don't mind fiddling with these things, treating the cooking of a turkey like an extreme sport.
We have lost money in stocks, the economy is in the tank, the US is bombing again, and no public space seems safe. This is no time for frippery. It is a time for huddling, cuddling, and knowing who you can depend on when the times are tough. That means family. That means roasting a turkey.