Thursday, November 24, 2005


Happy Thanksgiving

We live in a society wrought by fear-mongering. A military-industrial complex profits from promoting fear about national security issues. A prison-industrial complex, likewise, stands to gain from excessive fear of crime.

But did you know that there is a cookbook-industrial complex that engages in fearmongering about Thanksgiving?

Every year, a spate of newspaper articles in "Food" and "Lifestyle" sections, magazine features and TV news spots promotes fear and anxiety about preparing the Thanksgiving feast. What fears exactly?
As a result of all these fears, we are bombarded with contradictory instructions, advice and recipes. Brine the turkey. Don't brine the turkey. Cook the turkey for 4-5 hours at a low heat or 325 degrees; no, no, cook it for 2 hours at 450! Put a foil tent on the turkey when you put it in the oven. No, wait an hour before tenting. Bind up the legs -- no, leave them open. Stuffing the turkey will kill everyone who walks into your house! No, it's okay, you can stuff the turkey -- but heat the stuffing to 120 degrees before stuffing it. Rinse the turkey -- don't rinse, just pat dry.

I have cooked a Thanksgiving turkey every year since 1989. It's something I like doing, and I'm reasonably competent at it. The turkey always comes out somewhere on a range from not bad to pretty darn good. My way of handing the fear mongering of the cookbook-industrial complex is basically to ignore it. I fall back on conservatism: the old ways are best. If it ain't broke don't fix it.

The problem is that I have trouble remembering details from one year to the next. What temperature do we set the oven at, exactly? Do we use a foil tent? What temperature does the meat have to be when it's done? Does it cook for 15 minutes per pound or 20?

In our household, B is in charge of Thanksgiving day worries (on the virtues of a division of labor for worries, see this post), and when I ask B any of these questions, she doesn't remember either, but consults the newspaper or a recent issue of Cook's illustrated. In this way, the door is opened to the fear-based innovations of the cookbook-industrial complex. And our annual Thanksgiving food preparation fight.

A few years ago, B got it in her head that we needed to brine the turkey -- steep it in salted water -- in a plastic 10-gallon paint bucket.
"I'm not comfortable with that," I said. "That bucket had paint in it."
"Oh, come on," said B. "It's completely rinsed out."
One of the prices I pay for being something of a slacker with household chores is a presumption between B and me that I begin these arguments at a moral disadvantage, and I was resigning myself to paint-bucket-brined turkey and fears of chemical contamination when I learned that B had consulted her brother about the brining. He's a carpenter with encyclopedic knowledge about things like paint buckets, and apparently he saved us all by saying "I don't think that's such a good idea."

This year, B brings in a New York Times article asserting that you should not baste the turkey. But we live in a conservative era, and in recent years I've managed to carry the day with the argument that we should cook the turkey just like we did it last year. That and a timely reference to the "paint bucket."

We've been hanging out at Grandma Moses for the past hour or so. "What, you mean you left the house with the oven on?!" Good point -- better get back there and baste before the place burns down... or the turkey dries out.

Reading this motivated me to go baste the turkey here for quite while.

-- Happy Thanksgiving from Mr. Verb (no brining, no tent, stuffed, ca. 350 degrees (with adjustments to make it come out at the right time), and generally following traditional family recipes.)
we brined, which is a recent innovation in our house, but apparently is the thing to do with fresh killed turkeys (which we used to get when we knew someone with a live poultry store -- actually the best turkey we ever had, I think)

We also tented.. late, as R isn't a big fan of tenting (Mom taught us that bit, you know).

We also removed the giblets from the neck cavity 90 minutes into the cooking process. R decided that if it wasn't in the main body cavity, the didn't put them in.

The cat really liked the cooked turkey liver.
I'm a big fan of the oven-roasting bags if we're actually making a whole turkey. More often, we go with the turkey roll shortcut. :)

Happy Thanksgiving!
My turkey spent a few hours in the tub in a desperate attempt to have it thawed in a very short amount of time. We soon decided this was a failed attempt, so my thoughts on turkey cooking will have to wait until I've actually cooked one :)
Sleep Goblin: We would have suffered a similar fate, except for our freezer not being of adequate girth to fit the turkey inside it - so it was thawing in the refigerator for almost a week, and was mostly thawed by t-day morning.
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