Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The turkey-patience paradigm

Look! A hipsterized turkey!

This time of year in the U.S. always instigates wracking self-doubt among first-time poultry preparers. "What if I mess up the turkey?" they ask, gripping a baster for dear life, when what they really want to know is, "OMG WILL I RUIN THANKSGIVING?"

I can't vouch for the success of your turkey, but I can share with you the turkey-patience paradigm, an excellent model that will carry you through the holiday and beyond. Here are the basic tenets:

Plan what you can plan. If you're buying a frozen turkey, purchase it at least 2-3 days in advance so it can thaw out. If you're cooking the day of, look up cooking times and work backwards (leaving 20 minutes or so at the end for browning. Then, if all hell breaks loose in your kitchen that day, you at least don't have to worry about the turkey.

Simplicity is key. Stuffing a turkey is counter-productive; it takes longer for the turkey to cook and dries out the meat, so don't worry about cramming every single thing into this one bird.

Shine the spotlight on what matters most. While following fancy turkey recipes can make you feel like Mario Batali, just a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and basic spices will take you far. Fill the bottom of the roasting pan with cut-up carrots, celery, and onion for flavor that showcases, rather than masks, the meat.

Time is your friend. Leave. The turkey. ALONE. Do not open it every 10 seconds and baste; again, it's counter-productive to let all the heat out of the oven. Also, don't be in a rush to brown the darn thing. Leave an aluminum tent on it for 3/4 of the cooking time, remove it for the last quarter, and voila! a beautiful, moist, unburned turkey.

Take a moment to enjoy your success. We all love the classic Norman Rockwell Freedom from Want painting for a reason -- because everyone is living fully in the moment and appreciating the cook's handiwork. So before you take a knife to your turkilicious product, stand back, take it in, and admire what you hath wrought. You earned that much at least.

Got that? Plan where you can, keep it simple, focus on the big picture, let time do its work, and don't forget to take it all in. A recipe for patience -- and one helluva winning turkey. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Prayer #189: Baste Not, Want Not

Keep me heated
Cook me through
Don't let me dry
Before I'm due

Keep me hearty
So I last
May I enjoy
Then breaking fast

Keep me happy
(Sane, at least)
And grant me patience
Til the feast!

Amen.

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