In my 53 years on this planet I have been called many things. A “good cook” does not appear on that extensive list of monikers.
My idea of preparing a fancy meal usually involves a can opener and a microwave oven. When I really feel like pushing the culinary envelope, I may boil water and reach for some Ramen noodles. This year I was faced with the prospect of having a Thanksgiving without the company of someone who actually knows how to cook. While I longed for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all of the trimmings, I was intimidated by the idea of cooking a turkey. I had seen enough activity in a kitchen during the holidays to know that preparing a turkey is substantially more complicated than popping a frozen pizza in the oven and setting a timer.
Before making the decision to come up with an alternate meal plan for the big day, I decided to ask around to see exactly what it would entail to serve a Thanksgiving turkey. I approached a woman at work who frequently speaks of her home-cooked meals.
Me: I’m thinking of preparing a turkey for Thanksgiving. Is it hard to do?
Co-worker: Actually, it’s quite easy. You start by sticking your hand inside the turkey.
Me: Wait, inside the actual turkey?
Co-worker: Yes. In the body cavity. You reach in, feel around and remove the giblets.
Me: The what?
Co-worker: The giblets. You know the heart, neck, liver, kidneys …
I think there was more, but this was all I heard before I fainted. It was looking like a store-bought turkey pot pie was going to be on the menu in the Albury house. Actually, there was a second reason I hesitated to take on this major gastronomic endeavor. In addition to being apprehensive about performing an organ removal procedure on a large North American bird, I had a bad experience as a child with undercooked turkey.
My mother subscribed to a certain houskeeping magazine that had craft ideas, health tips, and recipes. Every issue of this periodical explored some sort of culinary adventure that involved either dropping stuff into Jello, dipping it in fondue pots, or cooking in new, exotic ways. One year she read an article that suggested, for Thanksgiving, slow cooking a turkey at a low heat.
I realize “low heat” is a relative term. This wasn’t suggesting the Susie Homemaker Oven type of cooking, using a light bulb for a heat source. But it was close.
I think it suggested cooking the turkey at some outrageous setting like 70 degrees for three days.
The turkey didn’t even get a tan under these conditions. On day two, we opened the oven and the gobbler yelled, “Shut the door, it’s freezing out there!” I am convinced the person who wrote the article is serving time somewhere for death by salmonella poisoning.
Miraculously, none of us got sick from the meal; and eventually, after a decade or so, we were able to look back on the incident and laugh about it. However, I felt certain my own offspring would not be so forgiving with my serving raw poultry as a main course.
When I told a friend about my plan to have a safe rather than traditional Thanksgiving meal, he threw out another option.
“Why don’t you serve a turkey breast?” he asked.
“You mean they sell just turkey breasts?” I was incredulous. My mind immediately went back and forth between the renewed possibility of having an old-fashioned Thanksgiving dinner and the concept of a farm that had flat-chested turkeys along with a pond full of legless frogs.
A turkey breast sounded like the way to go, so I went out and purchased one. When I told my friend that I was going to follow his advice for the meal, I suggested that, with the need to baste regularly, this still seemed like a high maintenance food to prepare.
“Don’t baste it,” he responded. “Put a couple strips of bacon on the breast and it will self-baste as it cooks.”
Wow. Magical bacon. Everyone including swine loves bacon. I know this pig adores it.
A couple of strips of bacon seemed un-American — where we live by the mantra “more is better.” So I draped two pounds of thick-cut bacon over the breast. I couldn’t even see the turkey. But I had a real good feeling about the meal. As it cooked the house smelled like heaven, and when it was done it was nothing short of amazing. As I ate I thought of all that I had to be thankful for, including friends with wonderful cooking tips. I plan to prepare a meal just like it again next year.
I think, however, next Thanksgiving I might have a little more turkey with my bacon.
Mark S. Albury lives in Northfield Falls.
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