For Getting us Through this Tiresome Secular Holiday
I hope my 12 remaining readers had a good Thanksgiving.
I was hoping to blow it off. Weeks ago, I asked God to help me narrow my interests, and since then I have lost the drive to cook. I am very happy about that. Cooking is fun (or was), but it’s time-consuming. It’s a lot of work. Doing it right often costs a lot of money. And I am SINGLE. That means all the stuff a normal family of five or six does together lands on me.
The only person I have left to cook for is my dad, so I don’t think huge holiday meals should be considered compulsory. No one flies in from around the country for an emotional reunion. In fact, my relatives had a big Thanksgiving get-together a few years back and didn’t tell us. I have no idea what that was all about. I have never done any of them wrong, and I don’t think my dad has either. My sister is another story, but including me and my dad doesn’t really require including her. They are used to visiting us and not telling her they’re in town.
I got the news during a post-Thanksgiving call that had to do with business. My aunt said something about the holiday, and she mentioned the big gathering. She is having issues with her memory and thinking due to an illness, so she probably didn’t realize she was letting the cat out of the bag. After she said it, the conversation got awkward, but it was helpful in that it let me know where I stood.
Sometimes I have local friends over for a holiday meal. As I have mentioned in other blog entries, a young friend of mine has a music scholarship at the University of Miami, so we see each other a lot. I will not run his family down, but they have a way of leaving him on his own on important occasions. This year they took off for South Carolina. I invited him to join us, so it was nice that the meal served a purpose beyond derailing my daily routine.
I am determined to get out of cooking future holiday meals singlehanded. I hate the idea of going to a restaurant on Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve, but I also hate doing dishes for nine hours so two or three people can stuff themselves.
I’m not interested in cooking any more, and that’s a blessing, but I can still do it when I need to. Also a blessing. I no longer care about getting a serious kitchen or a huge gas range, but I’m glad I can produce good food when I have to.
I fixed a boneless turkey this year, full of cornbread stuffing and andouille sausage. It was wonderful. You remove every bone except for the drumsticks, and then you stuff the bird and sew it up. When the bones are out, you have a flat piece of meat like a doormat, and you can marinate or season it very effectively. I put mine in a pot overnight with salt and champagne.
At this time of year, people start pushing fried turkey. It’s not for me. I’ve only had it once, and it was tough and dangerous. Burns can cripple you.
Years ago, before my sister’s issues blew up, she got a fryer and hosted Thanksgiving dinner. I had to do the frying. I think I did it wrong; I don’t recall turning the gas off when I lowered the turkey. The oil didn’t burst into flame or pour all over the yard; that was nice. But some escaped from the pot.
That made me realize how perilous turkey frying is. There are all sorts of issues with it. Once oil gets hot, it’s very flammable, so if you have the flame going, oil that goes over the side can start burning. The flames from the oil on the ground can light the oil in the pot. Then you have real trouble.
If you put the lid on the pot, it warps, letting oxygen in. The fire keeps burning. If you throw water in the pot, it blows up, sending more oil out, and the oil may be flying. The fire keeps burning. If you use a fire extinguisher, you will probably just blow oil out of the pot, increasing the size of the problem. The fire keeps burning.
If the oil spills on a flat surface, and you’re standing on it, the oil can flow onto your feet. That’s bad. If your fryer is near your house, the flames can set fire to your eave or wall. God help you if you put the fryer in your house, on your deck, or in your garage.
The fried turkey was not good. I don’t know if the seasoning was weak or if frying just makes it fall off, but the turkey didn’t have a lot of flavor. The texture was like rubber.
I don’t have any confidence in frying, but a lot of people swear you can get a great result if you do it right. I guess they must know something. Personally, I’m not going to waste three gallons of oil on a process that scares me and gives me a bird that contains no stuffing and produces no gravy.
As far as I know, the ultimate turkey is one that has been boned, marinated, stuffed, and smoked. I’m too lazy to do that, but I’ve done it once or twice, and it was incredible. Without the smoking, it’s still magnificent. It’s more tender that a roasted bird. It’s just as juicy. It cooks much faster. You can carve it without wasting anything; it slices like salami. You can store the leftover bird without the aggravation of dealing with a dried-up, picked-over skeleton that resists going into the fridge.
Boning and sewing up the bird will probably add an hour to an hour and a half to the job, but you will also cut the baking time down. I used a 12-pound bird this time. I put it in the oven at around 9:50 a.m., and in two hours, it had cooked so fast I had to cut the temperature to 170 in order to avoid getting ahead of the sides. I could have had it on the table in under three hours, easily. As it was, the bird cooked so fast it was at 165 degrees when it came out. Considerably higher than optimal.
When you stuff a bird that isn’t boned, cooking takes forever. And you can’t get much stuffing into it. I would guess that you can get three times as much into a boned bird.
It was spectacular. No doubt about it. Not my best work, but considering the halfheartedness of the effort, a bona fide home run.
I did a major cheat with the mashed potatoes. I baked them, refrigerated them, and then nuked and mashed them on the day of the meal. They were a little overcooked, but that added some browning which made them taste better. It’s really hard to go wrong with mashed potatoes. They will forgive almost anything except using a food processor.
If you ever feel like boning a turkey, get yourself a $5 Forschner bird’s beak paring knife and a small, sharp chef’s knife. Learn how to use a diamond hone so you can keep them super sharp. Get a cut-proof glove for your left hand. Your left hand will get cold and relatively numb while you work, and it will be wet and greasy, so a trip to the ER is a distinct possibility for anyone who doesn’t wear a glove.
The actual boning is not complicated. Cut the turkey’s skin all the way through, straight down the back, from one end to the other. Then start peeling it off the bones and carefully cutting the meat loose. You will want to cut the wings off at the elbow, because boning a wing flat is impossible. Flex the thigh bones so the stuff that holds the hip joints is accessible and cut the tenons and ligaments so you can free the inner end of the bone from the pelvis. Then cut the meat away from the thigh bone until you get to the knee. Cut that joint open, remove the thigh bone, and get back to work on the rest of the bird. Remove the wing bones the same way you took out the thighs.
You will actually be able to stuff the upper wings, since they won’t have bones in them. That’s really nice.
You will always be working from inside the bird so you don’t cut through the skin. You want the skin intact.
You’ll lose maybe half a pound of meat, but think how much goes in the trash when you throw the desiccated skeleton out.
When you get done, you’ll be able to salt and/or marinate the bird overnight. You can season it again right before you stuff it.
When it’s time to stuff it, get a big needle and some dental floss. Sew up the torn-up area down around the bird’s former anus. You will want to restore the original pouch shape of the skin. Then start packing stuffing in.
Start sewing, pulling the edges of the skin together as you go. Shove the stuffing around to make it fit where it should. Pack it in there good. You can use a lot.
When you have the bird closed up, put it in your roasting pan on its back, season the skin however you want, and cook it normally. I like 200-250 degrees, covered with foil, with a 425 finish (no foil) to brown it. My roasting pan has a rack that holds the bird up out of the grease so it doesn’t soak.
There are Youtube videos which probably explain the boning process better than I do.
When you serve the turkey, put it on a cutting board and twist the legs off. The slice it like a cheese log. When you find the floss, pull it. The skin won’t be strong enough to hold onto it, so the floss will come out without breaking.
Obviously, this also works with chickens. I guess it would work with anything that has bones, although you would lose precious rib meat if you boned a pig.
Today I realized Thanksgiving has nothing to do with God or thanks. There is no way you can cook and eat and still have time for God.
I lost a lot of prayer time. I had to go start working early and keep at it until bedtime, two days in a row (usually, it’s three). You can’t work God into that in any meaningful way. You just do it out of obligation and accept the fact that your Christian walk will resume the next day.
When I got up today and knew I didn’t have to wrestle with turkey or side dishes, it was wonderful. I took as much time as I wanted for prayer.
I guess I sound like a downer, but people have been chasing their tails all week. They struggled to prepare during the days when they still had to go to work. They scrambled and toiled on the day itself. Then half of them went to the mall after dinner. The other half went today, to beat other people senseless in order to get three dollars off on a Chia Rihanna or whatever the big gift for 2015 is.
Next time, there will be help, or there will be a drastically abbreviated menu. And I’m not going to harbor any delusions about honoring God. This holiday is all about gluttony, shopping, and drunkenness. Get it done and get back on track. That’s my plan.
I hope all of you had a nice Thanksgiving. Maybe the turkey tips will help you. I strongly suggest avoiding fried turkey, although I did come across one good reason for doing it: it gives the men an excuse to go outside and get some peace. Maybe it’s worth it.
I only took one photo, and it’s not that great, but I’ll post it. It will help you understand what I’m talking about.