Just in time for the holiday, there’s a new crisis to worry about: a turkey shortage. A disaster? Hardly. Think of it as a gift: a chance, finally, to get rid of the Thanksgiving turkey forever.
The overfed, gargantuan turkeys found in one’s supermarket are a culinary abomination. Every year, cooking magazines and websites try to persuade you that this is your fault — you didn’t brine, you basted too little, you messed up on the stuffing, you didn’t put foil wrappers around the drumsticks and wings, you didn’t use a rub, or you used the wrong one. And every November those same magazines and websites offer up their latest culinary trick to — this year, finally — make the perfect bird. You try them and, yet again, the result is dry and tasteless.
It’s not you who are the problem; it’s the turkey — inherently bland, inherently insipid. You can’t put lipstick on this particular pig and think it’ll cut the mustard (to mix up the metaphor a bit). Sure, we all ooh and aah at the golden behemoth atop our tables. But face it. We don’t really like the stuff. We eat because we’re supposed to, not because we want to.
The proof is all around us. Throw some steaks on the grill, and you’ll get a crowd. Promise them a turkey, and your company will make excuses. Except during November, no decent restaurant bothers putting turkey on the menu, nor will supermarkets fully stock them any other season. It’s a once-a-year special, you say? Thank God. Who would want it twice a year?
Indeed, turkey — like a bad apple — seems to infect the entire meal. All of the side dishes are equally things we would not dare serve any other day. Molded Jell-O rings filled with shredded carrots and mini marshmallows. Pureed orange stuff that once was a squash. Slimy creamed onions. Candied yams. Stuffing (seriously — soggy bread??). Vegetables boiled so much they might as well be from the 1950s.
We sit down gazing at this repast, taking turns to express our gratitude for one thing or another. I give thanks that, in just a few hours, dinner will finally be over.
Why do we do this? Perhaps it’s some sort of ersatz homage to the first Thanksgiving, the stuff of lore. Mostly incorrect lore, as it turns out. The Pilgrims chowed down on venison, a variety of wildfowl – especially duck or geese – codfish, and bass. But turkey as the flagship? They would have laughed in our faces.
And the alternative? Pretty much anything. Imagine the Thanksgiving issue of, say, Bon Appétit, filled with recipes you’d be happy to serve year-round. If they’re good enough all the time, maybe they should be good enough for the fourth Thursday of November.
Tom Keane is a freelance writer.