The perfect Thanksgiving Dinner requires the perfect turkey. Right? The image that best captures this was made by Norman Rockwell. And that picture, that unattainable goal, has stressed holiday hosts far more than determining who has to sit next to Uncle Bill, who talks nonstop at the table, waving his loaded fork while gravy and cranberry sauce rain down on those closest to him. Curse you, Mr. Rockwell, and every November food magazine with a cover photo of a Martha Stewart-like Thanksgiving spread. Those picture-perfect spreads taunt us at the checkout lane as the cashier rings up our can of cranberries. That bronze beauty of a bird will never grace my or your holiday table. But we will try. Pour a glass of wine …or a mug of mulled cider…and consider these options.
Think back to past turkey dinners you have attended. Who asks for a wing? Do guests ever help themselves to those mammoth legs? Unlikely. (Unless your guests include Renaissance festival groupies). If the white meat is the clear choice, roast just the breast. So much easier.
Deep fry a whole turkey. Really? If your family gathering needs more drama, by all means, risk creating a fireball. And have an extra pumpkin pie set aside for the firefighters who come to extinguish the bird and your dreams of the perfect Thanksgiving meal. Smoke the star of the meal. It will look great, taste wonderful, and given that T-day temps in MN can hover well below freezing, be sure to smile before your face freezes as you spend 12 hours outside monitoring it.
Hide the bird. No. Not in the garage. Surround it with delicious sides; gourmet ones, for sure, but be sure to have sweet potatoes covered with golden brown marshmallows (which will divert their attention from the pale turkey). Darken the dining room and bring out those candle holders that you inherited. Candlelight equals dim light, and it will hide your wrinkles and the un-photogenic bird; a win/win option.
Do what many professional cooks suggest: cut the bird up prior to cooking. Dark meat takes longer to cook, so put it in the oven first. You can have moist white meat and dark meat that doesn’t look as bloody as an episode of Game of Thrones. And you avoid wrestling a 20-pound hot bird, which can be challenging, not to mention seriously dangerous.
But you insist on duplicating the Rockwell picture? Then do The Switch. Hire a food stylist to mimic the cover photos of turkeys by working their magic: they will spray paint the bird so that it is as brown as a Scandinavian Minnesotan after they have logged too many hours in a tanning bed while preparing to visit the tropics in January. Saliva will flow when this totally inedible dish is presented. Bring the prop bird to the table and savor the oohs and aahs. Then run it back to the kitchen, bring the precooked and presliced bird out of the fridge, microwave it, clang the knife on the sharpening stone, and return to the dining room with the steaming platter of sliced turkey. And don’t forget to add a sprig of parsley.
Enjoy the feast, but the focus should be on family and friends.