For those of you who have already started baking and cooking for Thanksgiving dinner, including noting every element of the meal on a spreadsheet, right down to the last pumpkin pie crumb, it’s okay if you stop reading right here.
But for the rest of us who are sweating it out and counting down the days (we have six left as of Friday morning) before the Super Bowl of Dinners hits tables across America, hang on. We’ve got you covered, or at least we can try to lower your blood pressure before Aunt Martha announces her presence next Thursday with the statement, “I smell something burning.”
The reality of the year’s prime time event is that the meal probably never achieved a level of presentation worthy of Martha Stewart as the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony pulled the benches up on their plank tables and feasted on a relatively scarce of food.
Thanks to the agricultural leadership of the local Wampanoag Indians – who likely helped in an effort to avert or mitigate what they expected could (and would) be an eventual bloody land grab – the three-day feast four hundred years ago may have included wild turkeys, but it also featured venison, corn, squash, and hearty seafood. Potatoes weren’t introduced from South America until the 1620s, but they remained unpopular until Thomas Jefferson served them to dinner guests at the White House. And while there were pumpkins and more pumpkins, there was no butter, sugar, or wheat flour to make a crust to pour pumpkin puree into.
So why do we go all out and exhaust ourselves to create the perfect meal?
The Thanksgiving meal is a respite. It’s a truce between warring factions dating back to November 1621. Fast forward 401 years and we can agree that the day still recognizes that someone won an election (or a land grab) and the other party didn’t, but regardless of winners and losers, we will break bread together and celebrate the concept of peace for a glimpse of a moment.
The beginnings of the holiday are a myth, but as myths go, the time is worth spending getting together and cooking together with friends and family. Raising a glass and wishing the coming year to be calmer, more peaceful, more productive, healthier, and happier for all, in that momentary glimpse we may discover that peace is a worthwhile pursuit.
But if that means we have to include a huge bird to document these wishes, so be it. Game start!
Turkey often takes center stage on the plate
Simply put, the size of a turkey strikes fear for a variety of good reasons: Carrying a 12-pound chicken in and out of the oven increases your risk of all kinds of physical injuries; the times for roasting a large amount of meat vary based on the size of the oven and the temperature accuracy of an oven; and honestly, if you only make gravy once a year, it’s hard to remember how to get that smooth texture, if you’ve actually ever done it correctly.
After that, the huge bird – now roasted into submission – has to be carved, which is an art in its own right.
Or, as a now-deleted Instagram comment on the NYTCoking page whined, “Stop shoving the emotional labor of cooking the perfect turkey down people’s throats for a moment. Thanksgiving is bondage.
If you decide to forego the Big Bird and replace it with chicken or pumpkin hash dinner, there are plenty of reasons why it might be a smart move this year.
Turkey’s prices have been rising even before the pandemic, which has limited production. Highly pathogenic avian influenza killed flocks of poultry during the wild bird migration season this year, including an estimated 7.3 million turkeys to date. Producers expect turkey prices to rise 20% over last year.
However, there are still deals to be found.
King Soopers has its Kroger-brand turkeys for sale for 77 cents a pound, and if you decide to forego roasting your own, you can order a pre-cooked Popeye’s Cajun-style turkey at your local Popeye’s for pickup, priced at $ 49.99 plus tax, while supplies last. All you have to do is defrost, reheat and yes, cut before serving to your guests.
If you decide to roast your own, here are some tips to keep up:
Brining can be done by wet or dry methods. Both work to help the bird retain moisture as it roasts, which is especially difficult because a bird has both drier white meat and fatter dark meat, each of which cooks at different rates.
Savory Spice sells brine kits for 12-15 lb turkeys. The bird is immersed in a liquid composed of salt, sugar and spices which give citrus, peppery, garlicky and herbaceous notes. Refrigerate and steep in brine for 1 hour per pound, then roast for 15 minutes per pound. The turkey roasts in the bag (placed in a roasting pan), making cleanup easy.
Dry brining is simpler and less messy. All it needs is coarse salt, like Kosher or Diamond Crystal. Rub the turkey inside and out with salt and let it sit uncovered on a rack in the refrigerator for up to two days. Salt draws out moisture and dissolves muscle protein, which makes the meat more tender.
Spatchcocking (also called butterflying) the bird by cutting it into sections or removing the backbone and skinning the bird helps control the rate and temperature of the faster-cooking lean white meat because it lowers the bird’s center of gravity. Spatchcocking creates an equal level for different types of meat.
For a unique connection that covers the basics of brining and spatchcocking, along with how to achieve the crispiest brown skin, the smoothest gravy, and a myriad of flavor ideas ranging from garlic aioli turkey with lemon parsley salsa to fried turkey wings with cranberry glaze, check out Epicurious where you’ll discover turkey 47 different ways.
Are you still worried about the turkey? Let’s talk about wine
Wine consumption has increased over the past 10 years, including a nearly 10% jump between 2020-21. According to Wisevoter, a bipartisan education platform that helps voters delve into issues, Americans drank an average of 3.18 liters in 2021.
Colorado wine drinkers prefer Pinot noir, a perfect companion to turkey thanks to its light to medium body, making it less heavy than a robust Cabernet Sauvignon. Fruity with black cherry and berry notes, the Pinot is juicy enough to balance out the gamey turkey flavors. This younger wine also accentuates the rest of the festive meal. In that, you might think of it as the great equalizer in a glass of wine.
And it’s worth remembering that it never hurts to taste the wine before serving it to your guests. Open a bottle and pour a glass. Before long, that big bird will be your new best friend.