I won’t bore you with a crabby, cliché-riddled tirade against materialism and the mania that infects our nation during the calendar’s final months. You’ve heard that many times by now, and you’re either down with it or you’re down at the mall.
But there are other things we do, sabotaging our own best interests in the name of Holiday Spirit. We do them unconsciously. We never question them. To do so would be heresy. So that’s what I aim to do.
We have all done it; we’ve all striven to recreate that Normal Rockwell picture. The family sits gathered at the table, faces all scrubbed and shiny, the place settings done to Martha Stewart perfection, awaiting the Great Reveal. Then the time arrives, the grand moment when the chef of the house emerges from the kitchen, plattered gustatory masterpiece in hand, and sets it down among a constellation of traditional sides, their aromatic steam rising in thready wisps.
This is the image. This is the picture we attempt to recreate. We stress and fret and plan and organize and bicker, and what we end up with is a shadow, a phantom of that mental picture. It looks right, but it’s empty; yet we enjoy it. We enjoy it because it is tradition, we enjoy it because it’s familiar. We enjoy it because we always have enjoyed it and we don’t want to not enjoy it.
But I have to be honest with you; the best holiday meals I’ve had are the ones that broke with tradition, the meals that went “outside the box.” Over the years, I’ve questioned and re-imagined every aspect of the holiday meal, from appetizer to yams. Every aspect except one.
Let’s talk turkey.
I’ve tried a dozen methods of cooking turkey. I’ve steamed them in bags (paper and plastic), I’ve roasted them in ovens, I’ve barbecued them on grills. I’ve prepped them with rubs, with brines, and with marinades. I’ve set temps high-then-low, and I’ve set them low-then-high. But all these methods have been a futile endeavor to give the domestic American turkey something it doesn’t have: succulence and flavor. In the end I get the same thing every time: a large amount of bland-tasting meat flavored only by whatever spices I took a fancy to throw at it.
In short, turkey is boring. It’s so boring, in fact, that I’ve decided to forego them in the future. Turkey simply isn’t worth the effort.
I love to cook, and when I cook for others, it’s an expression of love. To be frank, I’d rather serve my holiday guests a top-notch burger that makes their eyes roll back in their heads than another plate carved from the Wonder Bread of the poultry world.
So, from now on, I’m going to start thinking completely outside the box. Traditions be damned. I’ll entertain most anything—goose, duck, pheasant, capon, rack of lamb, filet mignon, hamburgers, or nut-loaf—whatever it takes to make the meal taste good, rather than simply look good.
Yes. Nut loaf.