I don’t like turkey.
This will come as a shock to my family, who as I grew up watched me order a turkey sandwich every time we went out to eat. It didn’t matter where we went or when–breakfast at IHOP, dinner at Denny’s, a special meal at Sabella’s–I always ordered a turkey sandwich. (I was also always served last, but that’s an entirely different story.) I would order the turkey sandwich, the club sandwich, or (in a pinch) the hot turkey open-face sandwich; it didn’t really matter as long as it had turkey.
I loved turkey.
In those days, Thanksgiving was a week of celebratory anticipation and indulgence. It began on Tuesday when Mr. Kaufman, our milkman, delivered the turkey, and it continued on into the next week until I’d finally picked the carcass clean. You could keep your dressing and your green beans with those dried onion sprinkles and your yams with marshmallows on them. Bah! Feh! Not worthy! Not when there was turkey to be gobbled.
It wasn’t just the skin, that delicious poultry version of cracklin’s, that sent me into paroxysms of gustatory joy. It was the dark meat of the bird, too: the flavorful thighs, the crisp wings, and the drumsticks with their battery of gnawable tendons, crackable bones, and built-in toothpick. It was a reward to savor turkey after a year spent in the desert of chickeny blandness.
In short, turkey was the apotheosis of poultry.
Then something changed. Was it that turkeys, too, became less flavorful as they became mass-produced as their chicken cousins had been for so long? Or was it that my palate, introduced to other, truly flavorful fare, could discern how mediocre turkeys actually tasted? Or was it that Thanksgiving itself, as it was subsumed (or, more aptly, “consumed”) by the invasionary forces of Christmas, became less of an affair, more of a meaningless tradition, and lost its savor along with its nostalgic glow?
It doesn’t really matter what changed, only that it did. For the last decade or so I tried to make it work. I tried cooking them in bags, brining them, grilling them over hardwood flames, rubbing them with homemade blends of spices I’d gathered from around the world. With stuffing, without stuffing, spatchcocked, butterflied, or deboned. It didn’t matter.
The magic was gone.
But I want to try to rekindle it, and that’s going to require a reboot.
So, this year, no turkey. Instead, I went out and purchased an organically fed, free-range goose, an animal that had a relatively pleasant existence prior to being taken for my table. It’s smaller than the grotesquely large, saline-injected toms down at Safeway, but that’s fine. I shall use every bit of it, from saving its rendered fat to using its bones and offal for stock. None of it shall be cast aside without providing sustenance.
Another change is that I shall not be responsible for the entire meal, or even most of it. Instead, the family will join me in the kitchen, each one crafting her own favorite dish. Together we will build the feast. The goose will be rubbed with citrus and rosemary and roasted. Sweet potatoes will be topped with pralines. Gorgonzola will melt over broccoli. Crisp-crusted bread will crack under the knife. Garden greens will glisten with vinaigrette. Peaches will be cobbled.
It will not be Martha Stewart. It will be an eclectic conglomeration of tastes and styles. It will be a family affair.
It may not seem like the best idea to arm one’s family with knives and put them in a small, heated room for a couple of hours, especially if alcohol is allowed, but I feel confident that most of us will survive to watch the Seahawks game. And, hopefully, we’ll be able to bring back some of that lost magic and burnish Thanksgiving’s tarnished gleam.