How to Tackle That Turkey
Don’t worry if you can’t afford Michael Powell’s recipe of a lark inside a pigeon inside a chicken inside a goose inside a turkey. Let a graduate of Turkey Tech show you the newest and best ways to give your friends the bird this Christmas
THE sun on the snow in the yard rebounds through the dining-room windows onto the ceiling and falls dazzlingly on the best tablecloth. The family is expectantly gathered not too far from the table. The children come in through the storm entry with icy air clinging to their mackinaws; they shed snow on the rug, which is already specked with tinsel and mica snow. But heat is coming from the kitchen, heat swollen wit h such smells that the oldest veteran of Christmases agrees with the kids it’s time to eat.
The hungerers must not go into the kitchen, however; they have been shooed out a dozen times already. Out there the women are performing mysteries as arcane as nuclear fission, secrets revealed at Christmas every year. In the opulent palette of smells the connoisseur can distinguish the earthy odor of potatoes, bland hints of succotash, vapor or red wine vinegar, tang of cranberries. All these are subdued to the king of smells the turkey is coming out of the oven. The bird crackles and sputters. The cooks exclaim, “My, he looks good !”
Covered side dishes are arrayed on the table like the suburbs of a city to come. Napkins flv open. Knives clash on forks. The smallest child on the thickest mail-order catalogue is crouched for action. Comes an ofY-stage hubbub like the
flourish of trumpets, the kitchen door opens, and, borne on a great platter, is the royal golden bird. Rejoice!
Oh, let the Scots worship their haggis, and the Britons their festive goose. Let the Swedes revel in smorgasbord, the French devour sucking pig, the Argentineans fall on steak. For us Christmas is turkey, the generous fowl that sates the rich and warms the cold plate of charity at the mission dinner. Ring the angle iron, yell into the woods, sing the hymn and say the grace. Let’s eat!
As a white-meat fan from way back your correspondent always thought turkey dinners just happened on Christmas, like Santa Claus. I have been disabused of this notion. To gather the rare information in this article I attended Turkey College and studied with the learned faculty of the U. S. Poultry and Egg National Board, as well as cramming courses conducted by eminent chefs de cuisines. To be honest, I won’t claim I graduated cum laude but I got through without playing football. I like to think my excellent homework tipped the scales. The homework is the hardest part because it obliges you to wrestle a turkey in person. I passed victoriously as was proved by the fact that eight people dined on the turkey I cooked, and lived.
Before we describe that engrossing episode it
may be well to take a brief history course consisting of general orientation and background on turkeys. It is not necessary to make notes during this lecture. The turkey, actually a guinea fowl (Meleagris gallopavo*), was originally a wild North American, ranging from Yucatan to Ontario. The Indians partially domesticated the bird in time for some early tourists, the conquistadores, to take the turkey to Spain. There he got the name turkey because he reminded people of the smaller Turkish guinea fowl already relished in Europe. Turkey quickly appeared on the best groaning boards. Cervantes, who died in 1616, probably ate the noble bird, but Shakespeare, who died the same year, did not, as the turkey did not come to England until eight
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How to Tackle that Turkey
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years later. Some forlorn colonials were the first Englishmen to eat the bird —in 1621 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, when an Indian chef named Squanto roasted native turkeys for their lean stomachs at the first Thanksgiving celebration. About 1625 new Pilgrims arrived bringing the European-educated bird with them. The repatriated gobblers preened themselves and strutted into the woods where they met their wild cousins. This resulted in the founding of several distinguished Turkey families: Bronzes, Narragansetts, White Hollands, Bourbon Reds, Black-and-Slates, Nittanys and Royal Palms.
Let’s cut the history class and take up the saga after three centuries of big feeds and the naps that followed them. A dozen years ago came the second revolution in turkey breeding. Scientific breeders reduced the weight of mature turkeys by half but kept the same amount of white meat with less bone and gristle. The new breed, known as Beltsville White, named after the U. S. Government station in Maryland at which it was developed, was adapted to the smaller family unit and the modern housewife’s dislike of leftovers.
Today Beltsville White and his dwindling flocks of paunchier relatives are a three-hundred-and-twenty-fivemillion-dollar business in the U. S. and Canada. Canada still prefers the bigger birds such as the Bronzes and will this year consume about two and threequarter million turkeys, or forty million pounds.Turkey consumption is rising: this year more than three pounds per person will be eaten. Most Canadian turkeys are raised in Ontario but the prairie provinces do the heaviest per capita turkey eating, according to the Dominion Bureau of Statistics. Texas is the continent’s greatest turkey-producing area. The state’s turkey centre is Cuero, which holds a grand manifestation and feast of souls in November, known as the Cuero Turkey Trot. Throngs come from all over to watch thousands of turkeys marching down Main Street behind a trumpet corps and followed by floats bearing the Sultana of Turkey Trot and her court. The parade is quite an honor for the turkeys, but it ends rather dismally. At the finish of the parade the birds are marched right into the packing house.
So much for history and economics. How about that turkey dinner? When I started my final exam 1 asked the experts what kind of bird to buy. They said a dressed bird. None of the turkeys I saw at the market looked dressed, as they were missing their feathers and quite a few didn’t even have legs and heads. But the poultryman said they were dressed all right,
so 1 didn’t argue. He recommended a ten - and - a - half - pound Beltsville White which would feed eight people, and asked me if I wanted it New York dressed, eviscerated, or cut up. “Come again?” I said politely. He explained that New York dressed meant a plucked bird with his head, feet and innards intact. He would remove them for me. New York dressed had come alive to the market. The eviscerated fowl has had his head, legs and insides removed at the packing plant and arrived in deep freeze. The cut up version is the lazy cook’s turkey, dissembled into drumsticks, wings, and white and dark meat fillets, about ten portions to the bird.
I took a New York-dressed Beltsville White which promised to yield five pounds of cooked meat. Beltsville looked okay according to the experts’ rules for buying a good bird: he was
plump, short of body, broad of breast. He had streaks of fat under his skin, which was clean and waxy. He had only two small bruises. The turkey professors tell you to watch out for excessive bruises, and if you are buying a frozen turkey be sure it is ice-solid and not dried out, blistered or showing freeze burns.
Woohvorth Gives the Bird
The Canadian Department of Agriculture inspects and grades ail dressed turkeys, except home-grown fowl. Producers first grade the birds, from Grade Special through Grades A, B, and C down to D, the limit of edibility. Then government inspectors check a twenty percent sample of the shipment. If the sampling doesn’t meet the producer’s grading the shipment is sent back for regrading. Experts advise the family buyer always to insist on seeing the government tags or marks on the bird. The top Special grade has a purple mark, A is red, B is blue and C is yellow-brown.
The experts told me, by the way, that turkey is cheaper than chicken. It yields more meat per pound cost. Woolworth’s lunch counters found this out long ago—there are one and often two turkey dishes on the lunch-counter menu of the bigger Woohvorth stores several days a week. Turkey is popular among hospital, school and factory caterers for this reason. Turkey is okay for bland diets and contains rich protein, B complex vitamins and minerals, including iron.
I clutched Beltsville White and sped home, stopping only to buy a chef’s cap. This bonnet is essential to male cookery and reproves the women for their irreverent approach to food. I crowned myself as chef de cuisine, and seemed to feel Brillat-Savarin and Escoffier looking approvingly over my shoulder.
I opened the Turkey Handbook, an
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aid published by the Poultry and Egg National Board. There was a typographical error right on the first page. It said a ten-to-twelve-pound turkey had to be cooked four hours in a slow oven. I called to my wife to point out this absurdity. She said the Handbook checked with Fanny Farmer, the Joy of Cooking and Escoffier, and furthermore, with herself. “Cook it four hours,” she said flatly. “Very well,” said I, “I’ll throw in the stuffing and get going.” I looked up stuffing and was arrested by a series of photo-
graphs entitled, Stuffing and Trussing, in which a fiendish pair of human hands seemed to be committing petit-point embroidery on the helpless fowl. There was a list of tools you needed to emulate the pair of hands: four skewers,
a strawberry huiler, paring knife, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaf and clean cord.
An hour later I had assembled this impedimenta. I was running somewhat behind schedule and remembered my wife’s warning, “Turkey takes all day.” Of course women try to make kitchen stuff look hard. I took the strawberry
huiler and attacked the scattered pinfeathers. A half hour later my wife arose from an easy chair where she had been reading a cheap novel and helped remove the last pinfeathers. I put Beltsville under a tap to bathe him. My wife said, “Singe him.” She pointed out that Beltsville had some tiny hairs I had not seen. I set fire to twisted newspaper and singed him expertly. The hair that flared off my eyebrows was nothing and a little salve fixed my fingers.
Beltsville washed, I tackled the stuffing. The book said:
SIMPLE GOOD AND POPULAR STUFFING
1 cup fat 1 cup minced onion
1 stalk diced celery
4 quarts stale bread crumbs
1 tablespoon salt tablespoon pepper
2 tablespoons poultry seasoning lVz to 2 cups broth, milk or water
with butter chopped giblets
That’s what the experts call simple. I remarked to my wife that experts can get pretty narrow on a subject and she said, “Uh huh. Shall I call the guests and say you’ll be late?” I brushed her off. I was involved with a new torture the so-called experts have invented, mincing onions, dicing celery and crumbing stale bread. These turkey scientists ought to get out of the rut and do like the French goose ranchers do. They grow the pâté de foie gras right inside the goose—surely this could be done for turkey stuffing.
Beltsville Gets Buttered Up
A mere half hour later I was ramming the stuffing into Beltsville and then successfully followed the instructions for lacing him up with skewers and cord. Beltsville looked so good I carried him to my wife to admire. She said, “Tear out all that trussing. You have too much stuffing in him. It’ll swell up and bust Beltsville.” I decided to humor her, after a brisk ten-minute argument. I unrigged Beltsville and clawed out half his stuffing. Then I threw another pack hitch on him, lacing over the skewers to close his cavities, fore and aft, and securing his wings amidships. A salt rubdown and a coat of butter made Beltsville ready for the 325-degree oven. I put a buttered cheesecloth over his ample bosom to preserve him from the heat.
I joined my wife in the living room and could not forbear to point out that my turkey was in the oven a mere five hours after I started. “Not bad for a first try,” I added. “You see, ducks, there is no need to take all day and make a big production out of it.” She said, “Do you plan to serve any other dishes with Beltsville?” I chuckled. “The works, my dear. Cranberry sauce, giblet gravy, endive salad with wine vinegar dressing, wild rice, mashed potatoes, sweet poratoes, peas, brown Sicilian bread, black walnuts ...” I couldn’t finish for losing saliva.
“Maybe you should go back to the kitchen and get cooking,” she suggested. Some hours later in my galley the picture unfolded of a panicking man in soggy white cap lost in mashed potatoes, while the guests thronged the room, waving unsteady cocktails, complaining they were hungry and offering banal remarks on the cooking. Halfway through this Walpurgisnacht my wife sounded off, “Beltsville’s finished ! ’ ’
It was pretty satisfying to see the looks of amazement on their pans when Beltsville emerged, bronzed and gleam-
ing and his stuffing straining at the ropes. His girdle was burst but otherwise Beltsville and his author looked like a full-color cover on Gourmet. My wife broke the hushed interlude by barking, “Put him back in the warming oven until you’ve done the rest of the stuif.”
Cries of “No, No!” arose from the guests. A large male guest seized the carving set and we bore Beltsville pell-mell to table. Beltsville made the best turkey sandwiches you ever ingested. If the harpies hadn’t rushed me Beltsville’s sacrifice would have rivaled the Feast of the Field of the Cloth of Gold. I might have even whipped them up some really intricate number like Dindonneau à la Catalane, or young turkey as the Catalans cook same, as touched up by the great Escoffier.
This recipe starts with parts of a young bird which are fried in butter until brown. A pint of white wine is added to the butter, then salt, pepper and a crushed clove of garlic. Cook until the wine is completely reduced. Add tomato purée, brown sauce and brown stock to cover the pieces of turkey. (Did I say you should spend the previous day making purée, sauce and stock?)
Put the dish into the oven for forty minutes, then fish out the turkey portions and put them in a casserole. Add a half pound of quartered mushrooms, sautéed beforehand in butter, and twenty chestnuts which have been cooked in consommé. (One time a fledgling chef in the Hôtel Meurice in Paris used twenty-one chestnuts and had his cap taken away in a ceremony in the grand salon à manger.) Steady on, now, friends. Add twenty small " glazed onions, five quartered tomatoes and ten Spanish sausages. Put the original sauce on top of this and cook for, twenty-five minutes more. Eat, take a nap.
Basting Is for Fusspots
A savory variationon the basic Dugan bird is Roast Maryland Stuffed With Oysters. This number from the eastern shore of Maryland calls for a big tom scaling eighteen to twenty pounds. The stuffing for this Cavalier fowl is composed of a quart of oysters which have simmered in their own liquor until the edges are curled, a half pound of highly seasoned sausage meat browned in a pan, a pound of chopped cooked chestnuts, two stalks of diced celery, a chopped onion, bread crumbs and sage, salt and cayenne pepper. The oysterfed turkey should be carried in following a crabmeat cocktail and a clam bisque with croutons.
There are certain crazed male cooks who go for basting the bird. Unsatisfied with the simple device of covering the beast with a buttered cloth to prevent drying while in the oven these fusspots stir up esoteric gunk and pop their heads in the oven repeatedly to spoon the stuff over the turkey. One sauce starts with a champagne or sparklingcider base and goes on until the cook is laid out by the fumes. A thick sauce of Hawaiian papaya juice and powdered charcoal coated on the bird will - stay on and form a toothsome crust, * without requiring basting. Sealing in the juices with a paste has its defenders. One good one combines mustard, egg yellows, garlic juice and seasoning.
Carving a turkey isn’t difficult—it merely requires firmness and willingness to defy Emily Post if the bird doesn’t behave. After severing the cords and withdrawing the skewers, cut off one of the legs by grasping the knucklebone and cutting along the natural body joint. Then slice the breast longitudinally, cutting down
from the breastbone. Stuffing is removed from the rear exit. There has been no spoon or human hand ever invented that will keep the stuffing from scattering. Forget the carving fork and spoon and use a pair of kitchen tongs of the salad-handling type.
The prodigality of Squanto’s first turkey dinner for the Pilgrims has come down to us in all its heart-burning splendor. Squanto’s recipe for roast turkey will work beautifully on your outdoor fireplace today. He skinned the bird and rubbed it with crushed juniper berries, put it on a spit and
turned it over an open hickory fire. Squanto introduced cranberry sauce to the colonists, the puckish berry that grew then as now in the Atlantic marshes from Carolina to Newfoundland. The Indians sweetened the cranberry sauce with wild honey or maple sap. Probably the original menu included Jerusalem artichokes, which the Indians cultivated. The indigenes had already bred domestic runner beans from Wild twining plants, and the colonists ate them as well as limas and kidney beans. There was succotash, an ancient Indian dish. As a
matter of fact, Squanto’s people used frozen foods. When winter came they made a succotash stew with maize, beans and wild game. They put the batch outside to freeze solid and chipped off hunks as needed during the winter.
Corn breads and Indian pudding were eaten at Squanto’s banquet and the first American chef may have even popped some corn for the kids. Puçnpkin pie, the mandatory dessert with holiday turkey, was not yet evolved from the English pastry shell and the Indian dessert of pumpkin flesh stewed
with maple sap. If you want to follow Squanto’s menu you will start with clam cocktails, “the treasure hid in the sands,” of the Pilgrims.
The abstemious religious refugees whom Squanto fed undoubtedly did not drink wine from the wild grapes of New England but the holiday table today frequently bears an appropriate dry white wine. My own choice of whites is the gin-pale Orvieto which comes from Italy in green hand-blown bulbs nested in ruffia cradles. But tastes differ. People who do not customarily have wine with meals like sweet, heavy
and even red wines with fowl. Go ahead, it’s your picnic. Wine belongs.
Of all meats, turkey leaves the greatest wake of leftovers. The carcass often meets a deplorable fate—the rissole and the croquette. The noble bird does not deserve to be turned into sawdust on the second day. Kindly give the victim the sauce treatment, such as in the superb dish, Turkey Tetrazzini, which may be made of one-to-four-day-old meat.
The baton is lifted on this Tetrazzini aria with a white sauce made with cream and seasoned with celery salt.
Bring the sauce to a boil and add:
a cup or more of cooked turkey in thin strips
l/¿ cup of cooked spaghetti, cut into small pieces
Y¿ cup of mushroom caps, sautéed in butter
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese Stir and transfer to a buttered baking dish. On top put three quarters cup of buttered cracker crumbs and bake in a hot oven until the crumbs are golden brown.
Leftover turkey should not be stored as it was left when the guests arose
and lurched away. Take the carcass, strip off the meat with your fingers. Wrap the meat in foil or airtight waxed-paper packages. Similarly save the stuffing and gravy and bones. If you have the energy left Christmas night, start a broth simmering right away, using the broken bones, a half carrot, a sliced onion, clove of garlic, bay leaf, celery leaves, parsley (and dribs of leftover vegetables), plus salt and several peppercorns. Simmer in a closed pot for two or three hours, cool and strain into jars. This stock is the kickoff for many a fine dish to come. And I don’t mean hash.
I mean, for instance, Brazilian turkey roll. This dish brings folks from all over to a Brazilian cafe in Manhattan. It requires a pancake similar to those used in crepes suzettes. You have a cookbook, haven’t you? Look up crepes. No cookbook? Use thin toast, trimmed of crust.
Melt three tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, blend in two tablespoons of flour, salt and pepper. Add a cup of the soup stock you saved, a half cup of white wine or sherry and a half cup of milk. Pour these liquors in gradually and keep stirring. When the batch has thickened, sprinkle on a mild grated cheese, add eight or ten slabs of sliced turkey, both white and dark meat. Spoon the portions immediately onto a pancake (or toast) and roll it around the fillings. Serve with broccoli. Four souls can lunch nicely on Brazilian turkey rolls.
Kitchen genius can produce all sorts of palatable dishes with leftover fowl, provided you do not hash or grind the flesh up dry. Use the gravy savings and liquid stock, the juices of the princely guinea fowl. He deserves to have them restored while he is being cannibalized during Christmas week.
Eggs Benedict, the paragon of breakfast treats, will take on a turkey twist, either by substituting a slice of white turkey for the ham slice or adding it to the ham. On a grilled English muffin-half put the ham and/or turkey slice, topped by a poached egg, and cover with fresh Hollandaise sauce.
As a matter of fact, even aspics are better than hash.
The English epicure, Michael Powell, who made the films The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffmann, has pronounced the final word on turkey recipes. Powell was researching medieval history when lie came across the menu that was served by Henry V to the five kings after the Battle of Agincourt. Powell resolved to recreate the digestive atmosphere of Agincourt. He felt a keen insight into the fifteenth century could be gained. The recipe at the ancient banquet called for a large swan plucked and eviscerated. The swan was stuffed with a whole goose. The goose was stuffed with a chicken and inside the chicken there was put a pigeon. The pigeon contained a lark, the favorite tidbit of old England. The lark was stuffed with truffles and goose livers.
Powell found everything on the list but the swan. His Majesty is the titular owner of the Thames swans and Powell felt the keeper of the Royal Swans might not appreciate his gustatory experiment. Powell decided to UÍT . a turkey instead of a swan. The poultry was nested and prepared in the draughtiest old castle Powell could rent. He sent invitations to four other gourmets to join him in impersonating the five kings. The ersatz royalties sat down to table and ate of the dish. Powell poured French wines and genuine ancient-type English mead into cavernous mugs. Afterward everybody was feeling plenty medieval.
I plan to try this recipe next Christmas. ★