Monday, January 17, 2005

Turkey day

Before Christmas a savvy shoppper can find very good deals on large, bulky meat products. This savvy shopper located a ten pound turkey for less than six dollars . Hey, we've got a nice holiday centerpiece!

Then this savvy shopper located another less-than-six-dollar large hunk of meat. A ham. And the next week another ham, similarly priced.

I baked one ham over the holidays, and it was lovely. I served it with homemade au-gratin potatoes, fresh garlic buttered green beans, and home-baked rye crescent rolls. Yum. The turkey stayed in the freezer, along with the other ham.

And then I was done with the big production dinners for the season. I needed a break from the kitchen. Lately hot dogs and tater tots were about all you could talk me into without some grumbling from the surly chef-- not the nice endearing chef-about-to-create-a-culinary-masterpiece surliness, which can be forgiven and, indeed, adds to the succulence of a finely prepared dish-- but the whiny, irritating attitude of a lazy, burned-out chef who wouldn't be worthy to even watch Iron Chef, assuming he had cable.

But there were these two large, frozen, meaty things clogging up our freezer. Getting in the way and nearly breaking feet when they would suddenly leap out onto the floor while one accessed the ice trays.

Since ham was the last Big Meat I prepared, it seemed logical to do turkey next, and so I took the Damn Thing out of the freezer Friday morning and cleared out half of the bottom shelf of the fridge for it to thaw for two days. No brining the bird as it was pre-basted "with up to 8% of a solution". Hey, I said it was cheap.

And, yes, today I Cooked The Turkey. Oiled and salted it. Stuffed the cavity with aromatics: fresh herbs and whole spices and garlic and onion. Aluminum foil tent and hot oven at first then temp dropped. Chopped off the wing ends, tail, and skin flaps to make gravy along with the neck, gizzard, and heart. Added carrot, celery, onion, parsley, and garlic to the stock pot. Took an end of homemade bread baked last week to make croutons for stuffing along with cajun wild rice blend. Meat and veggies and strained bits from stock along with rice and bread and seasoning and stock for stuffing. Added flour and half and half to stock with pan drippings to make gravy. Brown 'n' serve rolls. And, yes, I used canned green beans this time, dammit. And forgot to add the chopped hazelnuts to the stuffing.

It was utterly delicious, but somehow a turkey without any Event to require all that trouble just seemed to lack something. And now we've got huge containers full of leftover turkey, stuffing, and gravy, yet I'm oddly unexcited. After Thanksgiving I really look forward to a week of turkey sandwiches-- better than the original dinner, in some ways-- yet this time I'm oddly unconcerned about the leftovers.

I stuck the bones and odd bits of meat into a stock pot and I'm going to make turkey and dumplings on the coldest day we should have this week (Tuesday), but it seems like another chore and not the joyous cooking thrill it would have been before the first of the year.

For some odd reason after the first of the year I emotionally need a time of simple foods. Before the new year is the time for excessive preparations and inordinately large meat products. Turkey in January just seems wrong, somehow.

But, living in New Orleans, this really should be the time when Big Meat ought to be prepared, it being carnival season, that time between Twelvth Night and Mardi Gras. Since carnival comes from the Latin carne vale, or "farewell to meat", one really should consume any leftover meats acquired during the holidays. Mardi Gras literally means "fat Tuesday" because it's the day you're supposed to use of the last of your fat stores before lent since drippings would be prohibited. Not that I've become Catholic, but if one likes the parades one feels the need to at least pretend to appreciate the other aspects of the celebration.

Turkey today still strikes me as weird, for some reason. I'm feeling oddly like a stereotypical Lutheran as described by Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion, who has a deep, emotional need to suffer in the wintertime as pennance for any sinful excesses commited during the holiday season. Real or imagined.


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