Thanksgiving, With Abandon
Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all
–Harriet van Horne
I have long believed that good food, good eating is all about risk
I’ve gone over to the dark side.
For years I’ve posted my annual Thanksgiving treatise on How to Roast a Perfect Turkey How to Roast a Perfect Turkey Without Bags or Brines or Gallons of Hot Oil–a post that gives common sense tips on how to roast a turkey and preaches the gospel of good ingredients and simplicity. Without fail I’ve followed this method for decades (with one exception: the year I roasted my bird at 425 degrees) and the results have been very good, but only occasionally spectacular.
This year, inspired by a killer New York Times Thanksgiving section and the heavenly pure roasted poultry flavor of a succulent and fat Whole Foods chicken I recently made using Julia Child’s classic recipe coupled with the lingering stench of utter disappointment over last year’s first-ever organic turkey that wasn’t the pure poetry I’d imagined it would be, I’ve decided to ignore my own advice.
I am nothing if not a girl who changes her mind.
Ask Greg. It infuriates him every time I pronounce a plan as if I’d hammered it myself in stone only to hours later think of something better. In this way, Sunday breakfast in bed with the big pancake and the New York Times becomes a trip to Jamestown for Rainbow’s killer New Orleans Benedict and the Merc’s famous hold-the-orange juice mimosas, followed by a hike around the peeper pond with River.
This year, I require ritual not rote repetition, danger not dutiful adherence to the tried and true. Plus I’m gaming for spectacle and the spectacular. So it is with fist raised that I announce that I’ve done what I’ve long preached no one ever need do: Dear Reader, I’ve brined my turkey. It’s in the fridge as I write, rubbed with salt (1/2 teaspoon per pound), pepper, and lemon zest–double bagged with bunches of fresh rosemary, thyme and sage, along with garlic from our summer garden.
I’ll be honest: I’ve been on the brining bandwagon for a while now—having perfected my fried chicken this summer when I discovered the secret of adding two tablespoons of Kosher salt to the bathed-in-buttermilk-overnight bird. The result, fueled by spectacular discovery that a mixture of half arrowroot and half tapioca flour produces the crispiest chicken ever, took the top of my head right off.
This year, when I came across a recipe for dry-brined turkey, I happily shucked my sack of pontifications about simplicity and turkey perfection and left them alongside the road. Leaping, in this case, not just with abandon, but with a genuine thrill at the risk.
I’ve gone on record as saying I grow easily bored with menus. In this, I am no traditionalist. I don’t want to eat the same things year in and year out, though there is certainly pleasure in revisiting favorites. But think of this: When you remember your favorite meals, it’s really the first time you had them that you conjure or more likely who you had them with. Greg still says the first time I cooked him fried chicken (unbrined, overdone, and frankly, a bit burnt) on the day we met for the first time in the park in Boulder was the best. We both can count our disappointment on the second visit to a new restaurant, noting how the food was just not the same. Newness, my lovelies, makes the experiences richer, deeper, and infinitely more sexy. So, of course, does the company.
So I’m sexifying my Thanksgiving this year.
I’ve got Greg, but I’ll also have a brined bird and I’ll be using hard cider to flavor the pan drippings and gravy and adding a sliced beet and apple salad with cider vinegar, pistachios and a bit of horseradish to the menu. Together with my other salad (shaved Brussels and escarole with marcona almonds, pickled onions, and champagne vinegar and buttermilk vinaigrette), these two dishes will skewer the too often too heavy and too brown Thanksgiving list of favorites: Sausage and dried apple dressing, larded mashed potatoes, the big brown bird, and of course (for everyone but me), rolls with butter.
Following Montagne–“The art of dining well is no slight art, the pleasure no slight pleasure“–I’m trading in the tried and true to risk a deeper desire—the one that comes from walking out to the edge and a new vista to see what there is to see.