Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Ave, Charles!

My buddy Charles argues that turkey sucks, and the American culinary tradition at Thanksgiving is in need of a change. Spoiler: while Charles does discuss our upcoming non-traditional meal, he doesn't offer specific recommendations as to which protein should supplant la dinde, except perhaps for a nod toward chicken and duck. I wouldn't mind switching over to a gigantic lobster served with a nice, warm butter-garlic dip.

Some years back, the final battle on the Food Network's "The Next Iron Chef" was between chefs Marco Canora and Marc Forgione. Forgione won that battle partly because, as he claimed, he chose to make a meal based on research about what would have been eaten in 1625, and that meal had absolutely nothing to do with turkey. As I wrote in my post about the Iron Chef battle:

Chef Forgione did his own venison roulade wrapped in caul fat (trivia: the opening credits for Season 7 of "House" feature brief, amusing images of swirling caul fat in addition to all the normal graphics), but he chose chestnuts as a component of his stuffing—a wiser choice given the time constraints. Forgione also decided to forgo the conventional notion of a Thanksgiving dinner, preferring instead to honor a vision of what the first Thanksgiving dinner (Forgione said it occurred in 1625... historians?*) would have been like. He went heavy on seafood and venison for his proteins; I think he also went for the duck. Turkey was nowhere to be found, and neither were white potatoes, since both ingredients were absent from that first Thanksgiving feast. Overall, I thought this was the better strategy, because riskier. I also felt that Forgione produced what was, overall, a more imaginative and tastier-looking menu. Canora's food was generally praised, but the critiques he received were about some embarrassingly basic matters, such as seasoning.

An incomplete clip of that battle is here:

So—to turkey or not to turkey? However you decide to celebrate your Thanksgiving, may your day be a tasty and convivial one.

*Wikipedia says that the meal took place in 1621, and it largely agrees with Forgione's notion of the original dinner ("waterfowl, venison, ham, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash"), but notes that there may also have been wild turkey, a fowl that was abundant back then. However, Wikipedia also says, "...turkey was uncommon as Thanksgiving fare until after 1800. By 1857, turkey had become part of the traditional dinner in New England."


Aaron said...

I'm well known within my friends/family circle for being completely anti-turkey on Thanksgiving. If everyone actually enjoyed it, they'd eat it more than once or twice a year. Give me duck, ham, filet of beef, lamb, seafood...anything but turkey.

As a relate aside: chicken is generally on my "who needs it?" food list. I'm not sickened by it or anything (and actually enjoy jerk chicken and tikka masala) but I don't really understand why anyone would choose it over any number of other meats.

Kevin Kim said...

I'd speculate that white-meat chicken is prized for its texture (when it's cooked right), and for the fact that it's a palette on which to layer any number of flavors. Dark-meat chicken has more of a distinct taste, or so they say, which is why many chicken lovers seem to prefer it over white meat. But even dark meat isn't that strongly flavored, so I can see how a person might develop a "who needs it?" attitude toward chicken in general. I find that certain herbs, spices, and seasonings (even seasonings as simple as salt and pepper) bring out the chicken's natural flavor, so that's one reason why I, at least, remain a fan of the motherclucker.

The Maximum Leader said...

First off, the first Thanksgiving in the English Colonies of North America was in 1619 at Berkeley Plantation, VA. So let us just get that out there. (Though if you want to be even more pedantic about it, I believe the first Thanksgiving was actually in St Augustine, FL in 1565...

Secondly, I do love turkey. We have it at times other than Thanksgiving. To address a good point of Aaron's above, I believe people would eat more turkey if it were easier to prepare. Americans eat pile upon piles of turkey all year round, but it is sliced turkey in sandwich form. It is work to get a full turkey into the oven and cook it up right. And it is time consuming. Even a small bird (10-12 lbs) can take hours. So as a meal, turkey doesn't fit well into the modern American conception of meal preparation.

Thirdly, I am cooking a turkey tomorrow. But have two additional turkeys in reserve for later in the winter. Whole frozen turkeys were on sale at Wegmans for $.25/pound. So I stocked up...

Charles said...

I was suggesting that basically anything could take turkey's place--and I'm totally fine with a sausage-and-pulled-meats substitute, too.

If, like our Maximum Leader, you enjoy turkey, then by all means eat turkey. I'm not saying that we should ban turkey or anything like that. I'm just saying we should stop eating it if we don't really like it, just because it's a "tradition."

I mean, obviously not everyone feels the same way about chicken, either. Aaron is indifferent, but I think a good oven-roasted chicken is divine. To each his own.

Kevin Kim said...

There's a good NatGeo article on the 1619 Thanksgiving celebration here. Interestingly, the settlers (Anglican, not Pilgrim) may have "fasted, not feasted." So the original Thanksgiving celebration may have had a lot in common with the Paleo movement's notion of intermittent fasting. Amusingly, the article notes that, after JFK himself finally acknowledged the historicity of the Virginia Thanksgiving celebration:

"A Richmond newspaper crowed in a headline that 'President Concedes: Virginia Receives Thanksgiving Credit.' (Historians point out, however, that there are several examples of Spanish feasts of thanksgiving prior to the arrival of the English in the New World.)"

So we could take this back even further than 1619 if the topic is "the history of Thanksgiving feasts in America." But 1619 may be the cutoff date if we're talking about "the history of Thanksgiving celebrations held by the English in America."