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Get real, all this fuss is for the birds

November 24, 2005|By Tim Rowland

If it is not too late, this morning I beg of you: Leave your turkey alone. Just leave it alone. Do not soak it. Do not submerge it in 40 gallons of boiling oil. Do not rotate it. Do not cook it upside down, sideways or on coathangers. Do not tie it up, surgically remove the bones, stuff it with other fowl or in other fowl. Do not inject it, brush it, flip it or put it into any of those other trampoline acts they show on the food channels that are desperately clawing for some "new technique."

Look, it's just a turkey.

Throw it in the oven, turn on the heat and forget it. You will be ever so much happier that way. So what if it's dry? So are pretzels. In fact, tell your guests up front that you plan on it being dry. Tell them to deal with it. That's what gravy's for. If they complain, walk over to their plate and slop some creamed onions on it.

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All through the Thanksgiving holidays, people talk about dry turkey like it's nuclear winter or something. It isn't. Dry turkey is not a Rhode Island-sized asteroid hitting the planet. It is not a seltzer bottle filled with ebola.

You think a caveman ever complained to his wife over dry pterodactyl? Come on. Yet we spend hours witch-doctoring over turkeys trying to ensure that the white is moist and the dark isn't raw. And then, with all that angst and fuss and investment, if it isn't perfect it ruins the day. What's a little dry turkey if you get to relax and enjoy the day? Too many people let the turkey consume them, instead of the other way around.

Of course, some will point out that this is easy for me to say, since I'm a dark meat person. Our whole family is. In fact, any time someone in the family tree got engaged, the first question we were asked was: Does she like white meat or dark? If she liked dark meat, too, we had to find someone else.

What finally caused me to shear a pin over this issue was a newspaper article which - I am not kidding - recommended strapping ice packs to the breast so it would take longer to cook and thereby achieve perfect doneness at the same time as the drumsticks.

But if you are going to treat your turkey as if it were a sprained ankle or something, you have officially Gone Too Far. Even if it works and the turkey is great, I think at that point you have to wonder about yourself as a human being.

Pretty much all I know about cooking I've learned from Alton Brown on the Food Network. Even if you hate cooking, you've got to love Alton. He's the guy who tells you all the chemical reactions that it takes to make, say mayonnaise. He's cooking while he's explaining about the finer points of wheat gluten, and he might be making a yellow cake or he might be making yellow-cake uranium, you're not really sure.

He's wildly funny, and I only use him as an example here out of love. But his roast turkey recipe has 14 ingredients, and that's not even counting the turkey.

The ingredients include stuff like allspice berries and candied ginger - you know, all the stuff you ask for at Food Lion and they look at you as if you have just asked them their grandmother's opinion of nanotechnology. For me, I draw the line at capers. Any ingredient north of capers, forget it. Never once has a houseguest taken a bite of turkey and said, "It's OK I guess, but it really could have used another shot of candied ginger."

So all these ingredients are employed at some point or another, at which point you cut to the cooking chase: "Roast on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F. for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cover breast with double layer of aluminum foil, insert probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and return to oven, reducing temperature to 350 degrees F. Set thermometer alarm to 161 degrees.

Not 160. Not 162. 161. And the "lowest level" of the oven is all well and good, but I have been known to put the turkey in the oven without turning on the heat, or conversely, turning on the oven, but - well, you know. If the bird is in and the oven is on, I consider it a win.

Is a turkey that is not open to criticism worth all this extra effort? It may be for you, but to me it is just a big pain in the probe thermometer. I have other concerns. To my mind, if the good Lord had wanted us to invest all our time and energy into turkeynomics, he wouldn't have invented Thanksgiving Day football.

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