Monday, January 27, 2020 -
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Upside down

WITH the colors becoming more muted — shades of copper, chestnut and mahogany — November arrives with a gust of wind at the doorway. In my family we have the birthday group, The Novemberists. It seems like practically every other day is someone else’s birthday, and quite a few of them are in the week leading up to Thanksgiving.

That’s when all the turkey talk begins and preparations for the big day begin in earnest. So in our family Thanksgiving becomes a hybrid holiday-birthday time. Most of the time it is more of a Thanksgiving Shabbos menu than anything else.

There is something nice about Thanksgiving, it being the least commercialized of American holidays. There is little expense involved, no pressure of presents to buy, costumes to prepare or, as on Jewish holidays, halachot (laws) to observe. It’s just a day of family with the warmth of food to enjoy and the pause of crowning this day of bounty with the grace of gratitude. That is the essence of the day.

As someone who was raised in Israel, the very fist time I heard people talk about Turkey Day I was in the seventh grade, when we moved back to Denver. At first I genuinely had no clue what people were talking about celebrating, Chalk that up to the only turkey I knew at the time: Turkey, or Turkiyyah, as the Middle Eastern country near Israel is called in Hebrew. Picturing ancient Istanbul markets, I was confused as to “Turkey’s” central role in American life, but hey, what did I know? It was America, and anything goes, right?

But pretty quickly I learned and grasped the importance of what a turkey, as in the bird, was, what it symbolized, not to mention how it tasted.

It has been a mighty nice, unforgettable lesson ever since; as has been my respect for cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing and pumpkin pie.

SOMEHOW, though, the turkey bird itself is what creates much of the pre-Thanksgiving hype.

How many days in advance should it be defrosted? To brine or not to brine? To stuff or not to stuff? And how to avoid the worst culinary Thanksgiving day fear of all — the dried out turkey?

The truth is, much of the time, my mother prepared a turkey breast and not a whole turkey. One year I remember us laughing as my mom mixed a heimish 1980s ketchup, apricot jam and onion soup mix sauce for the turkey, and I jokingly sang Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair,” substituting the above ingredients for the original lyrics of “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.” Sing it in your mind for a minute, “apricot jam, ketchup and onion soup miiiiiiix.” What? It doesn’t exactly conjure up an American, Norman Rockwell-like portrait of Thanksgiving?

OK, it was an abberation, as normally we are turkey purists here, all about stuffing the cavity of the turkey with the aromatics of herbs, citrus and garlic, paying homage to that trifecta of herbs from Scarborough Fair.

OVER the years, I have heard many a tip and trick for turning out that beautiful, perfect turkey: bronzed, crisp and juicy. One year a friend of mine, a chef, who truly did prepare the best Thanksgiving turkeys I have ever tasted, told me the secret: Bake the turkey upside down. That way, the breast, the driest part of the turkey, absorbs the dripping juices from the fattier dark meat above.

Then there is the whole discussion about carving the turkey.

Sometimes it feels like you need to be a surgeon to execute this culinary task properly.

Basically, I just cut separate pieces of the anatomy (such as the leg or breast) and then slice them across, on the perpendicular side of the cut. The slices are smaller, but just as moist, tasty and juicy.

For the cranberry sauce, be sure to let all those sugary cranberries pop before you remove the sauce from the stove. Those popped cranberries release the pectin that will help the magenta sauce gel into the delicious relish of the day.

For the gravy, it’s all about quickly stirring flour into the fatty pan juices and adding some stock and wine.

And the pies? Pecan, apple and pumpkin — they just need to be in abundance for you to see, lining the counters throughout the meal, and you are all set.

So, back to the turkey, what is an easy and delicious way to prepare one?

Just take some of you favorite herbs and mix them in with margarine or a neutral oil. Rub and spread the mixture all over the skin of the bird, as well as under it. Stuff the cavity of the turkey with aromatics and citrus. Sprinkle salt and pepper.

Place the turkey in a 450° oven (or higher) for 20 to 30 minutes. The heat blast gives it that beautiful crisp bronzed texture and color. Then lower the heat to 350°. Cover the breast of the turkey with foil and bake the turkey approximately 20 minutes per pound, minus one pound to compensate for the initial high heat. Let the turkey cool before carving.

That’s it, folks. Bete’avon. Bon Apetit.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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