Jessie Raymond: Stuffing the turkey, literally this time
Under normal circumstances, cooking a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is not that complicated.
Yes, putting together so many dishes can be time consuming, but roasting food isn’t that demanding a task: while things cook, you pass the time by looking for the good tablecloth and drinking wine, at least where I come from.
Some people, particularly new cooks, quake at the thought of hosting the most important meal of the year. But the menu hasn’t changed in generations.
Unless mashing potatoes is beyond your abilities, it’s not like you have to stretch your culinary wings. In fact, though I strongly discourage it, you can buy most of the meal pretty much premade; just open a can or add water and you’ve got yourself a Thanksgiving spread.
Look at the basics: turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and potatoes, plus some veggies and — because what a meal like that needs is more carbs — dinner rolls. It’s no harder than a normal meal; it’s just more.
Of course every family has their own specialty side dishes as well, such as green bean casserole or candied sweet potatoes or, at our house, my Italian grandmother’s battered, fried artichoke hearts. (While guests may look askance at these golden morsels for not being Plymouth Rocky enough, one could argue the same about anything topped with marshmallows.)
To manage the volume of food, I recommend making a detailed list and going grocery shopping early in the week. Nobody wants to get stuck in a crowded supermarket at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday night.
That said, I routinely find myself in a crowded supermarket at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday night, usually because I bought sweetened condensed milk when I wanted evaporated milk (or vice versa, I forget) for the pumpkin pie. My last-minute grocery run is, in itself, a tradition.
Still, as I said, under normal circumstances I don’t find Thanksgiving all that challenging. This year, however, is not normal. We have a situation.
A 35-pound situation.
You see, we raised a few turkeys this summer, just for fun. But circumstances changed, and the fun eventually came to an abrupt halt. Now one of those turkeys is set to grace our table this Thanksgiving. It’s more than double the size of last year’s turkey.
The bird measures an inch wider and two inches taller than the interior of our oven. This is a problem.
We could cook it offsite, thanks to a friend with an industrial oven. But a big part of a traditional Thanksgiving is filling the house with the scent of roasting turkey. I will not outsource it.
We could spatchcock it (“spatchcock” is just a naughty-sounding way of saying “butterfly”). This would solve the height issue, but I’d need a three-foot-wide oven.
I could have Mark deep fry it out back. Statistics show, however, that 87 percent of deep-fried turkey attempts wind up as heavily watched YouTube videos that don’t end well. I’d like Mark to keep his eyebrows through the holidays.
That leaves us with cutting the turkey into pieces before cooking. It would certainly work, but where’s the grandeur in that?
My preferred option involves defying the laws of physics and forcing the turkey into an oven space smaller than itself, because I want the traditional roasting experience. Maybe, if we butter it liberally and push hard, it will slide in and assume the shape of the oven.
The worst that can happen is I ruin the turkey. (Actually, that’s pretty bad.)
Then again, as every family knows, mishaps make great fodder for future Thanksgiving table talk. “Remember the time Mom left the bag of giblets in the turkey?” “Remember the time Dad dropped the turkey on the floor?” “Remember the time the turkey was undercooked and everyone got food poisoning?”
A catastrophe eventually becomes a funny story to be told over and over, year after year. That’s tradition.
Maybe we’ll have a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. Or maybe we’ll end up with an anecdote that begins “Remember the time Jessie tried to squeeze a 35-pound greased turkey into the oven?”
In a few years, that’ll be hysterical.