It’s about innovation. Raising the bar. Pushing the envelope. Transforming your turkey into the next best culinary experience. It’s an Evolutionary Thanksgiving…. Maybe.
Alton Brown is an Evolutionary. He’s a “scientist” of culinary evolution, a food worshiper of great fame, and the host of “The Next Iron Chef” on Food Network. Trust me when I say “this guy can talk turkey!”
In a recent interview, Brown offered some tips and dare I say… mandates for Thanksgiving. He told us everything we need to know if we really want to “wow” people this holiday.
- Rule 1: Brine is magical.
- Rule 2: Stuffing is evil.
- Rule 3: Spatchcock your turkey.
- Rule 4: Cook that turkey fast!
Why you must follow these rules:
Brining is the Holy Grail when it comes to delivering a moist turkey to your Thanksgiving table, according to many epicurean experts. Some people believe that basting will solve this problem – but according to Brown those folks are fools! Basting does nothing but moisten the skin – and the skin protects the meat so none of your tedious basting efforts can penetrate that iron-clad barrier my friends! At best, basting gives you a nice flavorful skin – which almost no one eats anymore and therefore hardly matters.
And forget about that soft, juicy stuffing you loved. Brown says: “Stuffing is a recipe for overcooking the bird. You’re basically making an edible envelope for that stuffing. It’s now about the stuffing, because you need to make sure that that stuffing gets above the instant-kill temperature for salmonella.”
Spatchcocking is a fancy word for butterflying. You should remove the backbone, butterfly the bird and then put it into a hot oven. It can be done in as little as 45 minutes and promises to be delicious! Fast cooking means locking in moisture and flavor. As one Brown follower described it: “It’s a Thanksgiving miracle.”
Now imagine a similar set of rules and innovative demands applied to each of your side dishes, as well as accommodating your vegan cousin, your diabetic grandmother and your sister who is trying a new gluten-free diet and you are ready to go for your 2012 Evolutionary Thanksgiving!
Or, if this all sounds a bit stressful, there is another way…
“Thanksgiving is not easy,” says Sam Sifton, New York Times restaurant critic, food columnist and author of Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well.
Sifton cites Thanksgiving stresses like drunk uncles, tense travel, itsy-bitsy ovens, family feuds and, of course, the dinner itself as but a few of the obstacles between you and a perfect holiday experience.
In today’s modern times, Sifton tells us, people live smaller, have less children, two-income busy households and a myriad of choices in inexpensive packaged and restaurant food to keep us nourished. Very few people in America cook on a daily or weekly basis for 12-18 people. It’s just not something we do frequently anymore. So, when a holiday like Thanksgiving rolls around with the demands of a home cooked meal for a crowd, and then we layer on top of that the trends toward innovation, culinary excellence, and experimentation – to put it simply, people “freak out.” It’s just too much pressure.
In response, Sifton pushes us to consider a wild idea: What if Thanksgiving is not actually about the food? Sifton tells us to “Relax! Forget innovation. No ham, no swordfish, no beef tenderloin.” He reminds us that Thanksgiving is a day to be grateful, and to share our thanks by sitting down to a meal with family and friends. He goes on to claim that there is no holiday as truly American as Thanksgiving – not even the 4th of July. What could be more American than people who either fled religious persecution or overcame transport as chattel rising to a standard of life where they can place ridiculous amounts of food on a giant harvest table and say “haha!”?
So, Sifton offers us three simple rules:
- There should be a Turkey.
His turkey recipes come in two forms: simple and simpler. As for side dishes, Sifton tells us, “There’s very little you can’t fix with butter.”
- There must be pie.
“Have that apple pie, American as apple pie, on this most American of holidays, it’s just terrific, and I declare, a must.”
- Don’t try new things on Thanksgiving.
“This is not a time for experimenting with a new recipe. Let everyone bring their favorite traditional dishes, mash up some buttery potatoes, and count your blessings for another year with family, friends, and love.”
One positive thing the Great Recession has done for America was to remind us all of what is really important in life. Our values, our families, our friends, our health and our shared experiences. On this Thanksgiving, take a break from the pressure. Don’t worry about striving for perfection, impressing outsiders, or creating the next culinary masterpiece. Keep it simple. Share your love. And take care of each other.