The High Maintenance Bird

There has been an interesting confluence of themes in my life lately, especially in regards to my heritage turkey, the history of cocktails, and that rather unnerving southern species of bird known as the turducken, which Jay discoursed on so eloquently here a few days ago.

This morning I awoke to a story on NPR about the farm that raised my Thanksgiving centerpiece, Wish Farms in Prairie City, OR. Then they did a piece about a particular kind of heritage martini, as it were, using Plymouth Gin, which was of course thematically linked to the book I’m reading, Straight Up or On the Rocks: The Story of the American Cocktail, which had this nice little excerpt on the page that I started with this morning:

Turkey Cocktail: To one large turkey add one gallon of vermouth and a demijohn of Angosturo bitters. Shake.
The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald

which seemed really funny on a bus at 8 am this morning after a hard night of primary research on historically important cocktails. But not half so amusing as the read I had upon opening the information packet that accompanied my heritage turkey. First of all, the fact that a turkey should require documentation beyond that which is specified by the Department of Agriculture, is in itself quite amusing. But that it should come with instructions for care and cooking that rival in anal retentiveness the pages of Cook’s Illustrated or the above and below mentioned turducken is really quite a hoot.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled to be participating in the Slow Food movement, and to do my part to help keep a family farm in operation. Being the daughter of a gentleman farmer, I do value the small time agricultural operation and all, but so far as I know, the most instruction my father would provide to a would-be cook about to tackle one of his birds would be along the lines of “well, it’s dead, which I know because I did the backbreaking work of putting the thing out it’s misery. And you should probably cook it before you eat it.”

So the main information sheet is titled “A few words on your Thanksgiving turkey” and assures me that, in fact, Sunday, November 24, 2002 was the correct date of death for my little hen, an 11.5 pound specimen of poultry pulchritude. It reminds me (which is probably not a bad thing to do) that the nasties are in the cavity of the bird and should be removed prior to cooking and then used “in preparing a flavorful stock and/or stuffing.” It also advises me to rinse the bugger inside and out, and just in case I hadn’t thought of it, suggests that “the spray attachment on your kitchen sink is an ideal tool for this job.”

It also reminds me that my American Bronze bird is superior to those that millions of Americans are thawing right now after picking up at their local grocery stores (well, I should hope so, considering that I just paid $40 for an 11 pound turkey!), and as such requires no brining or marinating since they are but “techniques introduced to cope with the blandness of the Standard White supermarket turkey” (which comes as something of a relief, as I was a bit concerned that my first experience not using a pre-brined kosher turkey might result in me making a salty mess of this rare bird). It also gently suggests that extreme methods of cooking, such as smoking and frying, would overwhelm the subtle flavor of my new poultry prize, and implies that I would be insulting the little critter to treat it in such a shocking manner. My bird will also likely take as much as an hour less to cook than its supermarket cousins, owing to its gentle nature. No, this is a delicate creature, and should be treated with the utmost roasting respect, which according to the Slow Food people does have its many variations, and might well entail “high-temp, low-tem or a combination, breast-up, breast-down or a combination, stuffed/unstuffed, basted/unbasted” oven treatment. And here I thought turkey roasting was uncreative!

So this information sheet goes on to advise me that I should remove the bird from the oven the moment the internal temperature reaches 165 so as to avoid drying it out. It also offers the helpful hint that should I be concerned about undercooking the stuffing, I could wrap it cheesecloth, microwave it first and then fill up the bird with it already hot. I wonder, does Heloise know about that one?

And here I thought I was just buying a turkey, not a whole new philosophy on the treatment of poultry products. I hope the organic potatoes I plan to purchase at the Pike Place Market today won’t inform me that they would feel slighted to be mashed with some garden-variety garlic and milk. At least I can assure them that I will be using some very good Irish butter in the mix.