Maybe it’s grotesquely late to be posting anything about thanksgiving, but here goes. Life is that way sometimes. Not only is it easy to find myself consumed with the usual swirling and effervescent distraction of everyday life – sometimes bigger things happen.
To wit; a braided stainless steel water line – the exact sort that people install for the fact that they do not burst, did just that. Luckily it wasn’t in my own house – unfortunately it was in the house which my parents own but weren’t in occupation of at the time of its inexplicable failure. It developed some sort of aneurysm at the midpoint of itself, burst as any good aneurysm is apt to do in time, and proceeded to fill the house and crawlspace with what my engineer father has calculated at about 80,000 gallons of water. He’ll know for sure, of course, when the water bill comes. Just in time for some Christmas cheer… Fortunately they had a very thick shag carpet in their master bedroom which they’d been wanting to replace. Fortunately they hadn’t quite gotten around to that yet. Shag carpets are great for one thing I’ve found, beyond the laughter of association with Brady Bunch aesthetics; it acted as a sort of gigantic tampon, absorbing massive amounts of water, thus forcing the flow to find its way into the duct work and crawlspace rather than the other living areas of the house.
As a result, Thanksgiving this year was a potluck affair. By virtue of suggesting it and spearheading it, I naturally offered to take care of the turkey, dressing and gravy. I’m thankful that my family knows and loves me enough to understand that I almost always make things a platform for experimentation and improvisation. I have reasons – aside from the fact that it satisfies and occupies me and allows me to space it out over days – my beloved oven is dying. There’s some strange wiring thing going on, a frightening glitch that makes it appear as if it won’t actually fully turn off without the breaker being switched off.
I’ve tried rewiring connectors to no particular avail. I’m attached to the beast and I’d rather fix it than replace it, but sometimes life makes you move forward. My problem is that I am extremely hard on some of the equipment I own and use. Baking bread mostly, the salt, the steam, the massive stone and high temperatures I use and expect to be no problem evidently are. It’s clear, when looking at the backside where the coils meet wires that the insulation and various conductive metals aren’t pleased with the torment I’ve offered them for the sake of a really nice crust. Then there’s the conundrum of being addicted to the almost exclusive use of cast-iron cookware for everything. The thought of one of those glistening sealed element ceramic cooktops, what it would look like after a week of use with those hefty black beauties makes my heart sink…
It dawns on me early in the planning of it that I’m better off buying turkey parts – I’m not going the traditional route of buying a whole large bird and roasting it… I’ve done confit with duck legs and turkey thighs numerous times before and in my estimation, it’s probably the best way to cook and keep anything for a while. I’m surprised that people think it’s complicated or difficult or anything exotic. Salt over night. Rinse and dry. Set in a vessel of fat. Cook at 185 until it’s tender (some people/recipes will recommend higher temperatures – even upwards of 325 degrees. Resist the temptation to follow that suggestion. There’s no need to ever cook confit at that high of a temperature unless you’re in some sort of hurry, which implies that you’re unprepared or rushed for some reason – in which case you truly don’t deserve confit…). Turn off the heat. The next day put it in the refrigerator until ready to use. It’s about as easy as it gets. It requires very little attention, which is great. You can turn your back on it and not worry about it burning or being overdone. You can attend to fixing water damage, go about your daily life, plan other parts of the meal… The legs, I season and dry overnight and smoke for a few hours… The breasts – I’ve got a couple of them – some split, and one whole one. The whole one is brined in buttermilk and roasted the morning of with onion and celery and thyme – it’s the most disappointing – it’s embarrassingly dry compared to the other breast parts even though it’s barely cooked to the recommended temperature… The other breasts are totally experimental – they’re dredged in flour and deep fried. A nice result.
The problem with cooking things in parts is that you’re not left with the usual accoutrements included inside the bird for making a suitable dressing or gravy. I used chicken livers and homemade bacon and little stock made from duck carcasses I’ve got laying around in my freezer. Handy stuff. The gravy on the other hand… Mushrooms. Chopped a little too fine, made at the last minute as I was trying to craft a box to handle 4 full size (sort of floppy) aluminum hotel pans all at 325 degrees, loaded with pounds of meat and dressing and get in the shower and dressed like a plausible human… It wasn’t bad – just thick – and I wished I’d had the foresight to bring a little more milk to whisk into it before it was served… Sometimes that’s life.
It’s always laced with a few more obstacles than you really ever want. The true thing to be thankful for is that often it’s the obstacles and circumstances that make you look at everything a little bit differently and appreciate all the quirks. All told, it was perfectly imperfect. We ate, we played games, we laughed and drank wine. A day to be thankful for in so many ways.