Keep On Fucking That Turkey

Going back to 2008, I have made 10-course extravaganzas for Thanksgiving: balls-out, unfettered freestyling wherein my imagination runs wild and my skills try their best to realize the perfervid visions and tie it all together. They’re all documented here on the blog, including the one that won me a trip to France. I have enjoyed cooking every one of them. But this year I wasn’t feeling it, so I took it easy. No manic list-making, no frantic days of prep beforehand, no careful curation of the trajectory from course to course. I bought a goose, and I used the homegrown produce on hand to round it out into a meal.

Years ago, in my first year writing for a real live magazine, I did a Thanksgiving thing about how turkey kind of sucks and ducks and geese are better and if you must cook a turkey at least take it apart and treat each part of it like its own separate animal so that they all come to the table at their very succulent best. Nobody listened, that I know of, but that doesn’t alter the inherent correctness of my position on the subject. Turkey mostly sucks, and almost everybody overcooks it badly, rescuing the dessicated meat with gravy and side dishes. That’s bullshit.

A turkey is essentially a giant chicken that’s almost impossible to cook (intact) to an acceptable succulence unless you spatchcock it, which will doubtless offend your Uncle Lenny, the Limbaugh-spouting troglodyte, as much as cooking a goose would, so get a goose next time and have a sublime meal instead of a “traditional” (read: mediocre) one. A duck or a goose is a culinary Swiss Army knife. It has everything you need for a stellar meal all in one place: insanely beautiful fat, deep red meat that excels at both rare searing and slow stewing in that selfsame fat, and a sturdy carcass that makes the best pho this side of Hanoi. That fragrant stock can assist all of the side dishes both to shine on their own and also to mesh seamlessly with the rest of the meal since everything will thus contain the same insistent ostinato pedal bass line of fowlicious umamitude.

This meal featured the goose four ways. I took the carcass apart, and each part went in a different container befitting its fate. The legs got packed snugly in salt seasoned with garlic and herbs overnight, then rinsed and patted dry, then submerged in duck fat for a long, slow cook in about a 150˚ oven. 10 hours is kind of the magic number, in my experience, but it all comes down to the temperature. To short, and you won’t have the falling-off-the-bone tenderness; too long, and it’ll be a shreddy mess with no integrity. Know thy oven.

The carcass became pho. Onion, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, clove, coriander, black pepper, fennel, long pepper, and cardamom, charred in the case of the first two and toasted for the rest, simmered with the bones for a few hours, then went into the walk-in (back porch) overnight to solidify the copious fat on top. One bird, one pint of gorgeous creamy fat, six quarts of deep, rich stock. I scored the breasts and cooked them in a skillet to barely medium rare. The offal and trimmings from the carcass got ground with garlic, cognac, herbs, vinegar, and spices into sausage which sat packed into a glass container in the fridge for a couple of days to gain flavor.

The various accompaniments, almost all from the garden, included braised red cabbage sauerkraut, fermented turnip-carrot-hot pepper mixture, cranberry sauce (cranberries, maple syrup, a tangerine, cooked until soft and then pushed through a sieve) and the cream-confited sweet potatoes I describe in the article. They rank high in the pantheon of dishes I have invented, especially if you ask my wife. I also made biscuits, and bought quail eggs.

The appetizer was seared foie gras with homemade peach chutney on fresh-baked sourdough.

Next up, roasted butternut puréed with the goose pho and sieved, with roasted butternut seed oil and togarashi on top.

Then the plate: confit on sweet potato with pickles on top. Rare seared breast on braised kraut wrapped with charred scallion. (Both those first two on the cranberry sauce.) Sausage patty on a biscuit with whey-pesto-goose fat-pho gravy, whey-braised collard greens underneath, and a fried quail egg on top. Biscuits and gravy, meat both rare and fat-coddled, vegetables in various states of fermented and braised tenderness, sweet-sour sauce, insanely rich tubers: it hit all the right notes but also offered some interesting variety and no over-plated surfeit. I saw what seemed like hundreds of Thanksgiving plate shots online over the course of a couple of days, and every one was uglier and less appetizing than the one before it. This plate took a while to get through, and though there were selective seconds of certain things everyone was pretty perfectly full by the time the plates were clean. Then, after a brief break (read: drinking) there was pumpkin pie and these nifty little cheesecakes with gelled berry coulis on top.

Traditions are fine and all, but if your tradition includes eating too much bad food then you’re doing it wrong.

12 comments to Keep On Fucking That Turkey

  • I actually like turkey. I have always cooked our (small, 12 lb) turkey on a small countertop rotisserie, which works like a champ. The legs get done to perfection because they rotate closer to the element and the breast always has a blister of juice under the skin. The stuffing is moist without being soggy. The only “drawback” is the lack of gravy – this method doesn’t lend itself to gravy – but since I don’t like gravy anyway, it’s not important to me.

    If you like turkey but you don’t like the uneven way it cooks, try a rotisserie. Then, you can have “traditional” and “delicious” in the same bird. And the carcass makes killer soup.

  • John

    Your food and the dishes are both beautiful. I especially like the geometry of the desert plate. — I split our turkey this year and confitted the legs and thighs, roasted the breast and served it all with a beautiful black mole sauce. Yum.

  • This could have been way more ranty! It’s almost polite.

    Everything is gorgeous, of course. I love how this is your “relaxed” Thanksgiving day meal. And, I want to see inside that cheesecake! It looks so good.

  • Rachel (S[d]OC)

    With all that eschewing of tradition you still make pumpkin pie?

  • Carla B.

    ‘fraid I’m also going to chime in in defense of the turkey. Mine was an OG frozen bird from the food co-op. I spatchcocked it just so I could say “spatchcock” to my guests, which gave me a couple of days to have my way with the backbone and giblets while the rest of the bird sat dry-brining in the cold cellar in front of some tiny, screened ventilation windows. I used some of the stock to turn out a wickedly good mole which I served in lieu of gravy.

  • Peter

    Spatchcocking is the way to go. As is mole.

  • best blog. ever. just ever…

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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