By Matthew Yglesias
Ever noticed that your favorite dishes from your traditional family Thanksgiving are all sides? And that that one time you had Thanksgiving dinner outside your traditional family gathering the best dishes there were sides? And how when your friends organized a fauxsgiving festival the week before Thanksgiving the best dishes were sides? That’s because turkey doesn’t taste good. Not that it has to be terrible. But at best, you come out with a neutral flavored bit of protein that’s not so dry as to have a repugnant texture and therefore becomes a decent vehicle for gravy. But note that you could have just bought a very unimpressive Safeway Select Artisan Baguette and accomplished the same thing for way less money in way less time.
Everyone knows this to be true, but for some reason nobody wants to say it. The other day, I was flipping through my How to Cook Everything (thanks Ezra!) looking for duck advice and found Bittman’s introduction to “the basics of turkey”
I know of no one who prefers turkey to other birds, but you can’t buck tradition, and the Thanksgiving feast is among the few national holidays that transcend all divisions (or at least most divisions: vegetarians have a hard time with it).
This is crap. In a day and age when Michael Pollan can urge the United States to buck the farm-and-beef lobby and radically revise national agriculture policy surely a cookbook author and recognized food expert can urge the discerning cookbook reader to buck the turkey lobby and cook something that tastes good for his (or her) family. Keep the parts of Thanksgiving that people like — the cranberry sauce, the stuffing, the yams — and for a main course cook something good. Multiple chickens! A goose! Spencer’s bacon-wrapped pork!
But instead of doing this, I see all manner of foodies wracking their brains for ways to make turkey taste good. By which they mean “tolerable.” But the problem lies not with your recipe or with your technique — it’s built into the birds. As everyone knows, commercial tomatoes have been bred to (a) look very red and (b) hold up well during shipping. Consequently, commercial tomatoes are very red and can be shipped long-distance. But no matter what you do with them, they don’t taste very good compared to seasonal tomatoes that have been bred for taste. Similarly, turkey breeders aren’t trying to breed a tasty bird. They’re trying to breed a big bird and counting on the false god of “tradition” to force you to buy their crap. And when you breed something for size rather than flavor, you get a big, not-very-tasty animal. Resist!