Friday, October 31, 2008

The Other Side of A Turkey

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it brings back memories of my childhood and all the amazing country cooking my Mom did. Holidays were no exception. Growing up I was always mesmerized at the skill and efficiency my Mom put food on our dinner table. I thought she must be a magician or something. I was allowed to sit on a stool, out of the way, and watch very quietly. Sometimes she would allow me to help stir something or cut potatoes. I was eager to help with anything, waiting for the day it was my turn to create that magical buffet. And arrive it did.

At the age of 12, I asked permission to cook the family’s Thanksgiving Dinner. It was an undertaking of giant proportions for my first attempt at the magical buffet. With the help of my Mom, we laid everything neatly on the kitchen counter in an orderly fashion. A habit I still use to this day in my professional career as a Chef. Going over the menu again to be sure everything was there, I was ready. Then I promptly banned her from her own kitchen, of course until I needed her. Even in my unbridled excitement, my hands steadily wielded knife and spoon. Timing every dish to arrive on the table like synchronized dancers arriving on stage. At least it mostly went that way.

In our Southern tradition, there were mounds of fresh vegetables transformed into delicious side dishes. Fresh potatoes mashed to soft mounds, green beans canned from the summer bounty with a ham hock peaking out form the middle and giant sweet potatoes swimming in brown sugar and spices with golden brown mini marshmallows perched on top. Plump golden corn, sliced carrots, and sweet green peas, all smothered in sweet cream butter. There was fresh baked bread, rolls and cornbread. The aroma of cinnamon and spices from the pies still baking in the oven filled the air. It was like a food Heaven.

Then there was the turkey. The center of attention of whole table! I was so proud when I brought it in and sat it in front of my Dad for his approval. Browned to perfection with our family’s special stuffing peaking form the inside. It just made your mouth water just smelling it. My Dad picked up his knife and gently pushed the carving fork into the breast of the bird, but something was wrong. The fork would only go in a couple of inches. With everything going so right, of course I thought immediately I had cooked the bird too long and it was tough and dried out. While my Dad inspected the cause of the unyielding bird, the whole family just held their breath until he voiced his verdict. Finally, he just rolled the whole thing over and began successfully carving, to the delight of everyone and the shock of myself. As it turned out, I had cooked the bird upside down! That was one of the juiciest turkeys we had ever had. The fluids from the dark side had tenderized and moistened the breasts as it lay in the oven cooking away. That was when I learned there was nothing wrong with the other side of a turkey.