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November, 2009 | Manolo's Food Blog
Archive - November, 2009

Grandmother’s turkey

While shopping at the Union Square farmer’s market, Mr. Henry passed a stand selling fresh, farm-raised turkeys. Small, firm, not fat, they looked almost like a different species from the big-breasted turkey grandmother used to make. He tucked a 7 ½ pound bird into his backpack and boarded the subway for home.

After sitting for two days in dry salt and black pepper, the turkey was ready to be smeared with butter, sprinkled with paprika, and stuffed with fresh sage, savory, and onion. (He covered the breast in cheesecloth infused with more butter.) The plan was to shock the skin at 425º for half an hour and then turn the temperature down to 350º for the remaining hour and a half.

But this was not your grandmother’s turkey.

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Organic, farm-raised birds of today don’t have much fat. After half an hour the pan was nearly devoid of drippings and the bird looked dry. Mr. Henry quickly poured some white vermouth into the pan. After another half an hour the pan was dry once again and the bird looked like leather. More vermouth!

The final result was a bird with crispy skin and great flavor, but a dry exterior. Next time he buys a bird as lean as this one, he will wrap the whole bird in parchment. A small, free-range turkey simply does not contain enough internal moisture to survive two hours in the oven without some protection. (Mr. Henry’s English friend Louise pours an entire bottle of white wine into the drippings pan. Her gravy is amazing.)

The heart, gizzard and neck roasted in the pan, as did assorted vegetables – celery, carrot, onion – which came out nearly black but delicious, nonetheless. Chopped neck and heart combined with the deglazed pan drippings (more vermouth!) made giblet gravy. The roasted gizzard went straight to the stock pot followed by those delicious roasted bones.

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Chopped dried apricots soaked in Madeira, which unexpectedly were a hit with the kids, were this year’s surprise ingredient in the sage and bread stuffing. Red and white Swiss chard drizzled with balsamic made a delightful vegetable.

Eating Animals

Have you noticed lately that vegetarianism has been on the upswing? Jonathan Safran Foer has been hectoring us about the evils of Eating Animals, cataloguing our collective moral depravity and bloody Morlock slouch towards planetary destruction.

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What accounts for the ascendancy of this idea?

Is it wrong to dine upon the flesh of sentient creatures? Granted, the noble pig is clever. Like Mr. Henry himself, a pig can admire its image in a mirror. But what about the chicken, the sheep or the cow? What pull do they have on our heartstrings?

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Ever since Mr. Henry watched a video in the Monterey aquarium documenting an octopus delicately tasting the arm of its beloved handler and then erupting in pulsating colored stripes of delight, he has foregone pulpo on the menu. What a glorious creature, the octopus, prince of invertebrates, capable of unscrewing a mason jar. Show me a pig that can do that.

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Why can’t people live in harmony with animals without resorting to the barbarism of slaughter?

The answer is time. While a pig has all day to root around for the tastiest tubers, modern persons like ourselves need to cook something dense with food value, get it done, and get going. It is damnably difficult to find satisfaction in vegetables alone if you are cooking in a hurry, unless you happen to be one of those raw-diet enthusiasts, in which case you and the pig share the same diet and possibly the same flavor profile (hence the South Seas nickname for tasty captives, “long pig”).

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And what can we say about the inevitable smugness that clings to vegetarians? It’s maddening when a table guest announces that meat is vile succor. Perhaps South Seas cannibalism started right there. A local chief just had enough of that superior attitude.

The fruit of knowledge

fuji.jpgThe house is awash in apples – Fuji for eating; McIntosh, Macoun, and Granny Smith for cooking, plus a few more odd bins varietals.

Apple dishes that graced the Henry table in the month of October include cranberry apple crisp, cinnamon applesauce, apple pie with splash of lemon (and a splash of rye whiskey on the crust), apple compote made with orange juice, and at nearly every meal sliced fresh apples for dessert.

Johnny Appleseed, that great American (and yes, he was a real man), sowed seed down the Ohio River. Because his apple trees bore gnarly, sour little things, their principal use was for making hooch, a habit long lost in the 21st century. Today’s Calvados is too expensive and apple brandy is too rough.

Most persons of Mr. Henry’s acquaintance no longer prepare alcoholic beverages at home, but Mary and Michael made some up in the Catskills. They threw apples in a big metal bucket, let them rot, and cooked it up. The resulting clear, very alcoholic firewater was delicious but very hot, hot enough to trade with Indians in exchange for pelts.

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After drinking this particular firewater for a good while, Mr. Henry began to see more clearly. The apple’s significance took on new meaning, or else its meaning took on new significance. It’s hard to recall. As the serpent said to Eve, the apple is the fruit of knowledge.

It’s not only the fruit of fall, it’s the fruit of the fall from grace.

But isn’t a good apple worth the trip?