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November 29, 2008

Inner Hen

Filed under: American Food,Holidays,Philosophy — Mr. Henry @ 10:53 am

Reports of Mr. Henry’s bird have been greatly exaggerated.1923-11-22-life-norman-rockwell-cover-thanksgiving-ye-glutton-400.jpg

A turkey is only a turkey, after all, not a pheasant, a goose, or a quail. Its flavor profile, as the foodies like to say, sings one note – mildly sweet.

Like stock market investors this year Mr. Henry once again fell victim to irrational exuberance. Upon spending $129 for an 8 ½ lb. Heritage Foods turkey raised in Kansas, he expected it to rise up and dance on the platter.

Yes, it was the best turkey he ever tasted. Yes, there was satisfaction in knowing he was eating a bird that according to explanatory information in the FedEx carton enjoyed an active social life (i.e., made it with a Tom or two). Far be it for Mr. Henry to prevent a turkey from fulfilling her inner hen!

But were these small pleasures worth the price? Was this bird three times better than the Citerella no-antibiotics and no-hormones bird of yesteryear?

Not really. Its bones did yield an exceptionally flavorful soup, however, an unanticipated bonus.

thanksgiving-by-rockwell.jpgThe dry salt rub did work perfectly. Skin was crisp and golden. The breast emerged bursting with juice because Mr. Henry cooked the turkey upside down. Although this left the skin on the breast a bit soft and pale, since no one at the Henry table eats skin there were no bruised feelings.

At home you dressed your dressing and stuffed your stuffing. You served a bountiful table. While feasting, discussions kept veering back to the wayward economy or Barack’s brilliant new economic team.

Was that so hard to do? To cook for a large table, that is. To cook at home and eat together is the essential family ritual, after all, the central sacrament of community.
Marcella Hazan makes excellent arguments in today’s New York Times:

The food Americans eat that is made fresh at home by someone who is close to them is shrinking compared with food consumed at restaurants or prepared outside. And while eating out or taking in may save us time or bring us enjoyment, I would argue that it deprives us of something important.

I am my family’s cook. It is the food prepared and shared at home that, for more than 50 years, has provided a solid center for our lives. In the context of the values that cement human relations, the clamor of restaurants and the facelessness of takeout are no match for what the well-laid family table has to offer. A restaurant will never strengthen familial bonds.


  1. Mr. Henry, my fiance also cooks our turkey upside-down! I had never seen this done before I met him, but it’s a stroke of genius. (I am sure that your wife, like me, gives thanks that she met a man who can roast a beautiful bird.) We may have to try a dry salt rub next year.

    Comment by Melissa B. — December 1, 2008 @ 6:05 pm

  2. Mrs. Henry never stops giving thanks for her dreamboat chef de cuisine’s beautiful bird. Upside down turkey is but a prelude to a relationship overwhelmed with romance.

    One of these days, soon, soon, Mr. Henry promises to make his celebrated Moroccan bastilla. Then she will become like the oyster on the halfshell swooning in ocean brine.

    Comment by Mr. Henry — December 1, 2008 @ 7:18 pm

  3. Breast meat side down is the best, without question. We flip the bird for the last little bit of cooking to try to brown the skin too.

    I tried the Heritage turkey last year – my locally-raised, free-range, $85 turkey that my husband drove a 2 hour round trip to pick up, arrived…. frozen. Yep.

    We found the same thing – it was a good turkey, but not 2-3 times as good as the grocery store turkey brined and roasted upside down.

    Comment by Eowyn_2 — December 2, 2008 @ 6:40 am

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