November 14, 2002
Slow Turkey Celebration –
a Taste of Traditional Turkey Varieties cooked in Un-Traditional ways
For those of you who aren't members of Slow Food, let me explain the Slow Turkeys...The major initiative this year of Slow USA was to bring back from the brink of extinction a few old American varieties of Turkey. For food livestock such as the turkey, the best way to bring up the census is to give it a job....as we all know the turkey's main job is to grace our Thanksgiving tables. A few farmers from many states are raising these birds at Slow Food's request and with the caveat that we can provide consumers to purchase the birds.
As head of the Los Angeles Chapter of Slow Food I was asked to see if any local farmers would be willing to "grow" the birds for the California members.
The wonderful Peter Schaner was eager to get involved and found a few hundred chicks...mostly Narragansetts and a few Standard Bronzes. The beautiful birds are now between 15 and 18 pounds. Peter was kind enough to give me 2 larger fellows to share with you.
After thinking about what "non-traditional" things to do with the birds (as I promised in my Thursday night dinner schedule), I wasn't excited...what I really wanted to do was cook the bird described below...It's a famous recipe given to Robert Benchley, humorist extraordinaire...I would never go to this much work for my own Thanksgiving, so instead I am doing it for you. Thursday's dinner will be The Naked Countess recipe served with a selection of seasonal veggies appropriate to the meal....
Enjoy the recipe below....it's hysterical...a wonderful read, even if you never plan to cook it.
-------------------------Black Turkey, circa 1963------------------------
For about a dozen years, at the approach of turkey-eating season, I have been trumpeting to all who would listen, and to a good many who would rather not, that there is only one way to cook a turkey. This turkey is not my turkey. It is the creation of the late Morton Thompson, who wrote "Not as a Stranger" and other books.
This recipe was first contained in the manuscript of a book called "The Naked Countess" which was given to the late Robert Benchley, who had eaten the turkey and was so moved as to write an introduction to the book. Benchley then lost the manuscript. He kept hoping it would turn up-- although not as much, perhaps, as Thompson did, but somehow it vanished, irretrievably. Thompson did not have the heart to write it over. He did, however, later put his turkey rule in another book. Not a cookbook, but a collection of very funny pieces called "Joe, the Wounded Tennis Player".
THE ONLY WAY TO COOK A TURKEY!!!!!!!
This turkey is work... it requires more attention than an average six-month-old baby. There are no shortcuts, as you will see.
Get a HUGE turkey-- I don't mean just a big, big bird, but one that looks as though it gave the farmer a hard time when he did it in. It ought to weigh between 16 and 30 pounds. Have the poultryman, or butcher, cut its head off at the end of the neck, peel back the skin, and remove the neck close to the body, leaving the tube. You will want this for stuffing. Also, he should leave all the fat on the bird. When you are ready to cook your bird, rub it inside and out with salt and pepper. Give it a friendly pat and set it aside. Chop the heart, gizzard, and liver and put them, with the neck, into a stewpan with a clove of garlic, a large bay leaf, 1/2 tsp coriander, and some salt. I don't know how much salt--whatever you think. Cover this with about 5 cups of water and put on the stove to simmer. This will be the basting fluid a little later.
About this time I generally have my first drink of the day, usually a RAMOS FIZZ. I concoct it by taking the whites of four eggs, an equal amount of whipping cream, juice of half a lemon (less 1 tsp.), 1/2 tsp.
confectioner's sugar, an appropriate amount of gin, and blending with a few ice cubes. Pour about two tablespoons of club soda in a chimney glass, add the mix, with ice cubes if you prefer. Save your egg yolks, plus 1 tsp. of lemon -- you'll need them later. Have a good sip! (add 1 dash of Orange Flower Water to the drink, not the egg yolks)
Get a huge bowl. Throw into it one diced apple, one diced orange, a large can of crushed pineapple, the grated rind of a lemon, and three tablespoons of chopped preserved ginger (If you like ginger, double this.
Robert Benchley). Add 2 cans of drained Chinese water chestnuts.
Mix this altogether, and have another sip of your drink. Get a second, somewhat smaller, bowl. Into this, measuring by teaspoons, put:
2 tsp hot dry mustard
2 tsp caraway seed
2 tsp celery seed
2 tsp poppy seed
1 tsp black pepper
2 1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp mace
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp savory
3/4 tsp sage
3/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp basil
1/2 tsp chili powder
In the same bowl, add:
1 Tbsp poultry seasoning
4 Tbsp parsley
1 Tbsp salt
4 headless crushed cloves
1 well-crushed bay leaf
4 lrg chopped onions
6 good dashes Tabasco
5 crushed garlic cloves
6 lrg chopped celery
Wipe your brow, refocus your eyes, get yet another drink--and a third bowl. Put in three packages of unseasoned bread crumbs (or two loaves of toast or bread crumbs), 3/4 lb. ground veal, 1/2 lb. ground fresh pork, 1/4 lb. butter, and all the fat you have been able to pull out of the bird.
About now it seems advisable to switch drinks. Martinis or stingers are recommended (Do this at your own risk - we always did! Robert Benchley). Get a fourth bowl, an enormous one. Take a sip for a few minutes, wash your hands, and mix the contents of all the other bowls. Mix it well. Stuff the bird and skewer it. Put the leftover stuffing into the neck tube. Turn your oven to 500 degrees F and get out a fifth small bowl. Make a paste consisting of those four egg yolks and lemon juice left from the Ramos Fizz. Add 1 tsp hot dry mustard, a crushed clove of garlic, 1 Tbl onion juice, and enough flour to make a stiff paste. When the oven is red hot, put the bird in, breast down on the rack. Sip on your drink until the bird has begin to brown all over, then take it out and paint the bird all over with paste. Put it back in and turn the oven down to 350 degrees F. Let the paste set, then pull the bird out and paint again. Keep doing this until the paste is used up. Add a quart of cider or white wine to the stuff that's been simmering on the stove. This is your basting fluid. The turkey must be basted every 15 minutes. Don't argue. Set your timer and keep it up. (When confronted with the choice "do I baste from the juice under the bird or do I baste with the juice from the pot on the stove?" make certain that the juice under the bird neither dries out and burns, nor becomes so thin that gravy is weak. When you run out of baste, use cheap red wine. This critter makes incredible gravy! Robert Benchley) The bird should cook about 12 minutes per pound, basting every 15 minutes. Enlist the aid of your friends and family.
As the bird cooks, it will first get a light brown, then a dark brown, then darker and darker. After about 2 hours you will think I'm crazy. The bird will be turning black. (Newcomers to black turkey will think
you are demented and drunk on your butt, which, if you've followed instructions, you are. Robert Benchley) In fact, by the time it is finished, it will look as though we have ruined it. Take a fork and poke at the black cindery crust. Beneath, the bird will be a gorgeous mahogany, reminding one of those golden-browns found in precious Rembrandts. Stick the fork too deep, and the juice will gush to the ceiling. When you take it out, ready to carve it, you will find that you do not need a knife. A loud sound will cause the bird to fall apart like the walls of that famed biblical city. The moist flesh will drive you crazy, and the stuffing--well, there is nothing like it on this earth. You will make the gravy just like it’s always done, adding the giblets and what is left of the basting fluid. Sometime during the meal, use a moment to give thanks to Morton Thompson. There is seldom, if ever, leftover turkey when this recipe is used. If there is, you'll find that the fowl retains its moisture for a few days. That's all there is to it. It's work--hard work--but it's worth it.
(What follows is not part of the recipe, but is an ingredients list to aid in shopping for this monster, or for checking your spice cabinet Robert Benchley)
1 lrg can crushed pineapple
4 lrg onions
6 celery stalks
plenty of preserved ginger
2 cans water chestnuts
3 packages unseasoned bread crumbs
3/4 lb ground veal
1/2 lb ground pork
1/4 lb butter
1 qt apple cider