(Note: In honor of Thanksgiving, we are taking a short holiday from our journey down Body Image Road. And remember, it’s normal to overeat sometimes.)
Does the thought of preparing Thanksgiving dinner give you the shakes? Maybe as you’re reading this, your heart is beating so loudly the neighbors can hear. Images of undressed turkeys roll around in your head and make you wish you lived in India, where no one would consider eating a turkey, let alone cooking one.
Memories of yesteryear haunt you throughout November, and this time of year often brings nightmares. You’ve considered seeing a therapist about this. Last night it was the rerun of the time you didn’t have any turkey bags like Aunt Myrtle swore by. So you wrapped the turkey tightly in a role of plastic food wrap and secured it with duct tape.
It took a two-week sabbatical from work to get the exploded turkey and plastic film off your self-cleaning oven.
The night before last, it was the a nightmare about the gizzard gravy with plastic incident. It was the first year you’d cooked a big bird. You plunged it into the oven, without removing its fine little hairs and gizzards. (Always rinse poultry before cooking to remove the fine hairs. Most people don’t know this life-changing truth.) “What’s this interesting texture on the skin?“ your cousin Sam asked as he pointed to a scorched turkey hair. “It’s so unique and delicious. I must get the recipe before I fly back to New Jersey.”
These are the symptoms of Turkey Preparation Anxiety, which I’m sure will soon turn up in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for mental disorders. The most severe type involves a nightmare involving an enormous turkey, which my friend Sally experienced last year.
She stood face-to-face with a human-sized raw turkey and repeatedly struck it with her fists. She began pounding on her husband, screaming, “Get in the bag or I’ll …“before he woke her up and suggested she get help. His black eye took a month to heal.
To make one last effort on turkey roasting, take a deep breath and relax. (And don’t forget to exhale, or you won’t be around for another turkey dinner.) Now say your prayers and slip on your apron with confidence. Make sure you have plenty of leftover chili in the freezer, and thaw it out the day before. Most people like chili, and you can thaw it quickly on the defrost setting of your microwave, just in case your bird bites the dust.
Carefully rinse the turkey and pat dry, talking nicely to it the whole time. Turkeys are like copy machines in that respect. If you’re in a hurry and don’t say kind words to them, they get attitudes and make you look bad.
Rub the bird with olive oil and salt only lightly. Turkey experts swear that too much salt dries it out. Do not pepper the turkey because this royally dries it out. Dry, rubbery, peppery turkey tastes like singed stinky shoes. Remember the one back in 1999? Even the dog didn’t like it.
Spray your oven bag with cooking spray and the flour, just as per the instructions. (Don’t use hair spray or it will blow up your oven.) Resist the temptation to carve fancy designs for air vents. The six ½ inch slats in the top should be simple. I tried a Mickey Mouse design in the slats of the turkey bag one year, and it scorched the top of it. My family called that one the Cajun blackened turkey, and refused to eat it. That year we ate peanut butter sandwiches for dinner.
Place the meat thermometer exactly like the picture shows in your Joy of Cooking book. Putting it in the rear end of the turkey is not an option. And never go without a meat thermometer, or you are asking for big turkey trouble.
Now slip the turkey into the bag, tie it with the provided tie, and place it in the pan. Before slipping it into the preheated oven, tell it again how beautiful it is and how much you love it. Take it out at exactly 170 degrees.
As for the rest of the meal, delegate. And if that doesn’t work, bring on the chili, which of course you made in advance out of ground turkey. And the day after Thanksgiving, forget the mall sales. Make reservations for next year at your favorite restaurant, and you can relax the whole year without getting turkey jitters.