No one wants to be in on “turkey confidential”

“Oh, what’s that smell?” questioned my son as he came in the door after spending the weekend up north at his grandmother’s home, which doubles as family deer camp each November. “It’s making me even hungrier and I’m starving already!” He probably was, after spending over four hours traveling home.

Before I could stop him, he was at the oven, opening the door and peering inside. The sight of not one, but two large roasters inside excited him. “It smells so good, what is it?” he wanted to know.

“Well, if you insist . . .  but be warned, you’re gonna get an eyeful,” I said slowly, heightening the tension, before seductively removing the top off one of the pans, simultaneously humming the chorus of “The Stripper.”

“Bread cubes?!” his face fell. “What a rip-off! I thought it was going to be something good because it smelled so good.”

He wouldn’t be the first or the last person to be taken in by a too-good-smelling illusion, only to later have his hopes dashed. Welcome to Kristy’s kitchen, holiday edition: where the unexpected is served up as standard-fare, whether or not fair.

Naturally, the bread cubes weren’t just any bread cubes: they were purchased from the animal feed-bound supply at the day-old bread store: a collection of colors, flavors and textures of bread that didn’t sell during their prime. I oven-dry them just slightly, maintaining their youth as the carbohydrate equivalent of al dente vegetables so they won’t crumble too much and turn into mush when I add the liquid ingredients.

Stovetop, I melt butter, saute onions, celery and garlic, add chicken broth, Worcestershire sauce, sage, milk and eggs, then drizzle the mix over the bread cubes and lightly stir it them, lest they turn into a huge, sage-flavored bowl of batter. Never over-stir! That’s one of the first things I tell prospective kitchen helpers with stuffing, muffins and quick breads. It beats the body right out of them.

A third of the stuffing will get shoved in the non-sunshine region of one of the turkeys, while the other two-thirds will be baked to golden perfection in a medium-sized roaster. It’s how I appease both the wet- and dry-stuffing preferences of my dinner guests. And there are preferences, believe me. That’s why both butter and margarine are available for rolls, potatoes and squash. Thanksgiving is like running a mini, one-day restaurant without health department rules.

Before I continue, I need to swear you to confidentiality. Turkey confidential.

Now about the gravy: I make two kinds – giblet-laden and giblet-free. But what on earth is a giblet? It’s that little bag full of internal turkey parts found deep inside of the frozen turkey; the bag many inexperienced cooks (and turkey thawing procrastinators) don’t know to look for before cooking their turkey and discover only afterward.

In case you were absent during dissection lab in high school biology class, the giblets typically consist of the heart, kidneys and liver. Sometimes other, unidentifiable body parts (i.e. turkey spleen, appendix, bladder or pancreas) are thrown in. My advice is that if you can’t identify it, you should discard it.

If the turkey seller is feeling generous, you may also find a section of neck crammed down the opening of the turkey where it was formerly attached. I usually chuck the neck because not only does it feel disgusting, but I don’t think it cooks up as flavorfully as the other parts. Others swear by it. Whatever.

“However unpromising the giblets may look, they make a wonderful stock for the turkey gravy and the meat from them will provide a wonderful lunch for a deserving cat or dog,” says one online source. Lunch for a faithful pet, my butt! I boil the giblets and then food process them into a paste to combine with roaster drippings and chicken soup base. It creates a creamy-looking gravy that no one who reads this will likely touch, again, until this graphic description of the ingredients and the making of it fades (if ever) from memory.

Best then, like my son, to focus on holiday meal smells and not learn too intimately the food preparation details hereby classified as “turkey confidential.” Shhhhhhh!


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