Friday, November 21, 2008
Why I Don't Roast Turkey on Thanksgiving Day Anymore
In less than a week, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day, America's most time-honored tradition. It is a holiday that we can relate to because it focuses on our love for foods and feasts. But could you honestly say that you fall for that whole roast-turkey-and cranberry-sauce-dinner American tradition? Through the years, I have seen people in my community celebrating Thanksgiving with turkey as their centerpiece dinner entree. But I am not sure if everyone enjoyed eating the huge birds. I have nothing against people serving turkey if they actually get consumed to the bones. But I have seen examples of really badly-roasted birds that ended up as turkey soup the next day because the guests preferred binging on traditional Filipino fare, like morcon, embotido, rellenong bangus, and caldereta.
I grew up wishing I could eat more turkey back home. But even the backyard-grown turkey in my small barrio in the province of Bulacan were so expensive, they assumed the status of caviar. Now that we are living in the States where these fowls are so common and inexpensive, we are faced with the dilemma of roasting them on Thanksgiving Day because the rest of America does, even though some of us don't really enjoy cooking and eating them.
I used to belong to that misguided minority years ago. I jumped into the spirit of the holiday by roasting a turkey, even though I knew that even the smallest turkey available would be too big for my family. But the result of my first turkey-roasting adventure was less than satisfactory. So after a couple of attempts more than ten years ago, I swore off the tradition and decided I could save more money and time buying holiday turkey dinner from Boston Market in neighboring Burbank, California. I then cooked my own repertoire of Filipino classics to supplement the feast. It's been that way ever since.
On Tuesday, I attended a press conference at the San Gabriel store of 99 Ranch Markets where they are promoting a Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner package. It came with a Chinese-style 12-pound roast turkey with Asian sweet rice stuffing, a pound cake, a dozen dinner rolls, and a bottle of Baron Phillipe de Rothschild Cabernet Sauvignon for $53.99 until Monday, November 24. After that, the price goes back to $59.99. I actually got to taste a slice of a sample bird, and I was amazed that I liked it very much. The reason is that the turkey was prepared Chinese-style, and to my taste buds, it replicated the taste of a Chinese-style roast duck, and to push the envelope a little further, that of roast pork. This is not to denigrate the unique character of turkey meat by comparing it with duck meat or pork. But the taste of that roast turkey really hit the spot with me.
Would I buy that roast turkey meal combo? No. The reason being that I do not need a 12-pound turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. But I would if I could get a smaller serving that's enough for a small family like mine. I swear I was converted because that Chinese take on a traditional American favorite appealed to my acquired taste.
On Thursday, I have the options of preparing a roast chicken or my special Chinese-style ham, whichever would be cheaper at Ralphs this weekend. If I cooked the roast chicken, I would make a stuffing of Asian sweet rice with nuts and dried shiitake mushrooms. If I opt for the ham, I would boil the 5 to 6-pound Farmer John or Cooks ham in pineapple juice, make a glaze from some of the remaining stock and add brown sugar and a little salt, and inject some of the stock into the ham with a plastic syringe. I would score the ham like a checkerboard, stick whole cloves in the crevasses and bake it at 350 degrees for about an hour. I would take it out of the oven and brush glaze on it before slicing the ham with a sharp knife and serving it. The combination of the pineapple juice, brown sugar, and the aroma of cloves is quite unforgettable.
These are just my words. If you have a varying opinion, please click on the "comments" link and tell me what you think.