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Woodworking column: Make no bones about it, turkey is overrated

Thanksgiving is upon us and I've got a confession to make.

Having reached the age of four score and two, I hate turkey. Hate the sight of it, stacked up in mountainous heaps in grocer's coolers across the nation. I hate the discussions about whether fresh (actually frozen) or frozen taste different from each other.

God knows I've tried enough ways to make it taste a bit interesting. I've brined it in salt water, brined it in salt, or in vegetable broth, brined it in salted vegetable broth and brown sugar. I've carefully separated its skin from its flesh with the handle of a knife and slid in gobs of thyme-scented butter, or sage-scented butter, or garlic butter. I've roasted it in plastic bags, tented foil. I've stuffed it with bread, butter, onions and sage. I've stuffed it with fruit mixtures, with oranges, apples, whole onions, celery. I've stuffed it with sausage and cornbread. Invariably the stuffing always tastes better than the turkey. I've not stuffed it at all and made the stuffing in a separate pan. That tasted even better than the stuffed stuffing.

Speaking of stuffing I've read cookbooks on the subject. One of my favorites I picked up right here in Pierce County. A church cookbook. How can you top that? Its last recipe was for turkey stuffed with popcorn. It told me to wash and dry and season the inside of a turkey. "Pour one cup of unpopped Orville Redenbacher popcorn into the bird's cavity. Place it in roaster and roast at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. When popped popcorn flies out of its rear end, the turkey and stuffing are ready to serve." That's no fooling. Apparently the church's proofreader fell asleep on the job.

In Sarasota, where the living is easy and the livers are rich, butchers all over town have introduced one way to partially avoid the sleep-inducing taste of turkey. They call it "Turduckhen" and accomplish this phenomenon by stuffing a duck into a turkey's cavity, and a Rock Cornish game hen into the duck's cavity.

I guess it's all because I wasn't raised properly by my mom and dad. In that long-ago time, turkeys weren't readily available to the general consumer in Trempealeau County. Most farmers raised their own chickens and made do with roosters or castrated roosters called capons. Rhode Island Reds were especially tasty and I waited anxiously for Thanksgiving to dine at my Aunt Doree's, one of the great cooks of all time.

So why don't I serve chicken for Thanksgiving? Because I don't live next to an Amish farmer, that's why. At home in Whitehall, my mother and father never ate turkey for Thanksgiving. They depended on Amos Borntrager's ice and water cattle tank full of butchered 7-pound Rhode Islands up in Fly Creek for their Turkey Day sustenance.

And don't tell me to buy supermarket chicken. When chef Jacques Pepin recently announced on TV if he had only one thing to cook on a desert island it would be chicken, I'm certain he wasn't referring to Golden Plump or Tyson fryers, those slimy little things that they raise in a few weeks and ship them off. Fellows as rich and famous as Pepin probably have an Amish farmer living right next to them for the very purpose of providing them with a Thanksgiving entree.

Lots of people make do with the flavorless little things by cooking up cool ways to make them. Like putting an open can of beer in the cavity (don't let it tip over!), wine-soaked chicken, brined chicken, chicken under a brick, spatchcocked chicken, spatchcocked chicken under a brick.

Of all the types that latter will reveal a tasty relief from the normal. To spatchcock a bird, just take a supermarket fryer and cut the spine out with a kitchen shears, flop over the bird and flatten it with a hammer, marinate it in your favorite spices, oils and wine, lay it skin-side down on a gas or charcoal grill, place a foil clad brick on top of the bird so it stays flat and cook until done.

Oriental folks know how to perk up a supermarket chicken. Ronald Ross, the Star Tribune's VietNam correspondent, came home with a recipe his wife Marilyn frequently served us. Essentially, she spatchcocked a bird, then pounded the hell out of it until all the bones were broken, releasing their tasty marrows. She soaked the bird overnight in a bag full of soy sauce, then roasted it, serving us with chunks of it that we tore off and put on boiled rice and scarfed it down.

One more. Our friend Shigeta once served us two fryers from which he had removed all bones, then stuffed the bone free cavities with an orange scented bread stuffing. They looked almost alive until he sliced them, giving his guests a bird's-eye view of the multicolored interior. How did he do that? "Easy," replied Shigeta. "All you need is patience and time." Turns out Shig had plenty of time, for he was one of the California Nisei who was incarcerated for World War II's duration.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.

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