It is that time of year to contemplate Christmasses past. I recall a time when I spent the whole of Christmas morning making something that was not quite turkey.
Our story doesn’t start there. Before we can talk turkey, I’d like to give an award to the magnificent duck.
It strikes me that the duck is one of the most versatile creatures that creation or evolution has come up with. Not content with being amphibious, it is quadraphibious – a feat that mankind has not yet matched. A duck can travel on land, it can fly, it can swim on the top of the water, it can go underneath the water (briefly).
You can eat it wrapped in floury pancakes with plum sauce and strips of greenery.
It gives us eggs. It is the basis of an entire sport. Heck, “duck” even functions as both a noun and a verb.
Indeed, the duck is so multi-talented that Yorkshire folk call each other “duck”. Ay up, me duck.
By comparison to the noble duck, the humble chicken is a pale copy. Sure, it can do most of things that a duck can do, but nowhere near as well. Chickens don’t fly. The closest they come to it is slightly flustered hopping.
The chicken’s one claim to flesh is that its meat is the universal comparator for any other meat that you haven’t actually tried. Anything … ANYTHING … in the Galaxy either has its own taste or it tastes like chicken. Human flesh apparently tastes like salty chicken. Snake tastes like chicken. If ever we discover a long-lost race of unicorns living in pastoral bliss in a hidden glade, I’m sure that KFC will find a way to turn them into nuggets.
The really funny thing about the taste of chicken is that it doesn’t really taste of anything. It’s culinary beige. Ready salted. Vanilla. Top notes of bland with an undercurrent of meh.
Which brings us on to turkey. Because if a chicken is bland, then a turkey is a pale copy of a chicken. As far as I can see, the whole purpose of a turkey is to be bigger than a chicken. And a bit more chewy. Turkey is chewy chicken.
I know, I know, we worship at the altar of turkey every 25th December. And the Americans have made a religion out of it. But if it wasn’t for tradition, would we really bother with turkey? We hardy eat any of it the rest of the year. The high street isn’t exactly overflowing with fast turkey restaurants. I can’t think of a single classic meal involving turkey … other than Christmas or Thanksgiving.
And, admit it, the turkey isn’t the best part of the Christmas meal, is it? It’s the pigs in blankets that we really want – those delicious little pork sausages wrapped in bacon. Pig wrapped around pig. Salty, spicy, a little bit naughty.
A turkey is a second class chicken, which is in turn a second class duck.
It gets worse.
My first wife was a semi-vegetarian. She liked the taste of meat but felt that she really ought not eat it. I never did work out why.
So there I was in the late 1980s making a vegetarian turkey dinner. Oh, the irony. A rubbish copy of a turkey, which is a copy of a chicken, which is a failed duck.
I don’t remember the recipe. The human body has a self-preservation mechanism to blank out traumatic experiences. But I do remember that it started out with onions and celery and proceeded through a hundred different processes to take up the whole morning. I’m pretty sure that there were lentils in there and breadcrumbs and soy sauce.
Around 11.30 I added a new ingredient when I managed to excavate a deep gouge on my thumb. To me, it felt like a wound of battlefield proportions. It was probably no more than a pin prick.
The end result of several hours effort was a gloopy grey mixture that was poured into a baking tin for an hour’s cooking while the chef marinated himself in a glass or three of cooking wine.
Did it taste like turkey? Did it heck. It was supposed to be a firm texture that could be carved as the centre piece of a posh dinner with friends. What we got was a burnt crust at the top and a sludgy oozy bottom. Story of my life.
And it made me fart.