You can wrestle a turkey

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Ah, the Thanksgiving turkey, that Holy Grail of holiday entrees.

The message from advertising and society in general is clear: It's nearly impossible for one's first turkey to turn out moist and succulent. Remember that old Butterball commercial with the two older women walking up to the house? They're bracing for a dry turkey since it's the hostess's first one.

Plus there were the youthful lessons learned at home. I owe my affinity for dark meat to a succession of bad turkeys served at the family dinner table. The white meat was like eating particle board, and no amount of lumpy gravy was saving it.

My fear of making a dry turkey was so bad that I avoided it year after year, relying on the kindness of others and a holiday work schedule to keep me and that raw, cavernous bird apart.

This year, no luck. Somebody else took the holiday shift, we only scored an invite for dessert, not dinner, and we were all settled into our new house, the roasting pan unpacked and conveniently located.

I was cooking a turkey. A good turkey could undoubtedly bestow good karma on my new home, I reasoned. Plus, The Other Half promised to handle the sides.

It was a disaster in the making. I hedged my bets by calling a friend, explaining my fear and asking her to set aside a few measly ounces of turkey for Mr. Half should I fail. It was a humiliating phone call, but I just couldn't stand to see a disappointed look in his eyes.

Then I started collecting turkey tips. Turns out just about everybody has one. Baste the turkey. Inject the turkey. Bag the turkey. Soak the turkey. But most of the tips involve butter, lots and lots of artery-clogging butter.

In the end I went with two -- use an oven bag and fill the cavity with peeled navel oranges. Sounds weird, yes, but a gourmet chef swore by it, and who was I to question? The chef secretly may have been working for Sunkist, but he swore I wouldn't end up eating turkey a l'orange.

Thanksgiving morning found me struggling with my massive 10-pounder, reaching deep inside to pull out the bags of gizzards. I rinsed the turkey and patted it dry. I gave it the best massage of my life, kneading in the butter and spices. I crammed the cavity full of orange quarters.

Meanwhile, Mr. Half contemplated using the can opener on his yams, but decided to wait.

Three-and-a-half hours later, we were eating the juiciest, most flavorful turkey I'd ever had. (Turns out I missed one of those cavity bags, but no gizzard or plastic poisoning to report yet.) I'm not trying to brag. In fact, I've never had to clean an oven because I only use them to heat frozen food.

I'm just trying to dispel a myth. Ladies, you can wrestle a turkey and win.

Don't let society tell you any different.

Heidi Hall is a former managing editor of the Southeast Missourian who now lives in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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