It’s not that I’m feeling any lack of thanks. In fact, I’ve been spewing a lot of sap in your direction these past few months. It’s just that, today, you’ll have plenty of other sources for that type of wholesome goodness, whereas sometimes a certain lack of levity can accompany these earnest family times. So.
Last week my amazing sister A gave up the chance to experience Hoboken’s wine tasting event of the year to babysit the two little umamis while we attended. Time-strapped, but thinking myself helpful, I roasted some broccoli, left a few sweet potatoes baking in the oven, and mentioned casually on the way out the door, “There’s a rotisserie chicken in the fridge.” It must have been the wails of “I want MOMMY!” that numbed me to the stab of terror which, after decades as her sister, I should have known would race through A’s heart at the mention of uncarved poultry.
Instead, realization came only when, digging the bird from the fridge to pick on for lunch the next day, I encountered the victim of a brutal criminal attack. Naturally curious individual that you are, you will no doubt want pictures; but this blog adheres to strict editorial standards of decency. Also, I was laughing too hard to hold the camera steady, so we’ll need to rely on your visualization skills. Among the few clear facts was this: someone had eaten the drumsticks, and no one had eaten the breast. The rest was a mess of twine ends and body parts. If the bird had been the subject of forensic inquiry, the key question would have been whether the marauder had intended to remove the thighs. It would have been anyone’s guess.
Since I’m long on family and short on time today, I’ll reduce the facts leading up to this moment in A’s life to a single sentence. In her mid-twenties, despite substantial effort and such qualifications as a degree in physics from an ivy league university and a pair of eyes, the girl still cannot tell a chicken leg from a turkey leg. Really.
As you may have guessed from the headline, there is another chapter to this story. Despite a fair measure of professional culinary training, I myself remain, shall we say, borderline developmentally challenged when it comes to avian anatomy. Actually, let’s just put it all out there. Although my maternal grandfather was a butcher, and I think I saw on top chef one time where a guy with a butcher for a grandfather had some sweet skills in his genes, it is much, much better for all species involved when meat of any kind arrives in my kitchen already dismembered. Proper trussing of a chicken must be much easier for people who can tell with a glance whether the “breast side is up.” Don’t get me wrong; I can find it eventually, and things are better post-roast; so in certain company I will even carve at the table. But seriously, that part of the breast that peeks out from the skin of a roast chicken? Looks way more like a butt – are you with me here? It comes down to this: animal anatomy has always been an issue umami-side; and after one particular Saturday morning class involving a bad hangover and a lamb leg with the hoof still attached, I can say with substantial pride that I take every opportunity to support local businesses by asking butchers to do the full extent of their job.
As you can imagine, for a certain sector of the umami family, warm thoughts about Thanksgiving focus more on the two kinds of stuffing that have entered our family routine as the result of a stuff-off between Great Grandmas, the mashed potatoes, the bird as raw material for gravy-making. But despite the imposing presence of the bird as conversation topic, centerpiece and star of the show today, this is actually the easiest day of the year for us umamis on the anatomical front as well. For A, there is the ability to rely on context clues and know with relative certainty, for once, that it will be a turkey coming out of the oven. And for me, with a crowd of family and friends around the table, there is the knowledge that there will always be someone else to carve the bird. For these things and more, we are deeply thankful.
Just a final contribution to the kind glow of Thanksgiving, particularly if, like me, you’re a bit behind in getting your act together. You know how all the TV chefs have been prancing around calling everything from lamb hooves to chicken butts “sweet and nutty” for years now, such that you just want to deliver to each of them a swift, round-house kick to the face, Chuck Norris style, until they’re all passed out on the ground in a pile of sweet, sweet nuttiness? Well, have I got the last-minute Thanksgiving side dish for you. Roasted broccoli. (Have you seen that one coming ever since the second paragraph, or what?) Truly sweet and nutty for a change, and the easiest, healthiest thing imaginable. Crank the oven to 425, toss broccoli florets with some olive oil, salt and pepper on a baking sheet, and roast for 25 minutes. No anatomical knowledge required; and trust me – creatures of all species will thank you.