The venerated fowl, which Ben Franklin once suggested as our national bird, has been gracing American dinner tables since the Europeans landed on Plymouth Rock (or thereabouts). When spied pecking their way across colonial meadows and woodlands, the hapless birds were mistaken for a type of guinea fowl native to the Turkish region of Europe, and thus named Turkey.
Turkey remains today, a thoroughly exotic, American food. Americans dining in Europe may find turkey listed on a menu in a more upscale locale, but in general, Europeans don't eat turkey.
While living outside of Brussels, Belgium in the mid-1990s, a tip from a friend, led me to a butcher that sold fresh American turkeys. Upon placing my order, I felt proud as a peahen, believing I'd be serving my family a traditional holiday meal, on our first Thanksgiving abroad.
The boucherie (butcher shop) was packed the day I went to pick up my bird. When I stepped to the counter, identified myself, and my order, the butcher smiled and disappeared into the meat locker behind him. He emerged with a hideous creature, which he proudly hung before me - a whole turkey - minus the feathers - head flopped to one side - presented for my approval.
As I stood in horror, words from the butcher's mouth flew past my untrained ears, faster than I could understand them.
A kind woman stepped up, obviously aware of my panic, and translated. The butcher wanted to know, if I wanted the turkey dressed. Dressed, as in butchered? YES, YES! PLEASE, sir. PLEASE, DRESS MY TURKEY!
I have no idea what I would have done, if the Belgian butcher had simply flung the undressed bird, over the counter, and sent me on my way. I suppose, I would have paid, left the shop, and considered the entire experience, a lesson learned.
No doubt, turkey is an American culinary staple, and yet as popular as it is, many people are afraid to prepare a stuffed, and roasted bird. I'm sure that even the newest foodie-novitiate has heard a myriad of turkey-horror-stories about the perils of undercooked or bacteria-laden turkey-meat.
My own mother had a story she loved to tell of a college acquaintance whose entire family was hospitalized after a run-in with a fouled-fowl.
With all of the cookbook cautions, warning labels, public service announcements, and on-line-turkey-hotlines, it seems a stretch to imagine anyone getting sick today, from mishandling a raw or cooked turkey.
As celebrated as a handsomely roasted turkey is, it won't stand alone without the support of an array of festive holiday dishes. I've added links below, to some of my favorite holiday recipes. Some are very traditional, and others, are tradition with a twist. Enjoy!
(click below on the recipe title)