Using the whole bird: a vegetarian’s Thanksgiving

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It’s the day after Thanksgiving, my second year now of feasting on a scrumptious local turkey raised by my friends down the road at Cave Springs Farm.  The weight of turkeys that live free and uncontrolled lives doing turkeyish things like moving around, gobbling and eating things that are not re-constituted bits of other animals are hard to predict.  The first year we got a local turkey, the smallest bird weighed in at 20 pounds, which was a lot for just my husband and I to consume.  This year our bird was a perfectly manageable 12 pounds, and having gained some serious experience this year with what you might euphemistically call “bird processing,” I was firmly committed to getting every penny’s worth out of our bird.

Beautiful horses from Cave Springs Farm

In the summer, I helped some friends who raise chickens kill and pluck a chicken for our own table.  I started an essay to share that experience with everyone, but it didn’t happen.  Which is not to say an essay won’t be coming someday, but for now, let me just say that when you have witnessed the death of something you are going to eat, it changes things.  This Thanksgiving, it made it more important than usual to use as much of our turkey as possible.

Our turkey was processed by an Amish butcher, so it came with the innards  packed nicely inside along with the neck.  These we promptly threw in the freezer for later use.  I recently read Kristin Kimball’s memoir of love and farming, The Dirty Life, and there’s a strangely erotic scene where her not-yet-husband farmer cooks her a deer liver.  I don’t know if it’ll be erotic or anything, but I’m interested in doing some research on what to do with turkey liver.  The neck we’ll use to make more broth.

In the latest issue of Bon Appetit magazine there’s a recipe for turkey and mushroom risotto which calls for day after turkey broth, made by boiling the turkey carcass with various vegetables.  So today, we cut all the good meat off the turkey, and then I stripped the carcass bare.

Did I mention that before my most recent chicken murdering episode I was a vegetarian for almost fifteen years?  I still consider myself largely a vegetarian who only eats meat that has passed through familiar hands.  As a sociologist, I understand that disgust and appetite are socially constructed; the thought of eating a worm grosses us out, but it’s delicious somewhere on the planet.  As a long-time vegetarian, I know that you can change what you find disgusting.  Hell, you don’t have to be a vegetarian to know that.  Just think of whatever food you ate right before the last time you puked your guts out.  My step-daughter won’t eat Skyline chili to this day.

Watching someone cut up an animal carcass has been disgusting to me for years, maybe even before I stopped eating meat.  But, at least for me, being intimate with animal death changes that.  Once you’ve held an animal in your hands, carried it to its own slaughter and watched the blood drain out of its body, squeamishness at handling it when it’s dead just seems, well, stupid.

I asked my husband if there was anything erotic about watching his vegetarian wife enthusiastically strip the little bits of meat off a turkey carcass.  I guess we don’t quite have the same relationship Kristin Kimball and her husband have, as he thought not so much.

turkey
My turkey looked nothing like this by
the time I was done with it

Once the turkey carcass was stripped, I threw it in a stock pot with some onion, carrots and thyme sprigs from out of our back garden.  Then for about three and a half hours, it simmered down into broth, filling the house with a smell that was even more delicious than the smell of the turkey in the oven yesterday.

Is it me, or is there something deeply satisfying about the making of broth?  The only cooking experience that compares for me in terms of sheer joy is cooking greens, I think because both activities feel like the play cooking I did as a child, in the back yard with little toy pots of grass and sticks.  Here are the largely inedible parts of an animal, and we are squeezing every last bit of taste and nutrition out of them–slowly and deliciously.  We say thank you, turkey, by using every little bit.

So, any ideas out there for turkey liver?

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