Hot Brown

Thanksgiving traditions being what they are, the bird, the sides, and the desserts are all rather codified. Its not that the meal is stodgy, but it is necessarily familiar. Often the real creativity comes in when the leftovers need to be eaten. (Though a plate of turkey and a dollop of mayonnaise is a big favorite at our house.)

At 4th Base leftover turkey means that Hot Brown day is coming soon. This usually coincides with Bulb Day, which usually coincides with Black Friday. However this year wretched cold and very windy weather visited us from early in the morning until late and night and that guy I like had to work, so we postponed the whole thing until today. I’m still getting used to this whole blogging thing and honestly I didn’t even put on my glasses until after breakfast, so there are no pictures.

The traditional Hot Brown has fried bread (homemade in this case) which is crunchy on the outside and pillowy on the inside, thick slices of moist, tender turkey breast, just enough bacon, gooey cheesy Mornay sauce, all broiled until the sauce bubbles, then topped with a thick cold slice of tomato for the perfect amount of tanginess. SO GOOD. You may be imagining how good this tastes, let me assure you it’s better than that. My big change is to take leftover gravy and add cheddar cheese to it instead of making a traditional Mornay. Honestly, at this point, I have had this version so many times I don’t think I want the regular cheese sauce anyway. As far as once a year foods go, this one pretty much rules.

The Long Fret

For days you have debated, spatchcock, cut the whole bird into pieces, roast it whole?
This year he is working all day and will join you for that frantic moment when, in a whirlwind of activity, the two of you pack everything into the truck and head up the hill.
He will not be there for the fretting this time and that’s OK.
He has already baked the rolls and they sit on the counter
Shiny and perfect.
You have decided that, with no one around to drive you to the hospital, you should forgo spatchcocking the bird.
It will be a long slow cook this year.
The bird has brined for 4 days guaranteeing osmosis and moist delicious meat.
At the prescribed time you take the bird out of the brine and stuff it full of fruit and aromatics.
That didn’t take nearly long enough.
Now you must wait for the next time on your carefully calculated clock.
The time comes and you leap into action.
Into a blazing hot oven goes the bird for 15 minutes.
The timer is set.
You sit down for the first fretting session.
It was unnecessary, of course.
The skin has begun to blister and tan.
You insert the probe thermometer and drop the temperature.
Now it is time for the annual researching the temperature you are aiming for.
You will not remember it next year.
You set the temperature alarm.
Now it is time for the long fret.

Diva Butcher

Several times a year I pack up my knives in my damask canvas knife bag, throw on a bandana and spend the day covered in gore. Some people dream of running away to join the circus. I dream of running away to become my truest form, the Diva Butcher.

I don’t remember ever being around butchery when I was young. Our farm produced beans, corn and tomatoes. Other than our pets, the only animals we had were bees and those were only for a short time. We ate meat, but we bought it at the store.

My butchery obsession started in about 2008 innocently enough with watching YouTube videos of how to gut a turkey, but I remember teaching myself how to break down a chicken based on a cooking show I watched on PBS and the diagrams in my mom’s copy of Joy Of Cooking when I was a kid. By 2009 I had a patch of unemployment in which I threw myself in to working on farms owned by my friends and their friends in trade for fresh food. At this point I’ve helped butcher chickens, turkeys, rabbits, pigs, and sheep. By now I’m hooking other people in and showing them the ropes. If butchery is a drug, then call me a pusher.

There’s a Buddhist parable about a butcher, which I’m having trouble finding right now, but the basic idea is that when a butcher reaches mastery of his art it looks like he is doing no work at all. Yesterday, while I was teaching someone else to butcher a friend of mine said, “Its not at all obvious based on what she’s doing, but this takes a lot of physical strength.” And that’s what I think I like about it so much. It is something I can do to show up as a total badass and if there’s something I like its being able to show up as awesome. [Edit: I couldn’t find the parable because I was looking in the wrong tradition. It is a Taoist parable.]

Oh, and butchers get the leftovers. Livers, hearts, fat, gizzards, necks, testes, whatever other people don’t want, we get to keep. I made the joke yesterday that anyone who thinks I’m heartless should look in my freezer since I have several in there. Yesterday I got to bring home the backs and giblets from three turkeys, plus a bag of testes. Today I took the copious meat and fat off the backs, froze the meat for sausage, the bones and necks for later stock making, the giblets and testes  for future experiments, and I took the fat and put it into a pot for rendering.


That pot is full of liquid gold, turkey schmaltz and turkey Chicharrón, aka butcher treats for later usage.

BTW, one of the things you’ll never see in your store bought turkey’s giblet bag is how giant your Tom’s testicles are. Click here to see the gory details.



Moments in Burque

Throughout the week I’m going to collect snippets to share on Fridays. I’m calling these posts “Moments in Burque.” Hope you enjoy the first edition.

This morning I was chatted up by the Hispanic version of William Burroughs. Kind and hard edged with hollow cheeks and a bottle of Johnny Walker Red peeking out of the pocket of his black trench coat. He was impeccably dressed and walked with a cane. He liked my hair and remarked on my wool trench coat, even mentioning how warm it must be in Mexico City right now. I damn near asked if I could read what he was writing right now.

I was sitting at the bus stop nearest my house and trying to type a message to that guy I like while wearing my tech friendly gloves. The auto corrects were hilarious, for instance “Hot dilly,” which you must say in the voice of Ned Flanders, instead of “hopefully” and so I was snickering and giggling to myself. The three kids who are frequently at the stop with me are always dubious about my presence, but today they slowly backed away from me and stood to the side of the shelter out of my sight. It occurred to me that I am the creepy woman with purple hair at the bus stop in the world of these kids.

While massaging my hoshigaki I remarked to Dave that they felt really pleasant, sorta like squishy nut sacks. Yeah, I went there. Here’s a picture:
Of the persimmons you perv!


The Hegelian Dialectical Relationship Between Hamburger and Ketchup

When I eat a hamburger you can bet there is ketchup on the table. I’m an absolute cretin who will order a burger, squirt a puddle of ketchup on the plate, then proceed to dip my burger and replenish the puddle until I’m sated. In my defense I won’t order a burger at a fancy restaurant with perfectly balanced flavors and no salt on the table. I’m ordering my burgers at the local pub, making them at home, or if that guy I like and I are in a particular mood, going through the eeeeeviiiillll *scowling jazzhands* fast food drive thru.

As I see it the hamburger is the thesis and the ketchup is the antithesis, it is only with both that you can achieve the perfect synthesis of juicy, tangy, greasy, meaty, and crisp. Imagine you are eating a burger. The grease coats your tongue, the onion pops with its sulfuric hit, pickles explode with tanginess, tomatoes burst forth aqueous and cold, he crunch of lettuce snaps you out of the reverie of flavors, and ketchup and mustard come through every once in a while to wipe the palate clear to allow the process to begin again. Sounds pretty amazing, right? But the truth is there’s hardly ever enough of that palate cleanser. What if you started each bite with a protective layer of tangy sweet ketchup? That is the reasoning behind ketchup dipping. Ketchup eases you into the flavor bomb lurking in the rest of the burger.

That’s why I was so incensed when I saw what Plan Check is doing with their Umami Burger. That thing on the baking tray, which they then cut into squares and put on the burger is ketchup leather. No, just no. When dried, ketchup loses its thixotropic nature, which is the thing that makes it a perfect dippable palate cleanser while eating burgers. I maintain that a burger such as this may be wonderful, but it cannot reach the perfect synthesis without a ketchup dip to accompany it.

Non-Newtonian ketchup is needed to create the perfect Hegelian dialectic of flavors. I reject ketchup leather.