The memorable poultry of Thanksgiving 2013

“Do you remember Thanksgiving 2013?” we’ll ask in a few years. “Oh yeah! Wasn’t that the time we butterflied the turkey and caught a rooster?”

The turkey

This is the first year I have ever been in charge of making a real turkey. Exciting! Of course, I can’t just roast a turkey like a normal person — I have to find a special way to do it. So, after browsing magazines and searching my favorite food blogs for the last few weeks, I finally landed on this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine in which the turkey is “butterflied” (that is, flattened after having its backbone removed) and roasted on a broiler pan set above a roasting pan full of stuffing, thus allowing the turkey juices to soak right into the stuffing. Yummy? Check. Unique? Check. Just hard enough to make things interesting? Check.

As cooking day approached, I realized I was going to need some serious help after studying the recipe closely. On the morning of the backbone-removal, I read these introductory notes aloud to Jon over breakfast:

… however, butterflying a turkey is a whole lot harder than butterflying a chicken, a feat I’d accomplished many times with only a little help from a good pair of scissors to cut out the backbone. Because scissors are no match for the sturdier bone structure of a turkey, I found a good-quality chef’s knife was necessary to cut along either side of the backbone. Even with a sharp blade, I still needed to apply some serious pressure to cut through the thicker bones, sometimes literally hack-ing my way through. Once the backbone was removed, I found that the sturdy rib cage would not flatten under the heel of my hand, as a chicken’s would. I reached for my heavy-duty rolling pin, placed the turkey breast-side up, and whacked the breastbone until it flattened — aggressive culinary therapy, if you will. All of this means getting quite physical, but there’s no way around it if you want to turn out a perfect high-roast turkey.

Jon was not frightened away. What a good man.

Later that day, Jon rolled up his sleeves and got to work. Watch him in action here, in a couple of time-lapse videos that show all the action in just a couple minutes:

After the turkey sat in the fridge overnight (uncovered, to dry out the skin and promote crispy browning), we roasted it — and it turned out gorgeous. Here you can see Jon carving it, which actually turns out to be pretty easy once you have flattened the turkey.

Butterflied and Roasted

So, how was the bird? Quite delicious, I’d say. Crispy skin and tender meat. Click photo to enlarge. But I’ll be honest: I think we overcooked it a little. Perhaps that is traditional for turkey? But nobody seemed to mind, especially since we also served these incredible cream-braised brussels sprouts and Jon’s mom’s pumpkin pie.

The rooster

During that long interval when the turkey was having its skin intentionally dried out in the fridge, I did my fair share of cooking other things: stuffing, potato dough rolls, and mini tarts of many varieties. Just before lunch, I decided I needed to fortify myself against the influx of butter and cream by going for a run through Peterson Park — about a 2½ mile loop for me, which is just about my speed these days.

Peterson Park is home to a wonderfully rich variety of animal wildlife. I often see deer on my runs through the park, as well as the typical city squirrels and birds. Once, inexplicably, I saw a turtle hobbling down the path. And on this day, as I jogged along the path, I saw a chicken. A chicken? I thought. In Peterson Park?

The chicken was beautiful — rusty red with a golden ruff and lovely blue-green plumage in his tail. The bird seemed happy enough nibbling at the grass, but it didn’t seem like the best place for a chicken to live. There have been sightings of coyotes in Peterson Park, not to mention plenty of city raccoons, either of which will kill a chicken if they get the chance. I sent a picture to Jon and asked for his advice. “Can you catch it?” he texted me. “Try to catch it! If you do, we’ll come get you.”

Gingerbread the Rooster in Peterson Park

Not wanting to stand around with a chicken in my arms for ten minutes, I decided just to stay near the chicken while waiting for the reinforcements to arrive. Once Jon and the girls were on the scene, we discovered that catching a lively, independent fowl is not as easy as one might think — but we finally cornered it, wrapped it in a towel, and drove it home with us.

Gingerbread (as the girls immediately christened it en route home) quickly made herself/himself at home. Jon gave him some breadcrumbs and water, both of which were quickly devoured. The girls marveled over Gingerbread’s every movement (“She pooped! She pooped right on the ground! Right here!”). But we knew that, even if we wanted to keep this chicken, we needed a safe place for the chicken to be that night. Luckily, our chicken-owning friends at the end of our block were willing to offer asylum to Gingerbread.

After a vigorous discussion on Facebook, we determined that Gingerbread was not a hen, but a rooster — a fact confirmed at dawn when the little refugee crowed at first light. Jon did some research over the next few days, and finally ended up crafting Gingerbread a custom carrying box and driving him to work in order to make the handoff to a willing animal rescuer. (We’re pretty sure it’s the first time ever that InterVarsity Press has been the site of a rooster-asylum transfer.)

The girls have quickly recovered from the loss of Gingerbread, especially with the beginning of Advent and all the festivities and preparations that entails. We’re glad he is in a good home.

And as for the leftover turkey? It’s safely shredded and tucked in the freezer, awaiting more soups!

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