I was just happy to have turkey. When you’re dining with a vegetarian family at Thanksgiving, it’s not a given. When I heard we were butterfly-ing a 30-pound hunker that had days before been running around a Maryland farm, I was more than a little shocked. But when I saw the thing, when I actually laid eyes on its bulging, plucked body with sizable black feather nubbins stuck in its large pores, I was flabbergasted.
At an event I covered the previous week for TimeOut New York (where I sat next to Jeffrey Steingarten!), Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink editor Andy F. Smith said 99% of Americans would be eating a turkey that had been frozen. Was I happy to be in the 1% that wouldn't? I wasn't so sure.
Oh, it was all I could do to stand back and stifle nervous laughter while my boyfriend’s mother wrestled the beast with a pair of kitchen shears and a pile of black plastic-handled knives. She was consulting a Washington Post article showing 4 demure images of two hands gently cutting through turkey skin to remove the backbone and completing the butterfly process by pressing down on the breasts to break the bones and lay the bird flat, making it all the more quicker to cook through.
Well, the first pair of kitchen shears broke within the first 2 minutes. The woman in the article obviously wasn't dealing with the type of monstrosity we had on our hands. I couldn't let my Thanksgiving kitchenmate hack away while I flip-flopped between hysterical laughter and nauseousness. I grabbed a pair of scissors and flung them into the flesh with determination.
After a series of arm- and hand-strengthening exercises, wrists deep in turkey innards, gagging at dark red coagulation and inch-thick flabby skin, we’d removed a huge hammer-handle sized bone, along with the entire cavity of the bird and most of its right leg to boot.
I don't have to tell you that "gently applying pressure to flatten the turkey" didn't do the trick. But that hammer sure did. Julia Child did say that hardware tools were handy to have in the kitchen. I bet she conquered more than a few oversized Broad-breasted Whites in her day.
We rubbed our mangled bird with fresh herbs, salt, and butter and stuck her in the fridge to marinade overnight. The poor thing had gone through hell and so did we. Believe it or not (and you'll have to do it on faith alone because I don't have any "after" shots), the turkey ended up looking just fine in the end, despite the trauma it went through. And miraculously, come dinnertime, my appetite for turkey made a comeback as well. The Man Who Ate Everything would be proud.