As I scrubbed the internet for a Thanksgiving-themed cursed opinion to latch onto for this week’s post, I noticed something of a recurring theme. From “how to make a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner consisting entirely of sides” to clickbait-y “which Thanksgiving side has to go” flamewars to “salad DOES deserve to be part of the Thanksgiving spread,” there’s definitely one recurring theme that, deep down, we’ve known all along: the sides really are the best part of Thanksgiving. Why, after all this time, do we even bother with the turkey?
I’ve trash talked turkey on here plenty of times. I’m not doing this to be contrarian, it’s hardly a controversial opinion to hold. Do I think there are applications for it? Sure. If you want a fancy deli sandwich with strong condiments that would clash with something like roast beef or ham, turkey’s just the bland bird for the job. And sure , many publications have been trying to push the novel concept of “break down the turkey before roasting, so the breasts and thighs can all be cooked separately and thus not overcooked,”(or, at the very least, brine the damn thing) but dads across Suburbia will refuse to listen to such reasoning if it ruins their picturesque, Norman Rockwell ritual sacrifice of a whole bird on the carving alter.
I’m tired of the gaslight-girlboss-levels of blatant lies we tell each other every Thanksgiving. Enough is enough. If your only rationale for doing something is “because tradition,” you need to rethink your life. Or, let me rethink it for you.
If you look into what kinds of foods were actually served at the first Thanksgiving, there are plenty of protein options to choose from, from venison to a variety of different seafoods. But there’s one other standout that I believe-for 3 main reasons- may be the perfect turkey replacement: duck.
This year happens to be what many are calling “the most expensive Thanksgiving to date,” with rising labor costs across the supply chain (paired with CEOs’ refusal to let such expenses eat into the bonuses they pay themselves) driving up food costs. I mean, sure, the 20-pounder bargain-bin turkey running at $1.99/lb is still relatively cheap for a holiday roast. But all those publications I mentioned earlier as pushing for the roasting of pre-carved parts also push for heritage breed turkeys, and those bad boys can easily break $100 for a bird that’s half the size. (And, keep in mind that the yield of edible meat off of a whole roasted bird is about 33% of its original, raw weight.) A few cases over, there’s boneless, skin-on duck breasts selling for $8.99 each. So, no shame if you were planning on going the cheaper route, but if you were planning on splurging a little anyways, it’s cheaper to just give everyone their own individual duck breast. Hell, you could get enough so that everyone could get an extra half breast for “leftovers” and it would still be cheaper than a $100 heritage turkey that yields, like, 3 pounds of meat.
Every November, my mom struggles to bring home a turkey, clear a spot for it in the freezer, then clear a spot for it in the fridge a few days before the Big Event for it to thaw out. And everytime you move that big, slippery, frozen-solid bird, you worry about how many pieces your foot would get smashed into if you dropped it. And you have to keep an ample supply of paper towels under it as it defrosts to soak up all the water that’s going to leach out of it.
Or you can just throw a bunch of cryovaced duck breasts in the fridge that take up, like, ⅔ of the space and call it a day.
Back to the real meat of the matter, my hatred of the whole roasted turkey comes down to the fact that, more often than not, by the time the thighs are cooked through, the breasts are overcooked. By doing a tray of just duck breasts, though, you eliminate the precarious balancing act by having just the one cut of meat. Speaking of cooking thoroughly- while duck, like any poultry, technically should be cooked to 165°F (Legal Disclaimer™), pretty much anyone actually considering serving duck at Thanksgiving would probably be serving it somewhere from medium-rare to medium-well, meaning you have a little bit of leeway. Hell, if your oven tends to cook unevenly, you can take advantage of its hot and cold spots to provide your guests cuts covering the entire spectrum of donenesses. Not to mention the fact that because of a duck breast’s smaller size, there’s much less risk of hitting a random cold spot, as you could in the middle of a whole turkey.
(And, because this doesn’t necessarily fit in any of the other categories, I would like to point out that yes, you can still make gravy from the rendered-off duck fat.)
Will this year be the year society takes my modest proposal seriously? Probably not. But I’d like to think that yes, a better future is possible. A future where people are willing to break free of the “this is the way we’ve always done it’ mindset and get creative with the things they serve their families.