Signature dish

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 December, 2011, 12:00am

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Let's talk turkey. Nobody knows the origin of the phrase - which means to speak plainly - but my theory is that it comes from the fact that turkey is such a plain-tasting bird.

After years of eating turkey during the holiday season, it finally dawned on me: I don't like it. I realised this about a year ago with some foodie friends at a restaurant. A friend had pre-ordered the turducken, a a much-revered dish that I'd heard of, but never tasted. The bones are removed from a turkey, duck and chicken, each bird is put inside the larger one and the gaps are filled with stuffing. It sounds delicious, but isn't, because by the time the interior is cooked, the turkey is overcooked and dry.

My friends and I discussed improvements, including stuffing the turkey inside the chicken, which then goes inside the duck. It makes sense because the duck fat would baste the drier birds inside, but it's physically impossible unless you can find a very large duck and very small turkey. I suggested the awkwardly named piquailricebird - a pigeon stuffed with a quail stuffed with a rice bird. All are dark meats, so it would remain moist. It wouldn't be very big, though, or feed many.

I decided to talk turkey because it's the time of year when it's eaten in quantity. Yes, it's an impressively large bird that feeds a lot of people, at a low cost (unless you buy a 'heritage' breed). But too often it's dull. I'm not saying I've never had good turkey. But 'good' is relative. The best I can say about most of them is that the meat wasn't dry.

But at a Thanksgiving lunch last week, where I met a lot of interesting people, I realised it's not the turkey that matters; it's the occasion. While I pushed aside the breast meat to get to the ham underneath, I talked about restaurants and cooking with my neighbours, while listening to the political discussion further down the table. It wasn't a family-oriented Thanksgiving meal; it was a lunch with people who brought to the table some food for thought. And that is just as important as the food.