Bye bye, birdie

Turkey is a tradition that’s run its course. How about a nice veal steak instead?

By Sam Allis
Globe Staff / November 24, 2009

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Today, I rise to address a subject that has tortured me for years: the tyranny of turkey.

Turkey has held us hostage on holidays for long enough, thank you very much. Since shortly after amphibians hit dry land, it seems, we have eaten the bird for Thanksgiving and, with rare exceptions, Christmas. Some will argue, hey, it’s twice a year, suck it up. We are not, they say, like geese who are force-fed grain to produce foie gras. Maybe not, but we’re close.

Yes, turkey is a holiday tradition, but so what? We blow off traditions with brio: planned obsolescence, the burning of heretics, spats. It’s the American way.

For the record, turkey is dry, insufferably boring stuff. Turkey maniacs maintain the bird doesn’t have to taste that way at all, that inventive cooks can transform it from army food to haute cuisine. Cook it in brine, cook it in Gatorade, throw the thing down the basement stairs for all I care - at the end of the day, turkey still remains a dreary eating experience.

Stuffing is the only part of the meal, it seems to me, where cooks can display their creativity. I went online to and found under Home Cooking no fewer than 49 kinds of stuffing. Consider: baked flounder with scallops, fennel and escarole, apple couscous, macademia and ginger, and a confection called Eight Treasure. My stuffing, in contrast, would be known for the arresting mix of Good & Plenty and tripe.

But this year’s turkey reminds you of last year’s turkey, and all the turkeys of all the Christmases past. Don’t take my word for it. A woman named Sue Dickinson, who writes online for something called the New Parents Guide, had this to say on the topic: “Have you ever actually tasted a turkey without all of the trimmings? Basically you have a boring, dry chunk of meat. Not something to get excited about.’’

Her solution, sadly, is to round up the usual suspects: “But, add a few embellishments to that bird. Some stuffing, and vegetables. An attractive jello [sic] mold, and candied yams. Most important of all: the gravy. All of these extras add zest to the turkey, a little spice that makes it infinitely more fulfilling.’’ An attractive Jell-O mold?

My challenge today is for you to walk on the wild side for once in your pathetic holiday eating life. I found a woman named Rosemary Perkins writing on the online version of London’s venerable magazine, the Spectator. She had this bracing suggestion for Christmas dinner: “Why not cook a wonderful big rib of beef instead, with all the trimmings? Buy top quality meat, and make sure you have all the right accompaniments, such as horseradish sauce and freshly mixed English mustard, roast potatoes, and Yorkshire puddings.’’

Bingo, Rosemary. My mouth is watering already. Next on my wish list is a crown roast of pork. I had it some Christmases ago, and I still swoon at the memory. A good pork loin makes me shiver with joy.

Sushi would be a treat for all the sushi weirdos out there. For the rest of us, imagine broiled halibut with its dreamy meat swathed in a light sauce. Lobster, the crustacean for all seasons, would be a home run for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Evacuation Day, you name it. Superior Chinese food always makes me a happy boy.

My dream holiday meals are all Italian. Italy remains the galactic epicenter of great cuisine. (Sorry, Francophiles, but your emperor wears no clothes.) There is an embarrassment of riches here to please the soul.

Numero uno would be built around pasta and meat. The simple but elegant spaghetti with crushed lukewarm tomatoes, basil, and olive oil. Basta. Then we move on to una lombata di vitello - a veal steak. Be. Still. My. Heart. A great Caprese salad followed by the world’s finest cheese, Reggiano, and a pear.

We call it a day with real tiramisu, the chocolate wonder that hermetically seals your arteries. After that, it’s the Home Shopping Network until you decide to rest your eyes.

So, I say, stand up against turkey tyranny, folks. You have nothing to lose but white meat.