Jamie Stokes: Turkey Hunting
Special seasonal meals are universal to all human cultures. People who are satisfied with fishfingers and potato cakes for 51 weeks of the year, suddenly feel they must eat carp – a meal so difficult to prepare and unpleasant to eat that you would assume your hosts were insane if they served it to you at any other time. Eskimos, quite content to eat seal meat and penguin sandwiches for 364 days of the year, mysteriously feel the need to whip up a Thai curry in the middle of winter (I guess).
In England, the special, ridiculous Christmas meal is turkey – a form of poultry characterised by tasting almost exactly like chicken, while being not quite as good and much harder to cook. I think we got this strange habit from the Americans and the fact that huge, roasted birds always look amazing in adverts.
If you are in your home country, putting together the ingredients for your absurd festive meal is easy. In Poland, swimming pools full of dazed looking carp appear in every supermarket in mid-December. In the arctic, teams of Thai curry ingredient salesmen strap on their snow shoes and go from igloo to igloo all month long (I guess). In England, the turkey-neck chopping machines are oiled, sharpened and ready to go by the last weekend in November.
If, like me, you happen to live in a foreign country, it's not so easy. This is why I spent the last six weeks looking for a frozen turkey. I don't mean I literally spent six weeks looking for a turkey, I mean I've been casually looking in frozen food cabinets over the past six weeks and worrying because I never saw turkeys – a surprising number of frozen ducks and geese, but no turkeys.
With the turn of December, there was no choice left but to mount a full-scale expedition to the largest Tesco within a 50 km radius. Like Roald Amundsen I knew I had to reach my goal before winter began. Fortunately, unlike Roald Amundsen, I was able to catch a tram there.
I found the frozen turkeys almost immediately, but there was still a problem. What if this turkey from a foreign Tesco didn't turn out the way I expected it to? I'd never cooked a turkey this far east before, and who knew what effect Poland's notorious changeable air pressure would have? The only solution was to buy two turkeys and prepare a test Christmas dinner well in advance of the main event.
Turkey cooking is a complicated business. First there’s the problem of defrosting the bird, which should be done slowly over the course of a couple of days. My fridge is far too small, and it was no good putting it on the balcony because the thing kept freezing again every night. Eventually I juggled a system of half a day on the balcony followed by half a day in the corridor. My neighbours are now convinced I’m mad.
The immediate results were better than I could have hoped. The turkey cooked beautifully under Polish atmospheric conditions, even in my French-made oven, which I had feared would simply scoff at such a simple Anglo-Saxon a meal. The longer-term results were mixed. I now have no desire to eat another turkey until next December but, on the positive side, it magically began snowing the moment I took the golden-brown bird out of the oven.