If the title of this blog confuses you then you have never cooked a holiday meal for a group of ten or more people. If you know exactly what the title means I have good news for you… it’s that shot of Turkey before you sit down. It calms the nerves, incites digestion and tastes very good.
Now that you have the punch line I shall tell you the joke. The joke is, no matter how talented, if you can cook a holiday dinner for over ten people and sit down when they do and enjoy the meal with them you are certifiably insane. You have no emotions. You can kill without guilt, steal with amoral determination and cheat at solitaire.
From the most inexperienced home cook to the chef who once ran the Ritz Carlton in New York City they all agree that cooking a dinner for that many people is mentally more than physically stressful. Your prep and Mise en place can be perfect.
Your kitchen can be a dream to work in and all of the pots, pans, grills and refrigerator in perfect placement. You can even have a Sous-chef to smooth the rough spots. The less ambitious can opt for the semi-catered dinner delivered to the door by such as (this is not a plug but I am using them this year) Fresh Direct here in New York City.
Knowing how to either set up for a fully-cooked or semi-catered event involves the seating and clean-up procedure as well as the pre-dinner taste treats and cider of either fermented or non-fermented, if you are being traditional. At chez LaFrance the “strong” brown large-bottle monsters are brought up from the cellar (hall closet) and carefully dusted off. Once that is done it is time to wait for the guests and make sure the last minute cooking necessities are seen to. Is the oven at 450F to roast the Brussels Sprouts?
Are the vacuum-packed green beans and almond slivers ready to “nuke”? Did you remember to count two serving bowls for the ten people? Did you count the serving spoons? How many will be drinking non-alcoholic cider and who will be poaching my favorite big brown ale? Are the knives sharp? Did I remember to take the Turkey’s temperature?
Speaking of Turkey… that’s where we started eh?
Well, this is the time when the stress really grabs the cook by the bowels and starts to get the adrenal gland ready to get involved. Keep in mind that the above scenario has been related to me by all of the cooking folks mentioned above as well as your humble scribe.
While your guests are arriving you are getting wound up tighter than a cheap watch. Remember when you had to wind a wrist watch? While your guests are sipping and chatting you are in the kitchen checking the last-minute touch-ups and getting more wound up. If you take a look into the dining area you will see your guests seating themselves and beginning to get demanding.
If you don’t look into the dining area you will surely begin to hear inquiries from the masses along the line of … “The Indians didn’t have to wait this long!”
And so the feeding process begins. The food is dished up into serving dishes and passed into the assembled masses. The turkey had better be sliced and ready to meet plate, yams, sprouts and cranberry sauce. The diners are now happily dining and you grab a dish and plate it as well as you can and then fall into a chair, still all wound up and high on adrenalin. The last thing you want is to eat. All you want is a glass of beer and another one and another one. Just finishing the third one you come down to earth and discover your guests have finished their dinner and have figured out how to serve themselves the deserts they brought, just as you are ready to enjoy the dinner that is now a bit cold on your plate. Ah the joys of cooking for a crowd!
This brings me back to the subject of the best beer to go with a shot of Turkey. The answer is your favorite beer is the beer to have after that shot of Turkey. What is essential is the shot of Turkey. Please believe me when I assure you that I have no financial interest in the distillery that produces the Turkey line of bourbon. That said, I suggest that if you want to escape the above scenario you do the following. Just before you begin passing the serving bowls and platters you pour yourself a double of the Turkey of your choice and down it like a reporter on the way to a breaking story. Take three or four minutes to let it hit home. Then and only then will the adrenalin abate and the unwinding begin. Then, and only then, will you be able to actually anticipate savoring the food on your plate. Then and only then is it time to sit down with the rest of the folks and be truly thankful than you didn’t have to kill anything other than that shot of Turkey.