A turkey has a face that only a farmer can love, and then only because the turkey represents revenue.
It was easy for Americans to make turkey the sacrificial lamb of Thanksgiving because turkeys are so ugly. Is this too harsh a judgment? Look again. The dinosaur skin. That spooky wattle waggling. The permanently frowning beak. I stand by my assessment.
But what a hassle to cook one.
I don’t know this firsthand. I only know it from witnessing my wife’s low-grade dread of, and active disdain for, the process every year. She is the family cook; I have experience with the can opener and that’s about it. So I have to trust her perspective on turkey-dinner prep. Unpleasant, I think, would be a kinder, gentler paraphrase of her opinion. Plus, after all that unpleasantness, what you wind up with is turkey meat. This isn’t a dish that thrills either of us.
Our three children are grown and gone — this Thanksgiving, for the first time, none of them would be coming to Ipswich for the holiday — so there was no incentive to prepare a turkey dinner at our place. Our youngest, in acting school in New York, offered a nice alternative: We take the train to the city, she makes reservations for Thanksgiving dinner at some fancy joint, and I pay the bill. Perfect!
So at the appointed hour, we found ourselves seated on an elegant banquette (that’s French, for you country folk) in an elegant restaurant (also French) staring at a prix fixe menu (properly pronounced pree-FEEKS, I can assure you, and don’t contradict me, because I minored in français).
Clearly, le chef in a fancy New York City restaurant finds a turkey no more pleasant than anyone else does. So le menu on Thanksgiving Day didn’t offer simply a traditional turkey entrée. In fact, the ugly, ordinary bird didn’t even get top billing. Why headline your beautiful liste d’options with the ugly and the ordinary, when you’re offering the marveilleux and the extraordinaire?
So I had the monkfish.
I realize, of course, that monkfish is the turkey of the sea. It’s even uglier than its fowl counterpart — in fact, one of the ugliest creatures God ever created: a gaping cavern of a mouth with bands of vicious teeth, skin flapping like seaweed, spiny fins that work like feet as the scavenger scrounges on the ocean floor, eating anything and everything. And it does — thanks to a stomach so expandable, the fish can actually consume another animal its own size.
Monkfish is actually the kindest name given to this ghastly thing; it’s also known as a frog-fish and a sea devil. Fishmongers can’t sell these ghastly things without first beheading them. People feel like if you bring such a horror into your home, you must certainly fall under some kind of curse.
But it’s so délicieuse!
Yes, for all the revulsion caused by the monkfish’s grotesque looks, the meat of the monkfish is properly known as “poor man’s lobster.” It has that same pleasant springy texture, and if you drench it in enough drawn butter, you can almost imagine it’s a hunk of lobster tail.
I was enchanté by my monkfish dinner, accompanied by a lovely array of accoutrements — with not a yam or a green bean casserole to be seen. I have vowed never to go back to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
And on a farm somewhere out there, a turkey is weeping with relief and gratitude. Ugly as ever, yet he will live to gobble another day.
Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where wild turkeys roam with impunity. Follow #DougBrendelIpswich on Instagram.