23 November 2011

World’s Best Recipes for a Thanksgiving Feast

As close as most Frenchmen ever get to a turkey dinner.

The American holiday of Thanksgiving presents expatriates in France, as well as curious-minded French people, with a number of peculiar challenges: despite the fact that, with that modesty and lack of pretension that is so common to all French people, the French invented the American custom of Thanksgiving (complete with friendly native tribespeople), nowadays almost every bit of the tradition is completely alien to France.

Despite what some people will try to tell you, the difficulty of Thanksgiving to a Frenchman does not extend to saying “thank you,” since the French are, in general, far more polite than Americans, and they are even known to give thanks from time to time, especially when thinking how lucky they are not to be American. But try explaining Thanksgiving Day to the French — just try! The percentage of French people is minuscule who have heard of the holiday and can pronounce the name correctly: “Sahnx-geeveeng.”

The ingredients of a proper Thanksgiving feast are difficult, as well, to obtain in modern-day France. But by following these easy instructions, you, too, can prepare a typical, traditional meal, just like those that I like to prepare in my charming kitchen in the French countryside.

Roast Turkey

Part 1: Ordering the Turkey
  1. Turkey is one of the puzzles of French agriculture, like corn: something one sees growing everywhere, but one seldom sees in the grocery store. Therefore, you will have to go to the poultry vendor (volailler) at his independent shop, or at his stall at the town market.
  2. On or about November 1, inform the poulterer that you will be wanting to purchase a turkey, in time for the third Thursday of the month.
  3. Listen politely as the poulterer nods understandingly and tells you that turkeys make excellent guards and are guaranteed to make a racket whenever an intruder enters your yard; however, turkeys are less interesting as pets, and one must take extra care that they do not look up when it’s raining, due to the risk of drowning.
  4. Explain to the poulterer that, actually, you were planning to eat the turkey.
  5. Apologize to his wife when she comes running to see why her husband just fainted like that.
Suggested pairing: Cognac.

Part 2: Roasting the Turkey
  1. Find a large roasting pan.
  2. To achieve the correct flavor and consistency of an American turkey, shoot the bird full of hormones. If this is not possible, expect that your French turkey will have a very strong flavor — indeed, it will have flavor.
  3. Also, it may be tougher than you expect, due to its bizarre habit of walking around, which it does because it has space and a normally proportioned breast that doesn’t cause the entire bird to tip over every time it stands up.
  4. Rub the turkey with salt, pepper, herbs, and/or butter.
  5. Basting (arrosage) will be especially important. Among the ingredients that many Americans use to baste their birds are butter, whisky, maple syrup (sirop d’érables), and, of course, ketchup (cette sauce de merde).
  6. Preheat the oven to the 6 or 7 setting. You don’t know how hot this is, actually, but it’s hotter than usual, and after all, a turkey is a very large bird, so you figure a couple of extra degrees are a good idea.
  7. When you have begun to perspire profusely, the oven is hot; open the door and attempt to force the turkey in.
  8. Discover that your oven, like any oven in France, is in fact too small to roast a turkey.
  9. Chop up the turkey in to parts, hoping to get it to a size that would actually fit your oven.
  10. Even a drumstick is too big. Keep chopping.
  11. Remember how much your Gaz de France bill was last month, and at this point the oven has been on 6 or 7 for, what, two hours already?
  12. Make turkey soup instead.
Suggested pairing: The latest, trendiest Beaujolais Nouveau.

Cranberry Sauce
  1. Call or write to a friend in the United States.
  2. Ask your friend to send you a can of cranberry sauce, which is impossible to find in France.
  3. Pay extravagant duty fees when the package arrives at your local post office.
  4. Return home; open the can; serve.
  5. Contemplate the fact that this is probably the most expensive thing you’ll serve this year.
Suggested pairing: Coca-Cola.

Pumpkin Pie

Part 1: The Crust

Pumpkin pie is unusual among American pies, in that it does not feature a top crust. It looks comparatively like a French tarte. For hints, see my World’s Easiest Recipe for Tarte aux Fruits.

Part 2: The “Filling” (untranslatable)
  1. Look up the word for “pumpkin” (citrouille or potiron).
  2. Go to the supermarket. Notice that citrouilles and potirons are not sold whole, but only in slices.
  3. Buy as many slices as you think would make an entire pumpkin.
  4. Remove the rind and seeds; chop the pumpkin meat into chunks and stew them.
  5. Notice that this really doesn’t look right. Also, it doesn’t smell right.
  6. Taste.
  7. Make soup with it instead.
Suggested pairing: Pepsi-Cola or Root Beer.

  1. Despite the similarity in appearance and texture to chunks of pumpkin meat, yams or sweet potatoes (patates douces) are a traditional American side dish, prepared with enormous quantities of butter and brown sugar, and American children are typically required to finish at least one helping before they are allowed to eat dessert. Yams can be purchased only at African markets in France’s larger cities. Find one, and go to it.
  2. Try not to notice that the yams don’t look quite like the ones you used to get back in the States. Order a couple of kilos.
  3. Listen politely as the vendor tells you that, in many parts of the world, people eat sweet potatoes — and not only as a remedy for venereal disease, did you know that?
  4. Return to your charming kitchen. Peel and chop the yams.
  5. Boil for approximately 20 minutes, or until soft.
  6. Drain.
  7. Taste.
  8. Make soup instead.
  9. Salt, pepper. The herb tarragon is one popular seasoning.
  10. Serve piping hot, with miniature marshmallows.
Suggested pairing: Fanta Orange.

Green-Bean Casserole
  1. Nothing bespeaks America’s harvest bounty like the traditional green-bean casserole made entirely from canned goods!
  2. Open a can of green beans.
  3. Open a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup©, which you can actually find in the Exotic Foods department of many large French supermarkets.
  4. Open a can of fried onions, which will be markedly more difficult to find at the supermarket; if you can’t find fried onions, tried slivered almonds instead, though they will cost approximately 8 times as much as the other ingredients combined.
  5. Mix the green beans and the mushroom soup. Do not add salt, as the canned goods are already full of sodium.
  6. Pour the mixture into a baking dish.
  7. Sprinkle with the fried onions (or slivered almonds).
  8. Bake at thermostat 5, even though you don’t actually know how hot that is.
  9. Serve.
  10. Explain to your guests that many Americans think this is a French recipe.
Suggested pairing: Diet Coca-Cola.

Mashed Potatoes
  1. At last! An easy one! Not only is the recipe easy to follow and the ingredients easy to find, but also it’s a familiar and favorite dish throughout France. In fact, you’ll find that every Frenchman has his own special way of making mashed potatoes (purée de pommes de terre, which is smooth; or pommes de terre écrasées, literally “crushed potatoes,” which are chunkier).
  2. For a typical American Thanksgiving (6–8 servings), take 96 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks.
  3. Place in a pot and cover with cold water.
  4. Cover and bring to a boil.
  5. Boil until soft (usually under half an hour).
  6. Drain.
  7. Add milk, butter, seasonings.
  8. Mash, using one of those handy mashing tools you bought at Ikea last year. (Where did you put that thing, anyway?)
  9. Serve.
  10. Bury your face in the mashed potatoes and scream while the French people around your table blast you with vicious criticism for not making the purée correctly. What kind of barbarian are you, anyway?
Suggested pairing: More cognac.

1 comment:

Patita said...

This is so funny! My husband and I are nearing the end of a month in Paris in an apartment in the Marais and we did wish each other a Happy Thanksgiving this morning, although we haven't contemplated trying to cook a turkey. (Actually we're eating Turkish this evening.) In any case, I landed on your blog via your 2009 article about Sempé, Goscinny and Le Petit Nicolas. We went to the Sempé exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville yesterday ("Un peu de Paris et d'ailleurs"), which contains over 300 items. A wonderful exhibition! Vive Sempé!