Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How big is your bird?

In certain countries, those five words will earn you a fat lip. But here in Italy it's a perfectly reasonable conversation starter. It's a question I've asked more than a few times this week. You see, I'm on turkey (tacchino) duty.

A friend has been gracious enough to host Thanksgiving dinner at his place in the center of town on Friday night. I offered to buy the bird while he's out of town. We went over the preparations on the phone just as he was catching a train north. I took down the following details:

They'll be eight or so of us, he informed. We'll need a big bird.

I agreed.

We did some calculations and arrived at a nice round number: 10-12 kg (or, 22 to 26.4 pounds). With eight of us, that will mean anywhere from 2.8-3.3 pounds per person.

Perfect, I said. I'm on it.

To source anything bloody, I usually head straight to the market in Testaccio where our favorite fish monger, butcher, veg guy and my candidate for the Nobel Peace prize, the tomato guy, have their stalls. This week, however, my motorino has been out of service, and so I ventured down the street on foot to the neighborhood butcher.

When I mentioned tacchino his eyes lit up. Sure, we can get you a tacchino, he said. How big? They'll be eight of us, I said. Before he could jump in and do the calculation, I informed him: 12 kilos!

He glanced at his partner, and said, sure we can get you a tacchino!

How much?, I ventured.

They run between 6 and 7 euros per kilo. So, probably 70-80 euros.

Can't be, I protested. It's just a turkey. How could it be so pricey?

He didn't like where this was going. To bolster his credentials, he told me he has a lot of American clientele, employees of the UN's food program, or FAO. They always order turkeys from him, he said, pointing to a calendar on the wall with scratch marks scribbled on the Nov. 22 box. I was starting to get that "acchiappa svizzeri" feeling. Whenever I hear the word "FAO" (pronounced "FOW!"), I get a little unnerved. These people live tax-free. To my mind, they overpay for everything. Of course they'd pay 80 euros for a bird, and then have a good laugh about it over dinner.

Hearing the word "FAO," I tried gracefully to back out of the deal. I told him I'd get back to him after checking around. I called Xtina, who, no turkey expert, said 6-7 euros per kg seemed reasonable. You pay 15 euros for a nice cut of veal, she reasoned. It's just a turkey, I responded, the second time in 10 minutes. Not convinced, I called my mother-in-law. She too is no turkey expert. She tried to steer me towards rabbit. You won't be able to find a 10 kilo-rabbit though, she responded, before bursting into hysterics.

I have learned enough to know that when your sweet will-do-anything-for-you mother-in-law starts to bust your chops, it's time to reassess the situation.

Just then Xtina pulled out our squat cookbook, "La Cucina Italiana" to ease my puzzlement. Every turkey recipe I could find in the book called for 4 kg of turkey, and each said it serves 12 people. Half convinced, I then fired off a few emails asking, how big is your bird?

The New Yorkers were shocked. 10 kilos!, Jim exclaimed. Do you have an oven that big? (He's cooking for 10 and bought a 15-pounder.) Adam is preparing a similar feast. He gave me a helpful formula: it's usually one pound per person. My mom concurred.

Armed with this info, I still wanted a second, erm, sixth opinion. I headed to my regular butcher in Testaccio (my moto is back on the road) this morning with Xtina. When we arrived, he had a nice sized bird in the window. "5.50 euros/kg", read a large plastic price fork stabbed into its belly.

How big is that tacchino?, I asked. No, not a tacchino, he informed. It's a tacchina. A she. Do you know the difference? No idea, I confessed. The female is more tender, he said, not nearly as bulky as the males. You can plop her right in the oven, no need to tenderize her.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. But will it feed eight of us?

Eight? Of course!

She's 7 kg and she's sitting in my fridge right now. Set me back 38 euros. The hard part, thankfully, is over.

Buon ringraziamento, everybody!


Sara, Ms Adventures in Italy said...

Actually, my first question was, How big is your oven??? Back home I would get a 20-25lb. bird but here there's no way the ovens (and the oven racks!) can handle that....I also ended up with a 7kilo bird, but we're cooking Friday.

Happy T-day.

Bernhard Warner said...

the 7 kg-er would fit nicely in my oven. Anything over 8, I'd reckon, will require a circular saw... But then, I'm not doing the cooking. My buddy's oven, he tells me, can accommodate up to 12 kg. We'll see tomorrow.

Anche a te... Happy Thanksgiving!