I have a few minutes at my desk this morning before I jet back out the door to Lord knows what kind of contractor stupidity today, so I thought I'd share something special with you.
Many years ago, and in a different life, I used to cook professionally and sometimes unprofessionally but that's another story. We were readying for Thanksgiving at the Ritz-Carlton and this particular hotel, and maybe others within the chain, offered a full take-away turkey dinner complete with all the accoutrements for the low, low price of about $12499. No, it was a couple of hundred, but frankly I always felt it was ridiculously over-priced for what you ultimately took home. However, it was in Palm Beach and those folks have some serious money, even though the better deal was across the street at the Publix grocery store.
Alas, I remember standing in the banquet kitchen looking at the length of the preparation tables which were studded with dozens of pinkish-white, glistening, slimy, and smelly turkey bodies all being salted and peppered for eventual roasting. The banquet chef Kristoff, a portly German fellow with a shiny bald head barked loudly across the way, "Bring the 25 gallons of mayonnaise!"
Do you remember the old Scooby Doo cartoons when a ghost would sneak up behind Scooby and his head would spin around with the classic Scooby refrain, "Auuuurrrruuuuu?" That was exactly my reaction, but who was to argue with a hulking German chef?
Kristoff spun the lid off the first gallon and plunged his mighty hamfist inside, scooping out a huge mound of the pale white gelatinous goo and began slathering it all over the nearest bird. Before you knew it there were dozens of hands at work smearing the turkeys with the most unlikeliest of ingredients.
Much of the time in a banquet kitchen is spent completing mindless tasks like prepping vegetables or tending to large vats of bubbling animal bone reductions. During those quiet hours is when I would usually get my best thinking done such as conjuring up my next complex scheme to get the crystal green-eyed banquet server from Vermont to dump her douchenozzle boyfriend and go out with me instead. Yes, these were matters of the utmost importance of that time and eventually my well-defined and carefully crafted planning worked in my behalf. But on this day, all I could think of was the smearing of mayonnaise on turkeys and how utterly absurd it seemed to be doing such a thing. I mean really, mayonnaise??
Luckily, I am one of those fools who keeps his mouth shut lest I prove to the world how much of an idiot I truly am and in this case I was happy with my restraint to not question Kristoff's decision-making. Because, and I say this with complete sincerity, once those turkeys emerged from the humming bank of convection ovens they were the most golden brown and glorious looking roasted birds I had ever seen in my life. They were almost regal, nearly majestic, with crisp, brown caramelized skin and abundant juiciness of which I had never seen before.
Those birds were simply spectacular! It was as almost if they had spent a leisurely week drinking mojitos and lounging around the pool at some posh South Beach Miami hotel. It was like they were tanned. And with that notion, a giant mayonnaise filled lightbulb went off in my head. It was like they were tanned. Kristoff, you mad fucking German genius! You gave those birds a tan!
And indeed, that is exactly the function of the mayonnaise. It serves as a moisturizer as the fat within the mayonnaise renders, much like a tanning oil or lotion would on a person. Those fats help maintain the natural moisture of the bird, allowing the sugars present in the skins to caramelize into a nice, evenly brown hue.
I laugh about that fateful day, but I learned a wonderful lesson from Kristoff and every holiday before I cook a turkey I lather that son of a bitch up in mayonnaise just like old times and it has yet to fail me. However, I do modify the recipe somewhat, simply because I cannot leave a good thing well enough alone.
Thanks Kristoff, because of you my holidays are filled with friends, family and. . .mayonnaise.
A word of caution, as the birds below indicate, mayonnaise is flammable, especially if you leave the birds in the oven at 550 degrees for about 5 hours. But you know, this was the work of a French chef, not a German one.
Sometimes it doesn't hurt to step away from tradition like I did this year. I made chili. And without mayonnaise.