“Do you want traditional Thanksgiving or subversive Thanksgiving dinner?”
I was intrigued. This was the first Thanksgiving M and I weren’t traveling. I assumed we were going to do some adaptation of the traditional dinner — like turkey tacos or sandwiches or burgers — but that question made me pause.
Why should we do a traditional dinner?
I replied “subversive” and that I’d have a menu idea by the time I got home from work. “Me, too,” he said. I went back to finishing up my project and completely forgot about dinner until I was on the train home. I couldn’t walk through the door without an idea, so I thought about what foods I liked, and the dishes we haven’t eaten in some time. As I walked by Ajihei, a Japanese restaurant in Bushwick, I began to crave gyoza.
Then it hit me.
Now that’s a non-traditional, non-American, Thanksgiving dinner item.
I burst through the apartment door and rushed to the bedroom. “I know what we should have!”
“Me, too!” he said. I tell him to go first but he insists I go first. I never share my ideas first because I suffer from a serious lack of self-confidence that leaves me in crippling doubt of my ideas and thoughts. But not this time. I was set on my idea. We were doing curry, dammit.
I enthusiastically tell M we should do katsu curry with turkey. His eyes lit up, and I knew I got him hooked. He added, “yes! On a bed of mashed potatoes with chives; and the curry can have chunks of sweet potatoes, bell peppers, carrots, other vegetables; and we can do a green bean casserole.”
Is the casserole necessary, I ask. “We can do green beans in beef stroganoff sauce. How’s that sound?” I’m on board. Plus home-made cranberry sauce, and cornbread. You always need cornbread on the plate.
The next evening we bought our ingredients. We were stoked about having turkey katsu curry. I was expecting to only see whole turkey. I was feeling energetic. Something about telling M my dinner idea first and his subsequent excitement about it sparked something in me. A boldness of sorts that I haven’t felt in some time, if ever. This dinner is going to be so — good.
For those unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine, curry is a big deal and is by far the best I’ve ever eaten. But I’m biased.
Most people think “sushi” when they think of Japan, but curry is actually extremely popular. It’s up there with ramen and is often eaten in the summer, topped off with spicy, pickled vegetables. It’s my version of the mac-n-cheese comfort food. According to this article on NPR’s The Salt, curry was brought over to Japan in the late 19th century by Anglo-Indian officers of the Royal Navy and other British subjects. The Japanese navy adapted the British interpretation of the Indian curry, which resulted in one of the most delicious curry dishes in the Land of the Rising Sun: the Yokosuka Navy Curry.Japan Local Guide and Gaijin Pot have write-ups about the dish. And doing the research, I discovered that the restaurant in my hometown has closed, but you can still buy pouches of the stuff. I just checked. Amazon has ’em for an arm and a leg.
What makes Japanese curry even more awesome is the katsu that gets beautifully laid over the bed of rice. The crisp, crunch of the panko-dredged chicken or pork cutlet, fried a deep golden brown. The juice and moisture from the fattiness of the protein within the crunchy shell is an irresistible dance of umami in your gullet. Katsu and curry were made for each other.
And that’s what I want for my subversive Thanksgiving dinner.
On Thanksgiving day we woke up late in the day. Late enough that someone else cooking and hosting dinner would’ve had a total panic attack. I was a little worried, too. But once I took my first sip of morning coffee at 11:30 a.m., I decided that it’s not a big deal. We’ll eat when we eat. Everything’s going to be A-okay.
After a breakfast of homemade granola, and finishing a second cup of coffee, we got to work. M filleted the turkey breast for me, and took care of the curry. He also made the cranberry sauce, which we set aside so we could get to everything else (our apartment doesn’t have any counter space, so strategy was key here). Meanwhile, I baked the cornbread and the apple-pear cobbler.
With the mashed potatoes, and the green beans in mustard sauce done, it was time for the main event: cooking the turkey katsu.
Better not fuck this up! I think to myself. I even pray–half-jokingly–to the patron saint of cooking. There are 11 of them, according to Mental Floss.
I’m nervous about messing it all up but I try to keep a grip. I can’t get crippling anxiety now. And half-joking or not, my prayers and groveling pleas seem to have worked because hot damn, the katsu came out bettter than either of us expected (so much so that I’m purposely leaving that extra ‘t’ in ‘bettter’).
Working around some dietary restrictions, I made the crust out of rolled oats and put that in one bowl. In another bowl, I had two eggs with a bit of water. I prepared my dredging station: oat bowl, egg bowl, straining plate to allow excess drippage off the turkey breast.
I took four fillets and tenderized them. Got some peanut oil and vegetable oil (always buy more than you think you need for frying…) hot in a large pot. M helped dredge the turkey, and one at a time the pieces went into the oil bath.
The crackling, sizzling, and popping. This is going to be goooooooood~ thoughts were interspersed with additional pleas to the food saint. Everything else came out better than expected so potential devastation level was through the roof if this — the centerpiece of the dinner — turned out garbage.
One fillet, two. The oat crust turned into a lovely golden brown in the oil. A few minutes later, all four fillets were straining on a rack. While we let the turkey pieces cool off, we finished out the mashed potatoes — more butter, chives, and a bit of whipping action. We rearranged all of the serving dishes, got our plates. As M started plating the bed of mashed potatoes, I began slicing the katsu.
That beautiful sound as the knife enters the outer shell. Please be cooked through all the way. The turkey meat inside was a moist, white, layer of deliciousness. Yassssssss~ I finish cutting the fillet into strips and gently plate them over the curry and potatoes.
All of this looked too good. Indulgent. We don’t deserve this food!
We got our drinks and took everything to our small coffee table in front of the TV. Itadakimasu
And now I am in heaven.
And I learned two things: M and I are beyond capable of cooking ridiculously delicious food, and that I don’t give myself enough credit for anything. I have more gumption than I think I do. I just need to take a few breaths here and there, pause, and clearly my head. I can be as confident as a tiny dog barking at a big dog on a New York City street.