For most guys, Thanksgiving is the day we have a tango with a turkey, an exercise known as carving the bird. Every year as the big meal approaches, I get the urge to buy an electric knife. This would be a purchase fueled by nostalgia, not culinary motives.
Nowadays I cut with a sharp, thin-bladed carving knife, but part of me wants to attack the bird with a noisy, vibrating blade, the way my dad used to do it.
I have vivid memories of my father, who died in 1998, quivering Hamilton Beach in hand, laying siege to the turkey with all the fervor, and much of the same technique, he used to trim a hedge.
My mother had acquired the electric knife in the belief that somehow the power of its shaking blade would compensate for my dad's lack of carving skill. It was a sweet notion, but not very accurate.
Dad did not carve a turkey; rather, he attacked it. Pieces of meat would fly from the carcass. Juices squirted. My mother, watching from a safe distance, would frown. She thought there should be some decorum, some ceremony to this act. My dad, anxious to sit down and eat, let the turkey parts fall where they may.
The parallel of a man wielding a chain saw comes to mind. But more to the point, my dad cut turkey the same way he used to cut our hair, in a hurry and close to the bone.
On haircut Saturdays, when Dad pulled the big black Oster hair clippers out of the kitchen cupboard and rounded up my three brothers and me, he was a man on a mission. That mission was a buzz cut, trimming as much hair off our heads as propriety would permit.
My mother, representing the forces of propriety, would tell him "Don't cut so much" and "Slow down!" That was similar to the advice she offered as Dad ambushed the Thanksgiving entree.
Electric knives are not as popular as they once were. The other day when I called a couple of kitchen supply stores, I was told that electric knives are now largely sold through their online catalog divisions.
Sure enough, when I went online, I found knives from about $20 to $50. Prowling around the Internet, I also found stories of unusual uses that the knives have been put to.
The prime example was the foam-rubber tomahawk that a foam-rubber sales manager in Atlanta crafted with an electric knife. He ended up selling thousands of the tomahawks to fans of the Atlanta Braves in 1991, when the team was in the playoffs.
The electric knife did get a mention on the foodie Web site Chowhound, but only as one of "the most foolish electric gadgets people had ever purchased." One Chowhound contributor likened using an electric knife to "carving with a hedge cutter."
I don't know where my dad's old Hamilton Beach sword ended up.
I have long used a stationary, steel blade to dissect the bird. The key to carving a turkey, I learned long ago, is to have a sharp knife, with a fixed blade. You separate the thigh, drumstick and wings from the breasts. Then you slice the breast meat. Without the drumsticks and wings in the way, the slicing is easy.
Usually I cut thin slices off the breast working parallel to the bird. Sometimes I get ambitious and remove the entire piece of breast meat. I do this by making a horizontal cut at the base of breast, then slipping the tip of the knife along the breastbone and prying the meat with my hand as I cut, working it until the breast comes off in one piece. Once the breast piece is free from the carcass, I put it on a cutting board and slice it crosswise.
This carving style is efficient. It yields attractive pieces of turkey that are moist and manageable.
Often the results of my approach generate words of praise from the seated diners.
I accept the accolades, but I have to admit I miss the drama that occurred when my dad stood over the turkey, and the knife motor roared.