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November 23-29, 2005

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Real-Life Kitchen

Consider the Oysters

By Sara Bir

With Thanksgiving upon us, it's increasingly important to become reacquainted with poultry anatomy. The carving of a turkey is a skill practiced only once a year by most, and therefore it's not easily mastered through frequent repetition. Cookbooks and cooking magazines offer helpful diagrams, but oftentimes after grappling for 20 minutes with a hot, greasy bird, method goes out the window and random hacking ensues. Whatever your level of expertise, don't forget to eat the oysters this Thanksgiving.

My mother was always the one who carved the Thanksgiving turkey, probably because Dad was too busy watching football or looking for snacks to tide him over until the big dinner. Mom, meanwhile, knew the best snacks were on the bird itself. "Look," she said, presiding over the steaming turkey carcass, "here on the back--these two little pockets of meat, they are the best." She dug into one with her finger and came up with a plump morsel that she immediately popped into her mouth.

Only years later did I find out that the "back meat" has another name: the oyster. Chickens have oysters, too--two per bird. The oyster is a muscle that sits in a divot at the back of the bird's pelvis in the iliac bone, just above the tail. The name totally makes sense once you pick at the carcass of a cooked bird and get into those dark bundles of meat, which sit cupped in the bone very much the way an oyster appears on the half-shell.

The oyster meat is the best part, hands-down. It's tender and immeasurably succulent, but because of its lesser-known location, it does not always make it onto the platter with the breast meat and drumsticks. (The French name of the oyster, sot-l'y-laisse, means "the fool leaves it there.") This makes it an ideal chef's treat, a reward for hours of toil over steamy stoves and heat-blaring ovens. Those who are invited to dine at our home on roasted chicken can find me in the kitchen shortly before dinner is served, stealthily scarfing down the oysters (and selfishly, wordlessly monopolizing the highlight of the meal).

There are dishes that call for nothing but chicken or turkey oysters. Considering you only get two oysters per bird, it's understandable that such dishes are delicacies. Me, I prefer my oysters unadorned, plucked straight from the hot carcass. It's the right of all who choose to cook and carve the bird--and it's why Mom still hasn't told Dad about those special bits of back meat.

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