Cooking the Thanksgiving Phoenix

The phoenix is a mythical bird.  For that reason good recipes for cooking one are hard to find.  Not that there is much demand; only one phoenix is alive at any given moment.  It is the world’s rarest game bird. Worse, at the moment of its death, the bird spontaneously bursts into flame, which complicates cooking it.

phoenixNonetheless, via the New Yorker, comes news that a recipe has been published for cooking one. Called “How to Cook a Phoenix,”  Allen S. Weiss has written an entire book on the subject. Written in French, it is available in translation at cabinet magazine.

We know you are busy, and are about to get a lot busier if you intend to serve phoenix to your Thanksgiving dinner guests, so we have reduced the book to its essence, the recipe.

1.  After plucking, hang the phoenix until its flesh smells gamy, much as you would hang any fresh game.

2.  Marinate in a mixture of red wine, herbs and spices.  (Weiss explains that the usual purpose of marinating wild game — to tenderize it, because wild game has more muscle and less fat — does not apply to the phoenix which lives a very long, sedentary life (in excess of 500 years) and is already tender; rather it is to retard its tendency to spontaneously burst into flame.)

3.  Stuff the bird with onions and garlic together with a wide mixture of aromatic herbs and spices such as cinnamon, cassia, frankincense, myrrh, and nard, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, cumin, nutmeg, mace, sumac, allspice, etc. As Weiss says, “. . . many of the riches of the spice trade are appropriate; they judiciously harmonize with the phoenix’s flesh.”  (As with all game, the flesh is flavored by what the animal fed on while alive.  I once ate wild turkey that had fed on the tunas of prickly pear cacti.  Not only was the meat sweet, it was tinged purple like the prickly pear fruit.  The phoenix — the singular is correct because only one is alive at a time — feeds on gum of incense, sap of balsam, and diverse savory herbs and berries.)

I would add green chile.

4.  Roast the bird outdoors on a grill fired by resinous woods such as cedar, juniper, pinon or pine.

5.  Because of its high fat content and extreme volatility it is imperative to marinate and rotate the bird constantly until done.  Otherwise you are certain to end up with nothing but a pile of ashes.  (But hang on to those ashes.  You can never tell what might happen next.  It could be a really interesting dinner party.)

Mr. Weiss suggests a truffe sous cendres [truffle cooked in ashes] and some pomegranate jelly as an accompaniment.  If you happen to be out of truffles, any hallucinogenic mushroom would be a good substitute.


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