Alternatives to the average turkey
It's time to get serious about turkey. Thanksgiving is approaching, and this is a great opportunity to make the centerpiece of your holiday table a local and sustainable bird.
I'm no stranger to alternatives to the traditional industrial turkey from the grocery store. Last year, I hosted Thanksgiving at my then-fairly-new Oakland apartment. It was just me and my parents, so I announced an Asian twist on the poultry theme. "We're going to have Peking duck," I said. "Not turkey."
Though my parents expressed enthusiasm for the plan (and, if I recall correctly, had no problem eating said duck, which I acquired in Chinatown on Thanksgiving morning), when making our plans this year, my mother burst out with, "Also, no duck this time. I want turkey!"
I considered dropping the Well, it's my house and you'll eat what I serve you line, but that is trumped entirely by the I brought you into this world line...and so turkey it shall be.
My strategic failure last year is that, indeed, I also cooked a turkey. As the holiday approached, it occurred to me that without turkey, there would be no turkey soup. Thusly and therefore, I ordered a fresh turkey from a local butcher and cooked it alongside my other Thanksgiving dishes. Mom got a taste of the turkey, but the lingering smell of sage in the air at the end of the Thanksgiving Day seems to have just whetted her appetite for more.
This year, I'm hosting again, but will be serving more than just the three of us. A few out-of-town trips have delayed my putting in an order, but I'll be returning to the butcher as soon as I get home to sign up for another fresh, locally-produced bird. Sure, I could go to the grocery store and pick up a traditional, industrially-bred turkey, but I'd rather pay a little more per pound to get something that I feel comfortable is free of hormones and fillers.
Consider one of these alternative turkey options this year as you plan your Thanksgiving menu:
Heritage Birds. These turkeys are the ancestors of what you'll generally find in the grocery store. Usually grown by small producers, they are any of a variety of breeds that feature great flavor and plenty of meat. They also often have proportionally more dark meat than an industrial bird. They're grown more slowly than industrial turkeys, and live longer. Little known fact: Those turkeys you buy in the grocery store? Most of them couldn't even breed if they had to. To be considered a heritage turkey, the bird has to be able to get a little boom boom on and produce another baby turkey. Sounds pretty natural, right? And that's the point. I am frightened of turkeys have had the breeding bred right out of them.
Local, fresh Turkeys. Generally, you have to put in an order for a fresh turkey at your local market or butcher ahead of time. Though there's generally no difference between a fresh and frozen turkey, my experience is that you're more likely to be able to get a fresh turkey from a local, and possibly an organic, source close to your community. This is a much more environmentally friendly choice than a frozen turkey--it doesn't require as much energy to transport it, nor to keep it frozen along the way. If you're buying a fresh turkey, pick it up no earlier than the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and be sure to keep it well chilled in the refrigerator to avoid any food-borne illnesses.
For more information on finding a fresh or heritage turkey from a local producer, I recommend using Local Harvest's search engine. But don't delay...many small producers only grow a certain number of turkeys each year, and when the supply is tapped out, you've missed your opportunity!
Try these additional links for more turkey information:
- Elise at Simply Recipes has good information and links about heritage turkeys.
- Carrie at WellsTavernFarm's Weblog talks about heritage birds from a farmer's perspective.
- Alaina Brown at SeriousEats offers a quick and simple guide to turkey labelling.