I’m not a chicken, I’m getting a free-range turkey

posted in: Ruminations | 11

I can’t over-emphasize the surprise I had last year when biting into my first bit of free-range, organic, all-natural turkey that I’d stuffed and roasted for a Thanksgiving-like feast with friends: Savory. Succulent. Abundantly flavorful. These are words that you seldom think of when you think of turkey breast meat, right? That’s why we traditionally smother it with things like pucker-sweet cranberry sauce and overpowering gravy, and why homes across the country have taken up the turkey brining trend with such fervent approval, right? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: I did not even brine this beast. Still, it had to have the best turkey meat I’ve ever tasted. I simply cannot overstate this reality, and furthermore, what it means for humane animal raising practices and the small, local farms that support them when you purchase this type of meat and poultry. That’s why I wrote a piece for Brooklyn Based all about where to get your “gobble gobble.”

I wonder why “heritage” hasn’t become the buzz word with poultry and pork the way “Kobe” and “Wagyu” has with beef. Sure, the latter two words are refreshingly exotic. “Heritage,” by contrast, sounds refreshingly homely. And that may be just the difference. Heritage turkeys, as mentioned in the article, were once prized by American farmers for their richness of flavor, beauty and bounty of meat to bone. But because of the industrialized farming techniques of the 1960s and onward, they gradually became almost extinct. What took over in its place were instead genetically engineered, big-breasted cloned animals that couldn’t live to be very old because of health problems due to the modifications — notably, becoming too heavy in the chests to walk properly. (This is similar to the plight of pork discussed in the pig butchering post.) What’s happened as of recently is a rekindled appreciation for slow, quality-raised meats, usually taking place just in small family-owned farms. I hope to get in on the trend by ordering a heritage bird this year to share with my family on Thanksgiving.

The turkey I carved up last year, in the photo, was ordered through the Brooklyn restaurant Marlow & Sons. They’re one of the vendors listed in the article, and a good place to grab a bird if you’re wise enough to score one before they’re sold out. But even if you aren’t in Brooklyn or anywhere near New York City, you can still place pre-orders on heritage and free-range turkeys online, through D’Artagnan or Heritage Foods, or by checking with your local butcher or farmers’ market. If you can get down to Brooklyn on November 14th, though, there’s another treat: Fairway Market, also listed in the article, is holding a series of demonstrations and tastings open to the public in their flagship Red Hook store. The schedule follows below. Best part, out-of-towners will still get to watch the spectacles from their homes, as the store has recently launched a new website called Discover Fairway, and the demonstrations will be taped for “webisodes” on the site.

I realize that in this downturn-trodden economy, the prices between heritage or free-range and conventional turkey might be a hurdle for many. We all have budgets to cut this holiday season. While these meats remain relatively pricey, I might suggest trying some of the other tips suggested here a while back, keeping in mind the last one, “splurge for good reason.” Because, you know, we’re all going to splurge at some point still.

November 14th Schedule at Fairway Market (480-500 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn):

8:00 am- Local Seafood with Tony Maltese

9:00 am- How to Carve a Turkey with Ray Venezia (Tasting)

10:00 am- Crown Roast discussion with Ray Venezia (Tasting)

11:00 am- Chocolate Cupcake Cooking Demonstration with Mitchel London (Tasting)

12:00 pm- Angel Hair Pasta with Tomato Sauce Cooking Demonstration with Mitchel London (Tasting)

1:00 pm- Cheese Discussion with Steve Jenkins (Tasting)

2:00 pm- How to Best Use Your Thanksgiving Leftovers with Alexa Johnson (Tasting)

3:00 pm- Coffee Roasting Demonstration with Benny Lanfranco and Richie Pascale

4:00 pm- Olive Oil Discussion with Brian Riesenburger (Tasting if interested)

5:00 pm- Organic Produce Discussion with Peter Romano

11 Responses

  1. Jean

    Interesting post – I wish there was a place I could do a taste test — of course, this is Cleveland and we are a culinary vod – except for a literal handful of restaurants. — jean

  2. Ambitious

    I believe you when you say that the organic turkey is worth splurging for! I totally agree!

    I would love to hear some instructions on how you cooked it because I’m about to make my first turkey this year! I was told to brine it beforehand but I’d like to avoid it if possible.

    Thanks in advance!

  3. j

    Lots of places in Ohio sell such turkeys. We got one in Cincinnati, from a farm in the mid-Ohio area. This will be our first – I’m excited… and would also like some cooking tips if possible. But then we’ll be making ours THIS Saturday, so there’s not much time for a reply. I do not want this expensive and beautiful bird to be overcooked and dry!

  4. Jessica

    Does that turkey look embarrassed to anyone else?

  5. m.thew

    One way to counteract the higher price of good meat is to eat less of it. Buy a smaller bird than normal and give up bulk for better taste. Plus, more room for the sweet potatoes!

  6. m.thew

    And a note on brining: my poor man’s brining meathod is to liberally, if not radically, salt the bird inside and out and let it sit for a half hour before you pop it in the oven. Also, I think poultry cooks better if its trussed with kitchen twine… ask your S&M scene friends for pointers if you’ve never done this before. (Fowl humor)

  7. EB

    Heritage really has been buzzwords for both poultry and pigd for the last several years. You ahve several great resources out there in NY. Up in the Hudson there are several heritage farmers for both. Seek and enjoy!

  8. Sarah

    I’ve heard so many great things about heritage turkeys and am hoping to get the opportunity to roast one myself this Thanksgiving. Thanks for getting the word out to people about this! I’m glad people are realizing the importance of them before they are completely extinct.

  9. Siobhan

    I just ordered my first free-range turkey for this year’s Thanksgiving and I’m really psyched. Love this website and can’t wait to try some of your recipes. In response to Jean, Cleveland is not the culinary void it might seem– you just have to scratch the surface a little. Try the Westside Market– if you can’t find what you’re looking for easily, ask one of the butchers there! If you’re willing to drive a bit the Amish farmers’ markets all around the Cleveland area might also have free range meats. Check out http://www.localharvest.org for more ideas.

  10. Kelley

    This glorious blog, which my husband and I both love, convinced him (and ultimately me) to try a heritage turkey this year ($150 worth!) and it was his first turkey (I’ve cooked 5-6 myself) but we were pretty excited – until it arrived, smelled a bit like ammonia and we were pulling feather roots out of it for more than 1/2 and hour! Eek! It was worth the try, and tasted delicious, but I would say I’ve gotten comparable tasty turkeys (organic) for $45-60 and would probably head back that direction next Thanksgiving – OR chuck ‘tradition (ala yestserday’s post!) and go with a roast!

  11. cathy

    Kelley: Oh no! Well I hope the roast goes well next year if you go for it, and that’s too bad about your pricey heritage turkey!!

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