White meat, dark meat, you just can’t lose

From R., 7 October 2010, heritage turkeys – what’s to know?

Q: I know it’s early, but I will be hosting my first Thanksgiving and I’m already freaking out. Do you have thoughts on heritage turkeys? My local farmer is offering White Hollands and Naragansetts. I know either will probably blow away any previous store-bought turkey (not to mention an $80+ price tag!), but do you have any possible tasting notes to help me choose? Other turkey cooking insights? Thanks!

A: Thanks for your question. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday – for obvious reasons – but strangely enough, I’m not really so crazy for turkey. I think I’ve mentioned all this before. My husband loves it, though, so we usually do the whole nine yards. How’s this for irony? My husband’s father – who was English until the day he died despite living in the States for much of his life – was crazy about Thanksgiving, a holiday that in the United States probably originated with a bunch of people who couldn’t wait to get away from England. Anyway, he brought some English flavor to the meal every year – draping the turkey with bacon and roasting it with bangers, filling it with a chestnut stuffing, and serving it with a gravy boat of bread sauce. So that’s how my husband does it.

I posted some tips last year about brining and roasting a turkey. The same basic cooking tips apply to heritage birds, which tend to be less meaty than farmed turkeys, but with tastier meat. The dark meat tends to be especially flavorful and more plentiful, and while the breast meat is milder than the dark, it is more tasty and turkey-ish than the bland offerings from farmed turkey. Since I haven’t tried all the varieties (and I don’t eat turkey all that often anyway), I refer you to this article from the New York Times, which provides a fairly detailed comparison of the different breeds.

If you’re interested in a heritage bird, you have a few options. If buying a local turkey is important to you (I refuse to use the term “locavore” in any serious discussion), visit the Local Harvest site, which allows you to search for the product of your choice, in this case a turkey, within a specified distance of your home. Or search for resources from your state’s Department of Agriculture, which may provide a list of local turkey farmers. For example, the Maryland Department of Agriculture provides a list of Maryland turkey farms (it also supplies useful information on farmer’s markets). Local butchers or a local market, especially one that carries local products, may be carrying heritage turkeys as well. If buying local is not an important consideration, try Heritage Foods USA.

Check back in a few weeks for more Thanksgiving tips, like making a stuffing that isn’t dry, mashing potatoes, and suitable vegetable accompaniments.

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