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The Turkey!  The glorious bird!  The centerpiece of the Thanksgiving celebration!  What would the big day be without it?  I was raised on a commercial poultry ranch and as a result I am on rather intimate terms with the turkey; chickens too.  In the following article I hope todispel some turkey myths.


One of the things you have heard about turkeys however, is absolutely true.  A turkey being dumb.  This is no myth.  A domestic turkey is dumb, dumb, dumb.  A wild turkey is a different matter.  After all, Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national symbol, not the American Eagle. 

Spring Turkey - Displaying Turkey by Michael DiGiorgio

A domestic turkey however, is about as stupid as it gets.  They are just about the only creature on this planet that, as an infant, has to be taught how to eat.  We would put bright colored little balls in their mash and they would peck at the balls and inadvertently find that the mash was good to eat.  When it rains, a domestic turkey is apt to stand in the rain looking up at the sky, wondering what is happening and drown.   A domestic turkey still has the instinct of a bird of flight, however, having been bread for meat production, his body is now too heavy in proportion to his wings.  He can’t fly but he thinks he can.  He will often manage to scramble to the top of something and launch himself off.  The result is, no matter how hard he flaps his little, underdeveloped wings, will plummet back to earth break his neck or a leg. 


There was an old windmill in the field where we grazed our turkeys.  The turkeys could manage, with much flapping of wings and scrabbling of talons, reach the top where there was a cross bar to sit on.  It could hold about a dozen of them.  They would sit there surveying their world until the wind changed, sending the boom around which swept them off.  A dozen turkeys would hit the ground and be killed or broken.  Another dozen would look up and say, “Oh boy!  Now there’s room for me,” scramble up and happily await the same doom.  Of course since we had quite an investment in our stock, we would dress them out.  This was before most homes had a freezer larger than an ice cube tray, so needless to say, we ate one hell of a lot of turkey.  Non the less, I still love it. 


One day someone left the gate to the turkey yard open and all the turkeys got out and discovered the vineyard, where the grapes were just days away from harvest.  My mom like an enraged harpy, grabbed a pole we used to knock walnut from the trees, and attacked the marauding turkeys.  We ate a lot of turkey that week.


Choosing the Perfect Turkey:  Fresh turkeys are of better than frozen, however, they are usually more expensive.  Most frozen turkeys are nearly as good as fresh.  I try to find one that does not have the little pop up thermometer.  I find they seldom work and therefore give false security.  I try to avoid buying a turkey with any additives.  Some have been pre-brined with artificial flavorings added; also a lot of water so you are paying more.

Many people say they want a small turkey because they are younger and more tender.  NOT!  All turkeys go to market at about the same age.  The size is determined by the breed, not it’s age.  I also advise you to buy the largest turkey you can find.  The larger the turkey, the more meat there is in proportion to the bones. What to do with all that extra turkey?  Hell, if you don’t eat it, freeze it.  Is there anyone who doesn’t love turkey sandwiches?


Turkey is a very economic meat, however, I only buy it once a year, at Thanksgiving, because I want it to remain special, a long anticipated and looked forward to treat.  As a result, not a scrap of turkey goes to waste at our house.

The English Country Kitchen



Thawing: For years I believed the instructions for thawing that came with the turkey; leave in the refrigerator overnight.  Whenever I did that, the bird was still frozen solid when I went to roast him.  I now leave him in the sink overnight.  In the sink, and mess from thawing goes down the drain.  If he’s a really big turkey, he may not even be totally thawed then.


Brining: If your turkey is usually a bit on the dry side, you may wish to consider brining.  This is also a good way to give your bird a flavor boost.


To Trim or Not To Trim: I have seen several T.V. chefs clip off the wing tips, saying that they will just burn, so get rid of them.  I have also seen some of them cut the knob end off the ends of the drumsticks and then using a pair of pliers, pull out the tendons.  Their reason is that it makes the drumsticks easier to carve.  Phooey!  What happens when you clip off the wing tips and the end of the drumsticks, is that your turkey looks like road kill when you go to serve it.  Also, breaking the skin in any way allows the juices to run out resulting in a dry turkey.


Stuffing in or Stuffing Out:  This is strictly a matter of choice.  Me, I’m a traditionalist.  I prefer my stuffing baked in the bird.  It tastes better if it is able to absorbed some of the juices.  Of course, it also absorbs a lot of fat and is far less healthy that way, but then, what the hay – dressing isn’t healthy to begin with, so why kid yourself.  Eat it the way you like it.  Actually, I usually make too much stuffing to fit in the bird so I bake some in a casserole as well.


A warning, if you do bake the stuffing in the bird, make sure that it reaches at least 165°f.  Do this by inserting a meat thermometer between the legs of the turkey and well into the stuffing.


Roasting:  Turkeys are a land bird.  They do not have as much oil in them as water birds.  Ducks and geese are filled with fat.  If they weren’t they would drown.  Never, ever break the skin of a turkey if you can help it.  Particularly, do not poke the breast to see if the turkey is none.  This will guarantee that the breast meat is dry, dry, dry.  If by some chance of ill luck, the skin on the breast is torn, pull one of the dollops of fat off from the tale end and lay it over the tear in the skin so that it will baste as it bakes.  Instead of poking the poor bird and letting all his juices run out, I shake hands with him.  When the drumstick moves freely, he is done.  Countering what I have said before about poking the skin, you can also poke a small hole in the skin, on the inside of where the thigh joins the body.  If the juices run clear, he is done.  If they run pink, he will need a bit more time. 


However, if you do not have years of experience roasting turkeys the best way to determine doneness is with meat thermometer.  There are of course time charts for roasting turkey, but there are too many variables.  With a good internal meat thermometer you will be about as safe as you can.  USDA recommendation is that both the turkey and the stuffing reach an internal temperature of 165°f.  To get a reading for the stuffing, insert the thermometer well into the stuffing between the legs.  For the turkey itself, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. 


Carving the Turkey: The current theory is to always carve the turkey in the kitchen and then bring it to table.  Phooey!  Again, I am a Norman Rockwell traditionalist when it comes to cooking and carving my turkey.  I searched the internet for a video of carving the turkey at the table in the traditional manner and all I could find were chefs, carving in the kitchen and sending a platter of road kill to the table.  My oldest son carves a turkey beautifully.  This year I will film him carving and post the video for next year.  In the meanwhile, just do the best you can.  Always allow the turkey to rest for fifteen to twenty minutes after you remove it from the oven.  This allows the juices to settle back into the bird and not run out when carved, thus rendering the

Norman Rockwell Literary Digest cover published November 22, 1919. The title is Thanksgiving

turkey dry.  You can use the resting time to make your excellent gravy from the pan juices. You will need a very sharp carving knife (not a seriated one), a carving fork, a separate plate to place the carved meat on, a bowl to scoop the stuffing into and a warm, moist cloth for the carver to wipe his hands on.  Good luck.

Who Gets the Drumstick?  When I was growing up there were five of us cousins and of course we all wanted one of the drumsticks and guess what, we all got one.  No, my dad had not bread a five legged turkey, but my mother was invented.  Due to her creativity, every turkey had six potential drumsticks.  There are of course the two traditional drumsticks.  The largest joint of the wings passed as drumsticks as did the thigh bone after most of the meat was carved off.  What little kid can eat a whole drumstick anyway.  There were no arguments.  We all got what we thought was a drumstick and we were all happy.





        Copyright © 2008 - Geraldine Duncann

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