Sunday, October 21, 2007

Good Read: The return of heritage turkey breeds

The Seattle Times's story on heritage turkeys renewed my excitement for Thanksgiving. Yep, this year we'll be tasting our very first heritage turkey. And you know what? I really cannot wait.

Usually the turkey is, well, you know it's pretty good. I like the dark meat. But those enormous white breasts so prized by Butterballers around the nation? You know, the ones that the turkeys are bred to have? They leave me luke-warm, or less.

Did you ever think that maybe there's a reason most of us eat turkey once a year? Sure, we'll have the occasional turkey burger, or we'll sub some turkey sausage in for pork. But I never roast a turkey like I'd roast a chicken. Maybe this is why:

Turkey used to have taste. But that was before turkeys were genetically honed to be not much more than a giant hunk of white meat on stubby legs. Today's conventionally-raised turkey is a freak of nature that, left on its own, would not live a year.

Most turkeys eaten by Americans today are a single variety: the Broad-breasted White. It's a bird bred to grow fast, with huge amounts of breast meat. It's so top heavy in the cleavage it can't walk right; the most it can manage is a waddle. It can't fly, jump or run. And it's so corpulent and misshapen the poor thing can't even copulate; Broad-breasted Whites have to be artificially inseminated.

Heritage turkeys, on the other hand, are bred for flavor. Oh, and they can reproduce without human help! Which is nice for them, I'm guessing.

Herbfarm chef Jerry Traunfeld says:

"It definitely has more flavor than the modern turkey, which has just been bred to be some kind of monster to grow really fast and have this huge amount of breast meat," Traunfeld said. "And they are beautiful when they are cooked, they are a nice, small size — and you get a lot of crispy skin."

Not everyone agrees, though. Sara Dickerman, Seattle Magazine's food editor, did a taste-test of turkeys and came up with a surprising favorite.

It might be a little too late to reserve a heritage turkey this year, but it's worth a call or two. Here's a good place to start.

[where: 98118]


Jane said...

There is an abandoned Butterball turkey on the sidewalk in front of my apartment. Seriously! No one is taking it either. Do you love that?
I am a fan of dark meat, too, but be warned, the dark meat on a heritage turkey is a lot tougher than Diestel or other such Niman Ranch-esque producers. Still, I'll be buying a heritage turkey this year, but I'll be eating the breast.

Ali Scheff said...

NO WAY! Now that is San Francisco for ya. Even the homeless won't eat a Butterball!

Any tips on keeping the dark meat moist? I can't pull any fancy cooking-thighs-and-legs-differently tricks cause the whole family's coming and it'd be a disaster, but I wish we could somehow create a confit-like situation for the dark meat. Gotta break out the Harold McGee! ha.

sassy-lassie said...

how much do these heritage turkeys cost?

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