In trying to get the plumpest turkeys in the shortest amount of time we have sacrificed taste. Our holiday turkeys may be huge but that doesn’t mean they are the tastiest.
One of the problems is the high demand for turkey. During the holiday season, North Americans consume close to 400 million turkeys and the industry has responded by creating “turbo-birds”–turkeys chemically and genetically modified. These broad-breasted birds are prized for their white meat but often don’t deliver on the promise of juicy, tender meat.
Epicureans are turning to organic turkeys for their flavour as well as health benefits. Organic turkeys tend to be be healthier and have less risk for salmonella.
But for some people buying organic is also a question of animal rights and guilt-free eating.
Mass produced turkeys often have miserable lives, living in overcrowded conditions inside underneath heat lamps gorging on fortified corn-based mash laced with antibiotics and hormones. Most never see the light of day and since they are six times their normal weight, many end up with broken bones or die from heart attacks.
Organic turkeys on the other hand spend their days outside in grazing areas eating a diet free of pesticides, herbicides, hormones or antibiotics. Many supermarkets are carrying both chickens and turkeys labeled free-range or antibiotic-free. Free-range means the turkeys have been confined to a cage but got regular exercise and their diets were augmented with grubs, worms and grass. But be careful, Canada hasn’t regulated free-range standards. The safest way to know if your turkey is organic is to buy it from a farmer or health food store you know and trust.
Save a Breed
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) and the Slow Food Movement are also promoting heritage or legacy turkeys. These organizations are working to save four of the best-known heritage turkeys eaten by our forefathers before the era of manufactured birds. The four most popular breeds, the Bourbon Red, MEJersey buff, Narragansett bay and standard bronze, are all renowned for their taste.
Fresh vs. Frozen
Another benefit of organic turkeys is that most come fresh. Why is fresh better than frozen? Again, it’s down to taste. Turkeys need to age for three days to make them tender, but most frozen birds are thrown on ice immediately after being processed. If you are buying a frozen gobbler, be sure to brine your bird–a method of soaking your unthawed turkey in salt water before roasting. It’s worth the effort since it makes the meat tender and juicy.
For those who want to avoid the bird altogether, there is the famous tofurkey, a popular substitute for the traditional turkey.
Be sure to check out our recipe section for more holiday recipes and tips. Use the RD recipe finder to find your favourites!