Okay, okay. First let me deal with the purists. Yes, if you like you can do a turkey stock for Thanksgiving. Take the recipe from yesterday and use turkey bones, especially the neck, instead of the chicken carcasses and you will have a lovely turkey stock. Do not use giblets like the liver, they will bitter and cloud the stock.
Next, let’s talk about the turkey itself. There are a lot of different terms being thrown around out there when discussing the birds. Know the lingo so you don’t get a jive turkey. As I’ve discussed before, I am not a believer in mass-produced industrial factory farmed birds that grow up crammed into gobbler ghettos. I realize most people are far removed from their food sources, just purchasing the end result, ready for the stove or oven direct from the supermarket. However, if you’re traveling down the road, particularly the highway in Virginia, the Carolinas or Georgia (interstates I’ve run many times) you may encounter the smell. It’s not a bad smell, it’s the bad smell. Imagine, for a moment a combination of bloated roadside carcass, nasty baby diaper and a GI bleed. For those never having the pleasure to smell a lower gastrointestinal bleed, just imagine your morning constitutional that is so foul it actually drives you out of the bathroom. That begins to describe the stench, a result of the excrement and waste, where these birds are raised. I have visited some of these commercial mills and the conditions are crammed to say the least. These places make those vans stuffed with illegal immigrants look like deluixe suites on the Queen Mary. Forget the genetics for more breast meat, etc., we (meaning all sentient creatures) are in some way products of our environment. Ask Frodo Baggins, my friend, but Mordor was not the breadbasket of Middle Earth. So if you want a tasty, delicious, nutritious bird that hasn’t been pumped up with more chemicals than Amy Winehouse on tour try a free range or pastured, heritage bird.
I hear you: “WTF!?” First, I realize it costs more than a store-bought turkey. No matter how good your gravy is you can’t, as we said yesterday, make Foie from feces. Start saving now or even serve something else. I budget way ahead so I can order the bird around Thanksgiving. If you want a detailed dissertation to fully persuade you about industrial farming, read Jonathan Safran’s “Eating Animals”. Let’s move on to deciphering the many confusing terms applied to turkeys. Here are the USDA classes of Turkey and what they mean.
||Immature bird of either sex
||< 16 weeks
||Tender bird with smooth skin
||Older than 16 weeks but < 8 months
||Mature bird with somewhat coarse skin
|| Older than 8 months but < 15 months
||Older bird with coarse skin and tougher flesh
||Older than 15 months
All these birds, indeed all poultry consumed for public consumption in the US is inspected. This is the round stamp on the packaging. It indicates that the products are processed under sanitary conditions fit for human consumption. It is not a measure of quality. The grading process for poultry is voluntary, so what you buy may or may not be graded. If it is graded, this is the shield like emblem on the packaging marked A, B or C. An “A” bird simply indicates it is free from deformities, has thick flesh, is free of pin feathers, cuts, tears or broken bones as well as free from discoloration. It has no bearing on tenderness or flavor. Here are some other terms.
Certified organic; there are many organizations that “certify organic”. Generally this means that
- the land on which organic food or fibers (e.g. cotton) are grown must be free of chemical additives/pesticides for three years prior to being certified;
- farmers and processors must keep detailed records of methods and materials used in the production process, particularly those which replenish soil fertility;
- all methods and materials are inspected annually by a third-party certifying agency (under the jurisdiction of the USDA);
- as indicated above, products must be free of chemical additives, such as pesticides, chemical fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics.
Naturally grown indicates that the producer may prefer not to pursue an organic certification, but do follow organic principles in growing their produce.
Certified Naturally Grown is a grassroots certification program created specifically for farmers that sell locally and directly to their customers. CNG’s certification standards are based on the National Organic Program but with some variation.
Grass Fed / Pastured animals are raised on pasture, as opposed to being kept in confinement and fed primarily grains.
Heritage breed is a breed of turkey as opposed to the Broad-Breasted White. The broad-breasted white is what 99% of Americans consume on Thanksgiving. It is a quick-fattening genetically bread bird specifically for the industrial-scale setting[i]. This bird likely would, if not slaughtered, be unlikely to survive to a mature stage; they often get so heavy their legs collapse and they are incapable of flying, foraging or mating being bred specifically for consumption. The heritage breeds were derived from the wild turkey and bred for flavor. They can forage, fly, strut and mate (and gosh, that’s got to make for a happier bird). In essence a “real turkey” that hasn’t been supersized for another tasteless meal.
So, if you can, maybe trade in the jive turkey for a heritage; downsize the bird if you need save dollars (you really don’t need leftover turkey rations for a month) so it’s just a Thanksgiving meal. But one you can give thanks for something delicious and nutritious. It is something to savor with friends and family specifically because it won’t be there tomorrow-and being thankful for what we’ve been given is supposed to be the theme of the day.