Everything You Need To Know About Turkey

TURKEY TIPS Lisa Hamilton's slide show brings home the meaning of "heritage turkeys"; plus bonus cooking advice.

We all read and talk about the importance of buying humanely treated meat raised by farm families that still care about their animals, their land, and their community. Some of us dedicate our lives to it--either to finding people who do that and trying to bring them to wider attention or by getting up every morning and actually tending livestock and lend.

Two of those people are now on the site, with some of the most moving and sensible images and words I've seen on heritage turkeys. Lisa M. Hamilton , a writer and photographer who specializes in sustainability-minded farms around the world, documents a recent project in Sonoma County joining Slow Food, the good group RAFT (Renewing America's Food Traditions), and a local 4-H club to save endangered birds by raising and eating them. Teenagers in 4-H spent the summer raising birds, and just this weekend was the time to slaughter and dress them.

The spare, weathered barns, fields, and teenagers and grandparents Hamilton shows joining forces bring home the lessons of supporting local food as no amount of our preaching can. Without needing to point it out, she shows us hope and community. That's a lesson I'll be thinking about this Thursday--but whatever you're thinking about, please look at those pictures.

The always passionate and engaged Nicolette Hahn Niman provides the practical payoff to the long and good guide she started last week, telling you exactly what to look for at your market if you haven't bought your turkey yet. It's full of good advice about what catchphrases like "organic" and "free-range" and "antibiotic-free" mean and, especially, don't mean, and the phrases you should pay the most attention to--advice always good to bear in mind when buying meat. Plus she gives a link to her own go-to guy, Dan Barber , on how cook heritage birds, a question friends have been asking me, and I've been pointing them there. (It was Dan who introduced me to Lisa Hamilton--as always, he's central to what we're thinking about farming and sustainability.)

My own go-to gal on roasting meat and birds is Barbara Kafka, who this morning posted a note on her own Web site full of her usual independent-thinking, contrarian thoughts about how to roast the bird you buy: forget brining now and forever (hint--think kosher birds); don't baste; don't even dream of teaching yourself to truss. Stick a turkey, heritage included (she just told me she long ago put in her order for two Bronzes) on a roasting pan and into a 500-degree oven, legs to the rear. "Squiggle" it around on the pan after 15 minutes so it doesn't stick to the rack. Then just wait until it's done, following the roasting times in her book--yep, there's the catch, you need to buy the book to get the timings. It's worth it. Her post on the next page.

Meanwhile, the Web is full of other advice. I always go for the writing, and I'm following Sam Sifton, who's answering questions on his own New York Times blog in his droll, right-there way. Who can resist an answer that starts this way, turkey be damned?

As the pretty girls say in the movies, turning the book readers down for the prom and blowing off the kind boys who won't feel joy for a decade, when the lacrosse stars have gone to seed: Timing is everything.

Not me. Even if my own Thanksgiving timing involves logistics I haven't started thinking about. Hamilton and Niman will get you thinking about this week and beyond.



Turkey and Brine
Posted: 22 Nov 2009 07:15 AM PST on FoodTalk with Barbara Kafka
For several years, I have been getting queries about brining turkey before roasting. Theoretically, it seasons the bird and keeps it moist. All rather amusing if you consider the amount of gourmet print that has been expended excoriating market-sold turkeys that have brine injected into them.

Moreover, as a Jew, if not an observant one, It seems to me ironic for people to go to all that work when they can buy a turkey that has already been brined to kosher it. It's even odder when you realize that the koshering is done to remove any blood. Now, as a cook, I point out that the blood gives the meat flavor and moistness. The fat under the skin--except in the case of wild turkey--bastes the bird as it melts due to my method of high-heat roasting. Basting only adds fat and ups the risk of burns on the human arms.

Still contrary, I say nay to stuffing in the bird. The bones are so thick that there is a minimal transfer of flavor. It is also a good way to breed salmonella. Each year, I make turkey stock with the innards, wing tips, and carcass. I use that to flavor the "stuffing." If seems obligatory to put something inside the bird, use your choice of onion, apple, orange, garlic, fresh sage and celery leaves.

Even less traditional, I do not truss the bird. It seems perfectly ridiculous to push the darkest and heaviest pieces of meat together insuring uneven cooking and dried out white meat.

What is left? Simplicity. Let the bird come to room temperature. Heat the oven to 500 F. Put the bird in a roasting pan--not a foil one that can cause spilling and is not reusable. Also do not use that family favorite, the blue and white spotted pan. The enamel chips easily and creates a fine breeding place for salmonella.

Just put the rack in the middle of the oven. Put the turkey on it--legs to the rear. Squiggle it around after fifteen minutes so it doesn't stick. Follow the timings in my book Roasting, A Simple Art . The bird will be perfect.