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No, Ma, this is the best turkey ever! Really!
November 24, 2003 8:12 AM   Subscribe

About a turkey [NYT] explains why the modern industrial American turkey is so dry and flavourless. It's not your mother's fault, it's the turkey. There is hope: Slow Food honors and preserves flavor in food production. Think where to buy next year's turkey.
posted by Nelson (49 comments total)

 
I've stopped eating industrial turkey. I gives me asthma attacks.
posted by troutfishing at 8:34 AM on November 24, 2003


It's not just turkey, its everything.

I am slowly migrating away from dependence on the grocery store method of sustenance. It takes effort, but it is worth it. Want to experience a truly remarkable meal? Make it with heirloom vegetables, homemade breads made from home-ground flour, homemade cheese, fresh whole milk, and homemade wine. You can't buy that kind of meal anywhere.

My benefits are many: improved quality (so markedly improved it is hard to express), lower cost, elimination of questionable additives, increased freshness.

Oh, a tangential note: We say that it is cheap to eat out in America. But part of the reason it is cheap is that the quality of what we get dining out is so poor. It is either fast food -- which is ridiculously low quality food injected with artificial flavorings to make them mildly palatable --- or restaurants which create their meals from a pallette of ingredients offered by the likes of Sysco, i.e., industrial-grade versions of exactly what you can buy in the grocery store. Large franchise "upscale" restaurants are glorified versions of the same distribution channels.

What is much more rare is the restaurant that actually makes their own food. They're the restaurant that understands there's more than 4 kinds of mushrooms in the world; that tomatos should be tasty first, and firmness is secondary at best; that locally-grown ingredients make for a richer and fresher meal; etc. They aren't cheap. But they're worth it.
posted by yesster at 8:34 AM on November 24, 2003


That Times graphic is positively captivating.
posted by sudama at 8:35 AM on November 24, 2003


It's moorhuhn time of the year again. Yay.
posted by ginz at 8:35 AM on November 24, 2003


Oh - one more thing --- I used to work for a turkey processing plant. Everything the article says about the raising and processing of the turkey is correct. It is also very, very tame. The real thing is much more disgusting.
posted by yesster at 8:42 AM on November 24, 2003


I gives me asthma attacks.

Slow down Popeye, you're hyperventilating.
posted by yerfatma at 8:55 AM on November 24, 2003


The Thanksgiving turkey is such an odd tradition. At no other time of year do we roast a turkey, because we know how much of a pain it is, with a relatively low payoff. Even good turkeys are difficult to cook properly, given their size (unless they're deep fried...mmmmm....). And, as the article points out, our obsession with white meat is pathlogically stupid.

yesster- here, here. I joined the Park Slope Co-op here in Brooklyn this year and couldn't be happier. Our quest for year-round access to all produce has reduced fresh fruits and vegetables to pulpy, bland, masses.
posted by mkultra at 8:55 AM on November 24, 2003


My benefits are many: . . . lower cost

Assuming you consider your time to be worth $0.00/hour.
posted by yerfatma at 8:56 AM on November 24, 2003


I'm not so worried about the treatment of the turkey. What I care about is the flavour. American food is so oriented towards cheap and convenient and the result is mediocrity. It's such a revelation to eat in Europe.
posted by Nelson at 8:56 AM on November 24, 2003


I don't know what species of turkey it was, but after my virgin Thanksgiving day turkey cooking experience with a fresh bird bought from the morning market here in Italy, I will never look at a frozen Butterball monstrosity again. Despite repeated panicky phone calls to my mother* and a massive lack of time due to work, the bird came out juicy and tasty with very little effort on my part.

*"Mom, how do I pluck these straggly feathers and quills off the turkey?"
"How the fuck should I know?"
Tweezers & pliers were used to little avail. I finally burned the little fuckers off with a lighter, cackling like a mad woman the entire time.

posted by romakimmy at 8:58 AM on November 24, 2003


Brine it.
posted by donpardo at 9:01 AM on November 24, 2003


Why does everyone like white meat so much more than dark meat? I grew up preferring the dark stuff, as did most of the rest of my family; the white meat was eaten mainly out of a sense of duty, and most of it was usually relegated to sandwiches & soups in the weeks following Thanksgiving. Is it because I grew up in the 80s, long after the advent of the techniques described in the article, that I prefer the much more flavorful dark meat to the bland, dry white meat?
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:01 AM on November 24, 2003


When I was a kid - as my mother is a Catholic - we'd always buy our turkey from the turkey "shepherd" - guys who'd walk around the streets with their "flock" of turkeys, which they'd direct with a long cane festooned with dark rags.

We'd keep it for a month, to fatten up, by which time we'd all grown fond of the surly beast. So we'd infallibly let it go before the gruesome occasion arrived. The one year we forgot to do this, our father, who always remonstrated with us for our acts of animal liberation, set it free himself.

On the one occasion a turkey did meet its fate, I'll never forget how the cook poured a litre of brandy down its gullet - no slaughter without drunkenness is the philosophy here, although I suspect it's more flavour-driven than compassion-driven - and had another half-litre herself, before killing it and cooking it.

Nobody ate it.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:13 AM on November 24, 2003


It's not your mother's fault, it's the turkey.

Blaming the victim?
posted by soyjoy at 9:19 AM on November 24, 2003


My main beef with supermarket turkeys is that it's gotten harder and harder to find one that's labeled "minimally processed," which means that they haven't injected it with a huge amount of some solution that is meant to give it (horrible) flavor and save it from dryness brought on by not knowing how to cook it properly.

(Oh, and I honor what all you bleeding hearts are saying about animal cruelty and all that, but this is one of those occasions where I feel like reveling in my carnivorous ancestry.)

The basic problem with a turkey is that by the time the flavorful dark meat is cooked, the delicate white meat is overcooked. You can overcome this problem very easily by soaking a good sized piece of cheesecloth in oil and placing the cheesecloth over the turkeys breast prior to cooking. It also helps a great deal if you start out with a higher oven temperature, say 450. You can lower the oven temperature to 350 after the first half hour or so. Or not, but then you need to watch the bird a bit more carefully. Baste occasionally, and for the last half hour or so of cooking, remove the cheesecloth second skin.

Also, for the love of all that's holy, don't use one of those popup thermometers. By the time that thing pops up, the white meat is completely overcooked. 165 degrees is plenty.

Oh, and you shouldn't stuff that bird with anything other than some salt, pepper, a squeezed lemon or two, and perhaps some aromatic herbs or a sliced onion, all of which you will discard after cooking. Cook your dressing separately. Otherwise, you're still cooking the dressing after the turkey flesh has been fully cooked, so you'll be overcooking and drying out your bird. It will also take significantly less time to get your bird to table.

Properly prepared, a turkey's white meat is moist and delicious. And really, it's not that hard.
posted by anapestic at 9:25 AM on November 24, 2003


My benefits are many: . . . lower cost

Assuming you consider your time to be worth $0.00/hour.
posted by yerfatma at 8:56 AM PST on November 24

That's the funniest thing about it. I think I come out ahead while getting paid $0.

One of the biggest mistakes we've made culturally is to assume that time is as completely fungible as money; that this time is equal in value to that time; that an hour doing x and an hour doing y can both be compared via translation of those times to money.

In the end, I'd rather "work" for $0 to make and grow my own food, than to slave at a job for $25 per hour so I could afford to replace those foods. But this is actually hiding another oversimplification that results from our dependence on commercial food processing: the assumption that all foodstuffs are commodities. On the contrary, this broccoli is NOT equal to that broccoli. This pork is not equal to that pork.

I cannot buy broccoli that is equal to the broccoli I can grow, nor can I buy any pork that is truly equal to the pork I can raise and butcher myself. They are therefore quite literally priceless.

Plus there's the value of the experience itself. I get paid nothing to do it. But then again, you can't pay me enough to lure me away from it. Again, it is literally priceless.

I get priceless experiences and priceless foodstuffs as compensation for my labor. That's far more valuable to me than the what I get paid for doing my "real" job.
posted by yesster at 9:30 AM on November 24, 2003 [1 favorite]


You can order Heritage Turkeys from Whole Foods (Whole Paycheck as my coworker calls it).

There are flocks of turkeys running amok just up north of us. They're probably just feral but they're doing fine on their own.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:44 AM on November 24, 2003


I am extraordinarily lucky to be able to by my meats from this company at my local supermarket for competitive prices.

The presence of Wolfe's Neck Farm meats at Hannaford has done more to increase the popularity of organic meats in my area than any other single factor (including the opening of the public market).
posted by anastasiav at 10:04 AM on November 24, 2003


Alton Brown's recipe worked well for me last year, enough so that I have assembled everything to do it again this year.

From what I understand brining used to be a common thing to do to fowl, as things like turkeys can get a bit gamey left to their own devices. Kosher poultry is also put through a similar process.

Am I the only one who finds that poultry just doesn't keep as well as it used to? As much as I would like to save money buying/freezing supermarket sale price bulk "southern grown" chicken, it's worth the extra money to buy at, say, Trader Joe's and have the stuff keep more than 24 hours after being cooked.
posted by ilsa at 10:06 AM on November 24, 2003


There is hope: Slow Food honors and preserves flavor in food production. Think where to buy next year's turkey.

You're right. There is hope. You could actually do the right thing for a change, and pass on killing another sentient being.

I'm not so worried about the treatment of the turkey. What I care about is the flavour.

Fascinating priorities, for this fleeting life.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 10:10 AM on November 24, 2003


All this elitism so close to Thanksgiving makes baby turkeys cry, and subsequently drown in their own tears.
posted by archimago at 10:19 AM on November 24, 2003


I got two nice turkey's this year during hunting season. They'll be served along with some venison and other assorted sidedish's.
posted by WLW at 11:02 AM on November 24, 2003


I support and agree with everything yesster said.

Here is a place to find a Turkey this year. Watch the cool flash then go on to the excellent resource at the end.

I think it's lazy BS that it takes effort to find good food. Once you start looking it is everywhere. Going to the average chain Supermarket is like going to McDonalds it is what you do as a last resort.

Soyjoy we know you don't eat Turkey, there is a Turkey and Gravy soda available.
posted by stbalbach at 11:09 AM on November 24, 2003


You could actually do the right thing for a change, and pass on killing another sentient being.

Dude, you have got an enormous booger up in there. I normally wouldn't mention it, but what with your nose stuck up in the air like that, it's impossible not to notice.
posted by kindall at 12:12 PM on November 24, 2003 [1 favorite]


You could actually do the right thing for a change, and pass on killing another sentient being.

I was vegetarian for nine years.

Then I got better.
posted by Nelson at 12:35 PM on November 24, 2003


There's actually a wild turkey infestation in my backyard. I just need to get over my squeamishness about shooting creatures - they're the size of small emus and would make a great meal. I've heard wild turkey's a little gamey, but that doesn't deter me.

yerfatma - that made me laugh. I have Popeye forearms, too, you know (from lots of work w/my hands) - veins and all. I've had nurses exclaim - "Gee, I'd LOVE to do an IV on you!" It's quite annoying really.
posted by troutfishing at 1:13 PM on November 24, 2003


Nelson - As a man, I'm worried that ToFurkey will rot my brain, from the soy - so I may eat bird again this year. I just hope I don't start wheezing.
posted by troutfishing at 1:15 PM on November 24, 2003


t.f. so you want some organically-raised turkey? I really didn't think there was much market for it, but now I'm thinking you might be right . . .
posted by yesster at 1:26 PM on November 24, 2003


I was vegetarian for nine years.

Then I got better.


Me too! I can't believe I waited so long to go vegan.

stbalbach, thanks, but I also don't drink turkey - at least not the domesticated kind.

trout, I know you're joking about the soy thing, but for the record, I don't think there's any soy in the Tofurky itself. It's seitan.
posted by soyjoy at 1:42 PM on November 24, 2003


f&m- Thanks for that wonderful snark that added absolutely nothing constructive to the conversation. Or are you representing the MeFi Jain contingent today?

kindall- A most excellent comeback! That one's getting filed for future reference...
posted by mkultra at 1:43 PM on November 24, 2003


I don't think there's any soy in the Tofurky itself. It's seitan.

So in other words it's false advertising? Figures.
posted by kindall at 1:50 PM on November 24, 2003


Diestel organic turkeys
posted by turbodog at 1:53 PM on November 24, 2003


I don't care what my turkey's made out of, as long as it's deep fried.

Aw yeaaaaaaah...
posted by Katemonkey at 2:13 PM on November 24, 2003


Mmmmmm, wild turkey. And then, there's a lot to be said for Wild Turkey, too...
posted by alumshubby at 2:30 PM on November 24, 2003


f&m- Thanks for that wonderful snark that added absolutely nothing constructive to the conversation. Or are you representing the MeFi Jain contingent today?

no, he's representing a very large portion of MeFi, even though we're likely to be mocked and shouted down everytime vegetarianism comes up. i think he added some well-deserved criticism of a brutal and unnecessary practice.

f&m's comment may have been a snark, but it contributed immensely to the rather shallow "i like dark meat, no i like it brined, no i like it deep fried" conversation. to me, half of that New York Times article was comprised of reasons not to eat turkey at all. i hoped (against hope) that the resultant thread would be a spirited discourse between meat-eaters and abstainers. of course, as f&m already noted, the main argument in favor of meat is "it tastes good," so i should have known better.

on preview, cheers to alumshubby's Wild Turkey suggestion. substitute bourbon for your dark and white meat, and i'll guarantee a rather exciting (albeit dangerous), Kentucky-style Thanksgiving.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:00 PM on November 24, 2003


the main argument in favor of meat is "it tastes good,"

For me, the main argument in favor of meat is "my body was designed to eat it". I'm sure you can post links telling me why that isn't true, but then I can post links telling you why it is and we'd go around forever, so lets not.

But choosing to eat meat doesn't mean I have to default to eating animals raised in the horrific conditions prevalent in the industry today. I can also choose (and do choose) to eat animals raised in humane, health conditions, who are slaughtered in humane and painless ways.

My mother is a very strict vegan, and I spent most of my teen and early-20's eating that way. What we discovered was that the vegan diet was making me ill -- anemia, edema, -- all based around the fact that I have bad reactions to many of the foods vegans traditionally use to introduce protein into their diet, and finding foods that I would/could eat and also could digest became a tremendous struggle.

The bottom line is: eat what you want, but have respect for what you eat. Everyone makes choices, and the same choices are not the same for everyone.
posted by anastasiav at 3:17 PM on November 24, 2003 [1 favorite]


For me, the main argument in favor of meat is "my body was designed to eat it".

you're right. we probably have some major philosophical differences. i prefer to see myself as "organized" rather than "designed," but that's definitely another discussion.

of course, i mostly agree with everything you say. it's quite rare, however, to see behavior like yours. i'd wager that there are more vegetarians than consumers who take the trouble to make the effort (and pay much more) for "humane" meat.

however, the "cruelty" aspect of meat-eating is not the reason i don't eat it. i think that meat-eating is simply not sustainable on a global scale, and that we're in danger of seriously threatening the ecosystem. there are other, personal reasons that help, but global sustainability is my main beef. if i can help lessen what i see as an extraordinary burden of meat eating, it's very hard for me to come up with a reason not to stop eating meat. (the same reason i don't drive a car - what if everyone did?)

thanks for letting me donate my 2 cents, and thanks to f&m for bringing up the subject.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:45 PM on November 24, 2003


i hoped (against hope) that the resultant thread would be a spirited discourse between meat-eaters and abstainers.

Uh, right, because we never have spirited discourse between the herbivores and the omnivores around here. I appreciate your desire to flog a dead horse, but you really needn't criticize people for staying on topic.
posted by anapestic at 3:56 PM on November 24, 2003


I love eating. Meat, veggies, sweets, alcohol (oops! not a food! or is it... /Homeresque dreamscape)

Mr Grimm may be right. The earth probably can not sustain the consumption of meat on the scale that the US has established. I, for one, don't think I represent that scale and I shudder to think of the diets of those who raise the average. It is also likely that the world can not support the consumption of anything at the rate consumed by the United States or western Europe. Meat, cars, soybeans -- you name it.

Back to the task at hand with two self links (forgive me if these are repeats from the same time last year or before; I just can't help myself): tastiest turkey ever (a close up here as cooked by wife et cie). Second tastiest also by my wife &,dash; yes, she's the best. (The second meal evolved into the most remarkable sequence of leftovers. Turkey pot pie, cauliflower soufflé and a Shepherd's pie of sorts with the mostly veal stuffing.) My preemptive apologies to the cook of this year's feast — it's unlikely to match these past successes.
posted by Dick Paris at 4:38 PM on November 24, 2003


You can order Heritage Turkeys from Whole Foods

An O/T *booooo hisssssss* to Whole Foods. Evil, union-busting bastards.
posted by kayjay at 4:42 PM on November 24, 2003


Whole Foods. Evil, union-busting bastards

I know a lot of people who work at Whole Foods who don't want to be in a union. From what I've seen locally of the union busting, it consists of: "Go ask the Safeway/ other grocery store folks how they feel about the union." That usually kills it, especially in the specialty sections (for instance, butchers have their own union.) So far (locally, again) unions haven't been able to take hold at Whole foods because it treats its employees really well- unions don't have much to offer in the way of improvement.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:12 PM on November 24, 2003 [1 favorite]


I appreciate your desire to flog a dead horse

it's about as much of a dead horse as abortion, capital punishment, separation of church and state, or [insert your favorite debatable issue here].

yes, the opposing sides of such issues are generally quite intractable, but that doesn't mean we can't make any progress or exchange new ideas about those issues.

my apologies for the criticism of the cooking posts, but based on the Times Op-Ed, i honestly thought the comments about how to cook turkey were more off-topic than a discussion of why we need to eat turkey at all.

It is also likely that the world can not support the consumption of anything at the rate consumed by the United States or western Europe ...

that seems a little specious. there are lots of things of which U.S.Americans don't consume too much--fruits and vegetables come to mind (as do industrial hemp and candy-covered insects).

i'm convinced (warning: perhaps a faith-based conclusion) that it's possible to sustain a global rate of fruit and vegetable consumption that equals that of the U.S. (of course, i have absolutely nothing to back that statement up ... i'd love to see any data, supportive or not ...)
posted by mrgrimm at 5:27 PM on November 24, 2003


it's about as much of a dead horse as abortion, capital punishment, separation of church and state, or [insert your favorite debatable issue here].

And we appreciate you not trying to discuss any of those other issues in this thread too.

Now then, I've only had a local turkey once, raised just 10 miles down the street no less, and I can attest to a certain yo-no-sé-qué that was quite delectable. However, even a store turkey can be extremely tasty if you're willing to put a little work into it:
  1. Brining. Soaking a turkey in a solution of 2 cups salt/2 gallons water for 4-8 hours really helps bring out the flavour. I've heard that some people add a cup of sugar too, but I've never tried this (and it sounds a little gross). Rinse thoroughly before roasting.
  2. Prep. Place the turkey breast down in the roasting pan. Any spices you wish to use (garlic, bell seasoning, paprika) should be stuffed under the skin near the spine so it'll drip onto the breast as it roasts. Also, chop an onion* to throw into the cavity.
  3. Roasting. Cook it hot. Start by preheating the oven to 425 and then lower the temp to 375 after a 1/2 hour. Instead of basting, every 1/2 hours or so suck out the pan juices and re-inject them into the turkey (using the slits cleverly cut in the last step). This will help seal the juices inside and keep it moist. Remove any excess drippings and set aside for stuffing, gravy, etc.
  4. Flipping. When there's a 1/2 hour to go, flip it to breast side up. This can be a little tricky; I stick a wooden spoon (the kind you use to stir spaghetti) in the cavity to lift it and use an oven mitt to rotate it on the spoon's axis. Once you flip it, you shouldn't need to baste at all as the skin should become dark and crispy just as the turkey is getting done.
And finally, buy this book, quite possibly the finest kitchen reference** ever and the one from which this technique was shamelessly stolen (and refined).

* Most recipes tell you to throw the onion out afterward but I generally fish it out and mix it in with the various chopped organs to flavor the stuffing. Waste not, want not, as they say.

** Heaven forbid one call a tome this comprehensive a mere "cookbook"
posted by boaz at 7:02 PM on November 24, 2003


boaz - hmmm. makes me want to buy a .22 to get those turkeys in my backyard......

Dick_Paris - that's a fine looking turkey. I'll have a slice, please.
posted by troutfishing at 9:39 PM on November 24, 2003


At Christmas my grandmother never gets turkey. Instead she goes down the road to her neighbour and gets a goose or two that he's been raising and brings them home. Flavourful, much better texture, no way I'd eat turkey instead of that.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:27 PM on November 24, 2003


...why the modern industrial American turkey is so dry and flavourless.

If it's American turkey, it would be flavorless, yeah?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:24 AM on November 25, 2003


ZenMasterThis, we're trying to have a discussion here of how good turkey can taste. Please don't introduce divisive, debatable topics like American v. British spelling.
posted by soyjoy at 6:54 AM on November 25, 2003


I say flavour, you say flavor.

You say savor, I say savour.

Now, shut up and slice that Terkey*


*Archaic alternative spelling.
posted by troutfishing at 7:24 AM on November 25, 2003


Slate just had a big writeup comparing the taste of heritage, organic, free range and mass-market turkeys. The mass-market Butterball won the competition.
posted by NortonDC at 8:21 PM on November 26, 2003


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