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Which turkey is right for you?

We have more choices than just fresh or frozen


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - If you have questions about how to prepare your Thanksgiving turkey, OSU Extension-trained Master Food Preserver experts are just a phone call away.

It’s time to start planning your Thanksgiving feast. The big question is what kind of a turkey will you buy? The options are greater than just fresh or frozen. How you will prepare the bird — if you will brine it or not, stuff it or not — may help you determine the best bird for your recipe.

Here is a brief rundown of the options:

Free-range: Free-range birds have not been raised in cages and are allowed to graze on grasses and grains found in the enclosed space in which they live. This method of poultry farming is regarded as a more humane method than traditional commercial poultry farming.

Organic: The organic label is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These turkeys are free-range and fed organic and vegetarian diets of grains and grasses that have not been treated with pesticides. The birds are also antibiotic free.

Natural: The ingredient label should read simply “turkey”; these birds are processed without adding any artificial ingredient or added color. This makes them good candidates for brining. The “natural” name doesn’t refer to how the turkeys were raised. Antibiotics may have been given.

Kosher: These turkeys are raised according to Jewish dietary customs with strict rabbinical supervision. The birds are fed a vegetarian diet free of antibiotics. They undergo a special salting process after slaughter, similar to brining. Therefore, they are not a good choice for brining, as they will take on too much salt flavor.

Basted or self-basting: This is the standard turkey you will find in grocery stores. These turkeys have been injected with a solution of salt, butter or oil and sometimes herbs in an effort to retain flavor over an extended period of freezing. They will require much less basting during roasting, making them a good choice for beginning cooks. They are not good candidates for brining, as salt has already been added.

Heritage: These turkeys are farmed using methods our grandparents would have used. Heritage birds have a longer, slower rate of growth than commercially raised turkeys. They typically take 26 to 28 weeks to reach “market weight,” while commercially raised turkeys are ready to sell after about 18 weeks. This longer maturing time gives heritage birds a richer flavor. They are available by special order only.

In our area, SuDan Farm in Canby raises them. You can check for availability at sudanfarm.com.

Now how about fresh versus frozen? Some folks only buy fresh turkeys, finding the meat of frozen birds to be dry and not as flavorful. I would agree if you are talking about an organic, natural or heritage bird, but when it comes to supermarket brands the difference is negligible. According to Epicurious.com, this is because USDA allows turkeys designated as “fresh” to be chilled as low as 26 F — well below the freezing point of water — which allows ice crystals to form and the meat to begin drying out just as it would in a fully frozen turkey. Fresh supermarket turkeys cost more than frozen, and the folks at epicurious.com believe you won’t get much more for your money.

If you are buying a frozen turkey, you will want to bring it home three to five days before cooking to allow ample time to defrost. Fresh turkeys will keep in the refrigerator for two days; most supermarkets allow you to preorder and schedule pickup close to the holiday.

So who are you going to call if you have questions about preparing your turkey? The Oregon State University Extension Service is manning its holiday food safety hotline 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 18 to 22 and Nov. 25 to 27. The number is 1-800-354-7319. Answering your call will be Extension-trained Master Food Preserver volunteers.

And you can call Butterball at 1-800-butterball (1-800-288-8372). Visit butterball.com for a wealth of information and recipes for roasting, rotisserie roasting, deep frying, grilling and smoking turkeys, plus how to carve them.

Today’s recipe for Simple Roast Turkey is the ultimate turkey lover’s turkey — no bells and whistles, just a succulent bird with crispy skin and plenty of delicious gravy. It’s great for first timers, since there is no brining or glazing or stuffing. Plus it’s done in under four hours. Use the leftover meat to make the Turkey Sandwiches with Cranberry Sauce and Blue Cheese Butter.

Next week we’ll explore Thanksgiving side dishes, particularly for your vegan guests.

Bon Appétit! Eat something wonderful!

Simple Roast Turkey with Rich Turkey Gravy

Serves 12 (with leftovers)

Active time: 30 minutes, total time 3 3/4 hours

1 (16-lb) turkey at room temperature 1 hour, any feathers and quills removed with tweezers or needle nose pliers, and neck and giblets removed and reserved for another use if desired

1 tablespoon salt

1 3/4 teaspoons black pepper

2 cups water

7 to 8 cups turkey stock *recipe follows

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Special equipment: 2 small metal skewers; kitchen string; a 17- by 14-inch flameproof roasting pan with a flat rack; an instant-read thermometer; a 2-quart glass measuring cup

Make turkey:

Put oven rack in lowest position and preheat oven to 450 F. Rinse turkey inside and out, then pat dry. Sprinkle turkey cavities and skin with salt and pepper. Fold neck skin under body and secure with metal skewers, then tie drumsticks together with kitchen string and tuck wings under body.

Put turkey on rack in roasting pan. Add 1 cup water to pan and roast without basting, rotating pan halfway through roasting, until thermometer inserted into fleshy part of thighs (test both thighs; do not touch bones) registers 170 F, 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 hours.

Carefully tilt turkey so any juices from inside large cavity run into roasting pan, then transfer turkey to a platter, reserving juices in roasting pan. Let turkey stand, uncovered, 30 minutes (temperature of thigh meat will rise to 180 F).

Make gravy while turkey stands:

Pour pan juices through a fine-mesh sieve into measuring cup (do not clean roasting pan), then skim off and discard fat. (If using a fat separator, pour pan juices through sieve into separator and let stand until fat rises to top, 1 to 2 minutes. Carefully pour pan juices from separator into measure, discarding fat.)

Straddle roasting pan across 2 burners, then add remaining cup water and deglaze roasting pan by boiling over high heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits, 1 minute. Pour through sieve into measuring cup containing pan juices. Add enough turkey stock to pan juices to bring total to 8 cups (if stock is congealed, heat to liquefy).

Melt butter in a 4-quart heavy pot and stir in flour. Cook roux over moderate heat, whisking, 5 minutes. Add stock mixture in a stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps, then bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Stir in any turkey juices accumulated on platter and simmer 5 minutes. Season gravy with salt and pepper, then stir in cider vinegar (to taste).

— Gourmet, November 2006

Turkey Stock

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large, yellow onion, chopped

2 bay leaves

1 cup dry, white wine

7 cups water

Giblets from 1 turkey, excluding liver, rinsed

2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped

1 turkey neck cut into 2-inch pieces

5 fresh sprigs parsley

6 whole peppercorns

Warm the oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the turkey neck and giblets, and cook until browned on all sides, about eight minutes. Add the onion and celery and cook until brown, about 15 minutes. Add the wine and water and bring to a simmer. Skim any foam from the surface. Add peppercorns, bay leaves and parsley. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover partially and simmer for two hours. Strain the stock into a bowl and throw away the solids. Refrigerate stock in an airtight container. Lift fat off surface of stock when ready to use.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281, ext 100 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow her on Twitter at @barbatthereview.



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