Let’s Talk Turkey

If you are like me, this time of year means serious cooking. But this responsibility, however fun, can be stressful if not planned correctly. Time management is the key to a successful repast. It’s not too early to start your Thanksgiving shopping. Making a comprehensive list is important, and scheduling your cooking can prove most helpful if you want to enjoy the actual meal with your family and friends.

The centerpiece of the meal is the turkey, and this should be given the most thought. In Haiti, my grandparents used to raise turkeys in their backyard, waiting until they were plump enough for roasting. Refrigeration was a luxury and frozen birds were hard to find. If you wanted a turkey, you either had to go to the marketplace or raise it at home. My grandfather would feed lemon juice to the live turkey as a disinfectant, destroying any germs and cleansing the body. Then the turkey would bathe in a four hour brine to loosen the proteins.

Haitians are used to cooking wild turkeys, but here in America, wild turkeys can prove too tough and gamy. My grandmother gave up on going to the vivero (live poultry shop) to get a fresh turkey the day before. Despite brining, she said they were too tough, and didn’t trust what they were fed while growing up. Heirloom turkeys are great but too costly.

What type of turkey should you purchase? Over the years I have experimented with many brands. With the recipe that my grandmother has passed down to me, the quality of the turkey holds less importance, but a turkey that is brined cuts out a time consuming step.

This brings us to the kosher option, which offers a brined turkey at the right price. Empire turkey fills the number one spot, and you should make every effort to seek it out. At a distant number two, Murray’s turkeys, which are sold at Fairway markets, are quite good. After these two choices, the rest of the turkeys on the market have to do with what you are used to cooking or are most comfortable with. For example, Butterball sells a brined turkey, but the brine solution and butter injection tastes somewhat artificial and unhealthy. Again, if you feel the need for a heritage turkey, beware of the quality of the meat and the possibility of toughness or gamey flavors. In the case of the turkey, more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better.

Whichever turkey you choose, buy a large one, put it in a bowl, and let it occupy the top rack of your refrigerator for up to one week. This way you’ll pick the turkey you want, beat the long lines, and save yourself a mad scramble in the last minute. This will also allow you enough time to plan properly for my Haitian turkey recipe, in case you missed it last year.