On Turkey

Various of the lefty blogs are suggesting that we only eat turkey on Thanksgiving because of tradition, and that turkey is actually a tasteless hunk of protein.

I must conclude that Ezra, Matt, and the rest of these barbarians are insane. (Though Ezra’s braising proposal isn’t altogether bad.)

Sure, an overcooked supermarket turkey will tend to be flavorless (especially breast meat). But that’s why one buys a good turkey, not an abomination. It’s why one brines the turkey, and it’s why, if at all possible, one cooks it in a Weber grill. None of that propane crap; grilling is all about charcoal, and perhaps some hardwood chips. (In short, what Atrios said.)

Brining keeps the breast meat from drying out (salt and sugar, no spices needed). The grill makes everything taste better. And buying an heirloom turkey means that you aren’t dealing with a bird bred for the sole purpose of having a large volume of meat (emphasizing the breast over the more flavorful dark meat). A turkey that’s been running around outside will taste better, and a turkey that hasn’t been bred for ease of industrial extraction of protein will taste better. The same is true of any other poultry.

Matt Ygliesias approvingly quotes Mark Bittman’s claim that “I know of no one who prefers turkey to other birds.” Now, I freely admit that I’d choose duck (and perhaps some of the more exotic options, like quail), over turkey, but that’s hardly realistic for Thanksgiving. Duck for a dozen people would cost hundreds of dollars, and then would be a bear to prepare. Quail would be even more expensive, and even more hassle. A good turkey feeds the masses, and leaves you with delicious leftovers.

Of course, this partly reflects my good upbringing. I live in a household where we have been known to cook a turkey the day after having Thanksgiving at someone else’s house, just so that there can be leftovers in the fridge and turkey stock in the freezer.

And so I leave you with a recipe for turkey soup/stock.

Take the fleshless carcass of your turkey (along with the giblets, if you didn’t eat them or use them for gravy; I sometimes toss in the inedible wingtips and other assorted bits I’m unenthusiastic about eating) and stick it in a pot big enough to cover it in water. Cover it in water, and bring that all to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, then throw in a couple of onions (just stick a fork in them a few times, don’t bother cutting them up), some carrots, a bell pepper or two, a bunch of garlic (again, don’t cut it up, just stick a fork in it and toss it in), a couple of bay leaves, and about half the salt and pepper you think it’ll need. Some people would put in celery, but I don’t. Simmer for at least an hour, an hour and a half is better. Skim off the foam periodically. Near the end, put in your favored herbs (thyme, tarragon, sage), and add more salt and pepper if needed. Strain out the veggies and the carcass. Cool and eat.


  1. #1 JimFiore
    November 28, 2008

    I advocate the two-step process. After you’ve got the bits boiled, remove carcass and separate meat from bones. Also discard onion and other vegetables (I use an onion, celery tops, and a big old carrot usually). Place meat in fridge. Place stock pot in garage, covered, to cool overnight (I live in central NY so by the end of November it’s about as warm as the fridge). The next morning, skim the fat off of the stock, pull any remaining bone bits from the meat, and make your soup.

    You have decidedly lower fat content this way.

  2. #2 ericnh
    November 29, 2008

    I’ve been brining turkey ever since I saw the recipe on Good Eats. Alton Brown’s technique produced the juiciest, most flavorful turkey I’ve ever had, besting anything my mother or mother-in-law roasted (and my mother-in-law is an otherwise fantastic cook). If you want to wow family and friends I highly recommend it — it’s Food Network’s most popular turkey recipe.

  3. #3 Oldfart
    November 30, 2008

    I can’t imagine what brining would do to my blood pressure. Americans already eat enough salt and add sugar to everything. The mere suggestion that turkey needs anything other than roasting with stuffing sickens me. My family will eat roast turkey preferentially at any time of the year.

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