Thanksgiving is only a few days away and in the United States this means one thing: turkey. No other foods seems to dominate a holiday like this large bird and the mind-boggling demand (an estimated 45 million turkeys are eaten for Thanksgiving) has created some unsavory practices amongst turkey producers.
Beginning in the 1960s grocery stores started selling a breed of bigger, plumper turkeys known as Broad-Breasted Whites. This turkey is bred for one main reason: it’s cheap to raise, primarily because it’s genetically modified to grow quickly. Turkey producers can maximize their profits and provide what they think consumers want: birds with more white meat. But the thing is, all that white meat makes a turkey cook and taste different. In fact, it is probably Broad-Breasted Whites (not your mother’s cooking skills) that are to blame for decades of dry, flavorless Thanksgiving turkeys. Even worse than dry meat, the genetic modifications to Broad-Breasted Whites leave them unable to fly or reproduce without artificial insemination.
By far, the Broad-Breasted White is the dominant breed of turkey sold in grocery stores. In the 1990s, it almost put other breeds of turkey into extinction. Luckily, organizations and turkey producers dedicated to preserving culinary heritage and to fighting against industrialized food production have been diligently protecting natural breeds of turkeys that have been around since our forefathers. Collectively, these breeds of turkeys with colorful names like Bourbon Red, Standard Bronze and Narragansett are known as Heritage turkeys. In recent years, as consumers have become more interested in where and how their food is grown, Heritage turkeys are enjoying a surge in popularity.
Heritage turkeys are more expensive to buy, ranging from $6.00-$12.00/pound, because they are more expensive to raise, taking up to 30 weeks to grow to close to 30 pounds while a Broad-Breasted White can reach that weight in just 18 weeks. Why splurge on a Heritage turkey? For starters, they are not genetically modified to maximize breast size and meat. Heritage turkeys have more fat and more dark meat, which helps keep the meat moist while cooking. The meat has a richer, heavier texture and more intense flavor, rich and robust and slightly gamey – what a “real” turkey is supposed to taste like.
Heritage turkeys can be bought from some local butchers and from Whole Foods Markets. Mary’s Turkeys does not sell directly to consumers, but does provide a listing of where their Heritage turkeys are sold. Heritage Foods and Local Harvest ship directly to consumers, but their prices are higher than most retail stores.
Buying a Heritage turkey is like casting a vote for humanely, naturally raised animals and for the farmers who are putting a premium on healthy, safe, natural food instead of profits. Pair your Heritage turkey with any number of our favorite Primal Thanksgiving sides and you’re guaranteed to have a very Happy Primal Thanksgiving.
Ingredients: (based on a 12 pound turkey)
- Turkey. For a Heritage turkey, allow 2 pounds of uncooked turkey for every person. This will yield enough cooked meat for Thanksgiving dinner and leftovers the next day.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed with a knife until powdery
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, plus extra sprigs to stuff in turkey cavity
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 3 cups chicken broth
Remove turkey from refrigeration 1/2 hour before cooking. Preheat oven to 350 and set the oven rack in a low position. Remove the innards (neck and giblets) from the cavity of the turkey and set aside.
The neck can be roasted next to the turkey or simmered in soup. The giblets (heart, liver, gizzard) can be sautéed in a little butter or oil and eaten as a separate meal or snack. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cool water and pat dry. Combine melted butter with fennel seeds, parsley, salt and pepper. You can also add minced garlic if you like. Drizzle the melted butter over the entire turkey. You can also loosen the skin, pull it up and rub some of the butter directly onto the meat.
Add broth to roasting pan and set bird in the pan, preferably elevated on a rack, breast side up. Insert a meat thermometer straight down through the thickest part of the breast – if you have an instant read thermometer, do not leave it in the bird; insert it later to check the temperature. After an hour, check the bird.
If the skin is getting too dark on top you can cover it with aluminum foil for the remainder of the cooking time. Roast until the meat registers at 160 –165 degrees, basting occasionally with pan drippings.
As a general rule of thumb, a 12 pound turkey typically takes around 2 1/2 hours to cook. A 15-25 pound bird can take 2-3 hours and a 25-30 pound bird can take 3 – 3 1/2 hours.
Once the thermometer hits 160, remove the bird from the oven and let rest with a loose covering of foil for 20-30 minutes before carving.
Mashed parsnips are the perfect substitution for potatoes. The flavor of parsnips is earthy and slightly sweet. You can enhance the sweetness by adding cinnamon and nutmeg, or opt for just salt and butter for a more savory side.
- 4 pounds parsnips, peeled and cut into small chunks
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 cup cream, optional
- butter and salt to taste
- optional: 1/4 teaspooon nutmeg and cinnamon
In a deep saucepan, combine parsnips with chicken broth and 1 1/2 cup water. With a lid, simmer until very tender (about 20 minutes).
Drain off broth. Mash parsnips with a fork or potato masher. Add enough broth back to the parsnips, and cream if you’re using it, until desired consistency is reached. Add salt and butter taste.