Friday, November 26, 2004

deranged turkey

We did something this Thanksgiving that every book on entertaining tells you not to do -- we experimented on our guests. Of course, we wouldn't have tried it if we didn't know that our guests would be tolerant of culinary failure. Our oldest Greensboro friends, Stephen Ruzicka and Camilla Cornelius, and their daughters Avery and Madhu, have shared many dinners at our table, not all of them successes.

The experiment this year came in the form of an heirloom turkey from Heritage Foods USA. This turkey is not the white-feathered, large-breasted, so-stupid-it-drowns-in-a-rainstorm variety you get frozen at the supermarket, nor even its fresh, organic cousin you can order at EarthFare or the Fresh Market.

This is your great-grandmother's turkey, the American Bronze Turkey. There are apparently only 500 of them surviving (oops -- make that 499).

We ordered the turkey on-line from Heritage Foods, and it was delivered via UPS on Wednesday. When it came out of the packaging it looked very . . . thin. If your typical grocery store turkey is Mae West, this one was Twiggy. The breast was definitely small in proportion to the legs and thighs, which were quite well-developed.

That's because this turkey was not only an heirloom turkey, but also a "free-range" one as well, meaning it had the run of the barnyard. My kids amused themselves making fun of the "deranged" turkey for a couple of days.

I was a little worried about it, though, because I've eaten some locally-grown free-range chickens, after which I coined my own term of derision: "schwarzechicken." "Tough" doesn't begin to describe them. They gave me warm feelings for Frank Perdue.

But all turned out very well. It browned and roasted perfectly. One of the advantages of the smaller breast is that the turkey cooks evenly throughout, unlike modern turkeys, in which the dark meat tends to get overdone before the over-sized breast is fully cooked.

The dark meat was a deep, almost purplish hue (don't worry -- it was fully cooked to 165 degress), and the white meat was tender and cohesive. All was very juicy with a concentrated but not gamey turkey flavor. It retained its moisture even on the platter, and overnight.

Was it worth it? With shipping, it cost us well over $10 a pound. That's expensive turkey. But if it's just once a year, I think I'd do it again. As my daughter said,

"It's good turkey. And it had a happy life."

And a beautiful afterlife:

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