Tag Archives: Turkey

Where do Turkeys Come From?

This may surprise a fair amount of you, but the traditional animal served on most Thanksgiving table can trace its roots to what is now Central and South Mexico. The fact that it can now be said that we eat “Mexican” food on Thanksgiving day delights me to no end. I have no idea why this amuses me so.

Way back in the day, finding protein was more difficult in the Western Hemisphere than it was in the Eastern. Certainly there was fish found on the coast lines, but going inland, finding a regular protein source wasn’t as easy as it was in the Middle East, Europe or Asia. Eventually the following sources had been found and used on a regular or semi-regular basis: beans, peanuts, avocados, guinea pigs, turkeys, geese, ducks, frogs, deer and…uh…other humans (although as their civilizations progressed, cannibalism became more of a ritual in regard to religion than a source of meat. And before you all get all ‘hoidy-toidy’ about men eating other men, cannibalism has a long, storied history in many, many cultures, including European. So there.)

Turkey was called uexolotl back in the day. Europeans, who were either too arrogant, too lazy, or a combination of both, changed the name to something more recognizable. The English then called it the “turkie cock”. Some confusion ensued as “turkie cock” was the same name that they used to refer to the guinea-fowl. In fact, the turkey, as we here in the States know of it, has been entitled with names that often confuse it with another country. Turkey, when referring to the bird, is easily the most geographically confused animal on the planet.

  • In Turkish the bird is called hindi which means “coming from India”
  • In the Hebrew language the turkey is called tarnegol hodu, which literally means “Indian chicken”
  • The Dutch word is kalkoen derived from the city Calicut in India.
  • In Portuguese the word for turkey is peru which also refers to the country Peru.
  • In Arabic it is called “Ethiopian bird.”
  • In Greek it is gallopoula which means “French girl” or “French bird”
  • In Scottish Gaelic it is called cearc frangais, meaning “French chicken”

Areas in India, just for the record, also referred to it as a peru. Peru, also for the record, is no closer to Mexico as either Turkey or France.

Why do some folks refer to the bird as “Indian”? The bird wasn’t all that well known, so when explorers and traders found the bird in Indian trading posts in the early 17th century, they thought they had discovered a new, exotic source of meat. They never considered that the bird had arrived from the Spanish, who had now circumnavigated the entire globe, and undoubtedly brought the bird to India from the East.

And what was the nationality of some of those European traders who came from the West and “discovered” the bird in India? Turkish.

All of this geographic trivia surrounding the Turkey is enough to make your head spin. It’s a good thing I’ve purchased my own Wild Turkey for the Holidays.

Technorati Tags: Food and Drink, Food History, Thanksgiving, Turkeys

Turkey Tips

As Thanksgiving day is a mere two weeks away, it’s probably a good idea to go over some basic tips and hints revolving around the big bird. It’s a fair guess to say that Heritage Turkeys are now becoming less and less available for pre-order, but that doesn’t mean that you will have to suffer a bad bird, at least taste-wise.


  • The younger the turkey, the more tender and mild flavored it will be. Turkeys labeled “young turkey” are usually 4 to 6 months of age. There are also young turkeys labeled “fryer-roaster turkey” which are usually under 16 weeks of age.
  • The sex designation of “hen” or “tom” is optional on the label, and means little when it comes to the tenderness of the meat. Toms will have more breast meat than hens and will generally be larger birds.
  • The larger birds give more meat per pound.
  • Buy two small turkeys in place of one large one means more drumsticks, wings, thighs and giblets, and takes less time to cook
  • Turkey Label Terms –
    Basted/Self Basting: injected with a liquid that can add up to 12% of the Turkeys net weight.
    Fresh: chilled to 40° F, but not below 26° F.
    Frozen: Flash frozen to below 32°, then stored 0° F or lower.
    Natural: Minimally processed and contains nothing artificial or preservative.
    Refrigerated: Stored between 1° F and 26° F.
  • A USDA grade mark of “A” typically means that the Turkeys are meaty, have a well developed layer of fat in the skin, and are practically free from pinfeathers, bruises, cuts, tears on the breast and legs, and broken bones.


  • Store raw turkeys for 2 days in the refrigerator in its original wrapping. If you’re not going to use the turkey within 2 days, store it in the freezer, giving it an additional wrapping of Saran Wrap. There it will keep for up to a year.


  • It’s best to thaw the turkey in an environment that does not allow bacteria to grow. The Safe zone? 40° F or under.
  • Thawing in the refrigerator is the safest means of getting the turkey ready. But it does take a while. Allow 25 hours for every 5 lbs of turkey. So a 15 lb bird will take you 3 days to thaw in the refrigerator.
  • Some say the most efficient way to thaw in the Refrigerator is to place the turkey breast-side up in its unopened wrapper on a tray in the refrigerator. YMMV.
  • A cooler can be used if shelf space is an issue. Use Freezer packs to keep chilled. You will need to rotate as the freezer packs warm up over time. A refrigerator thermometer is probably not a bad idea in the cooler either. Remember: 40° is the danger line. Replaces the packs when the temperature hits about 38 degrees F.
  • If you forget to thaw your bird, you can thaw it in cold water. Place the turkey in a sealed, leakproof packaging (i.e. additional Saran Wrap). Completely submerge in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes until turkey is thawed. Rule of thumb? The Turkey should be submerged in cool water for 30 minutes for every lb of the turkey. So a 12-16 lb turkey would thaw in 6-8 hours. The bird should then be cooked as soon as possible when thawed to prevent bacteria growth.


  • A Brine is a good way to ensure a moist bird, unless you have a Heritage turkey. The Heritage Turkey can easily stand on its own.
  • Do not let raw turkey juice touch ready to eat foods.
  • For God’s sake, remove the bag of giblets from the neck area of the bird. This is a mistake you’ll make only once in your life (and yes, I’ve done that).
  • Here are some prepping ideas. I’ve not tried them all, but some people swear by them:
    Bacon: Attach Bacon strips to the bird with Toothpicks.
    Butter: Pat the turkey dry, then brush completely with melted butter. Coat with salt and pepper.
    Cheesecloth: Soak Cheesecloth in olive or canola oil. Then wrap the turkey with said cheesecloth. Remove the cloth 30 minutes before the end of its roasting time.
  • A turkey will cook faster in a darker pan.
  • The Larger the roasting pan, the better the heat circulation surrounding the bird.


  • Stuffing adds to cooking time.
  • Stuffing adds another variable to the risk of the bacteria land mines.
  • Stuffing is your choice. It makes roasting the turkey more difficult, but not impossible.
  • Buuutt…you can add a quartered onion to the huge turkey cavity to give your bird that extra somethin’. Alton Brown also adds a cinnamon stick and a bit of apple.. If you do this, toss out these items when the turkey is done roasting.


  • A V-rack is a good idea, as it prevents the bird from rolling and allows more heat to circulate.
  • Basting? Not worth the effort. It toughens the skin and won’t be as crispy. I won’t even mention the fact that every time you’d open the door to baste, you would lower the temperature of your oven, increasing your cooking time.
  • That little plastic “turkey popper”? Ignore it. But don’t remove it.
  • Thermometers are your friends. Have a good one on hand.
  • Perfect temperatures for turkey Meat? Dark meat is 180° F. White is roughly 161° F.
  • For an unstuffed and thawed turkey? Roast at 325° F for 2¾ to 3 hours for an 8-12 lb bird. 3 to 3¾ hours for a 12-14 pounder. 3¾ to 4¼ hours for a 14-18 pound bird. 4¼ – 4½ hours for a 18 to 20 lb turkey. And 4½ – 5 hours for a 20lb to 24 lb monster.
  • For a stuffed and thawed turkey? Roast at 325° F for 3 to 3½ hours for an 8-12 lb bird. 3½ to 4 hours for a 12-14 pounder. 4 to 4¼ hours for a 14-18 pound bird. 4¼ – 4¾ hours for a 18 to 20 lb turkey. And 4¾ – 5¼ hours for a 20lb to 24 lb monster.
  • Alton Brown Method of Roasting? The first 30 minutes at 500° F. Add a folded-over, breast-sized and oiled sheet of Aluminum Foil to the Turkey’s breast at the 30 minute mark and lower the heat to 350° F. Cook until the internal temperature of the bird reaches 161° F.
  • Never partially cook a turkey to be finished later. You’re asking for bacterial growth.
  • Check for doneness of your turkey at about 30 minutes prior to it’s completion time. Insert a your meat thermometer at the thickest part of the thigh. It should read roughly 175 ° F. The breast should read somewhere between 160° F and 165° F.
  • If you’ve used stuffing, the center of the stuffing should read 165° F.
  • After removing the turkey from the oven, cover completely (yet loosely) with foil. Allow to set between 20 -30 minutes before carving.
  • Free range turkeys will typically have a pink coloration in about 1/3 of the breast meat, particularly that meat closest to the ribs. That’s because they develop a stronger and healthier circulatory system than do caged birds, and there is a resulting greater supply of blood to the muscles – which can tint the meat like a blush.

There are more words of wisdom out there, so don’t consider this the end-all be-all of Turkey Wisdom.

Hope this helps!

Technorati Tags: Food & Drink, Turkey Hints, Turkey, Thanksgiving

Heritage Turkeys Redux

Never let it be said the Accidental Hedonist isn’t at the cutting edge of food journalism. Back in early October, as I was walking through the Canadian mountains (which is correct in fact if not in spirit), our guest poster Jack, of Fork & Bottle, wrote a post about Heritage Turkeys.

His post must have hit the food zeitgeist, as there have been, not one, but two articles in the mainstream press about said Heritage Turkeys, one at the San Francisco Chronicle and one at the New York Times.

What is the summation of both articles? They’re a result of the Slow Food movement, they taste very good, and you should probably order one now.

Of course, if you’ve been reading this site, you knew that a month ago.

Technorati Tags: Food, Thanksgiving, Heritage turkeys,

Today is Turkey Testicle Day

Happy news if you live in Byron, Illinois, today is your lucky day. It is, indeed, turkey testicle festival day.

This is what you have to look forward to today…

The festival is always the 2nd Saturday in October, the first band starts around 11:00am. and the last band plays until 11:00pm.

The deep fried delights start being served around noon.

Those deep fried delights are actually…well, you know what they actually are. Because of this, I presume there will be beer sold. Lots and lots of beer.

Sometimes I love the United States. Reading about this is one of those moments.

Time to order Heritage Turkeys

(Written by Joanne from www.ForkandBottle.com)

About 4 years ago, right before Thanksgiving 2001, Marian Burros wrote about Heritage Turkeys in the New York Times. We were enthralled with the idea of saving the turkeys the pilgrims ate. She also said these turkeys tasted much better than supermarket turkeys, especially the dark meat. Meanwhile, for Thansgiving 2001, we ate our brined Organic Diestel Heidi Turkey (Diestel now also offers Heritage Turkeys).

The Spring 2002, we ordered our first heritage turkey from Slow Food in New York. When we ordered, we were given a non-guaranteed preference choice between breeds: Bourbon Red, American Bronze, Narragansett and a fourth breed (which I don’t remember at the moment). Based on the article, we chose Bourbon Red as our first choice.

If buying a turkey for the hallowed holiday by mail order didn’t daunt me, cooking a $120+ turkey certainly did. (I believe it was $70 + $50 Fedex shipping.) I trusted in the venerable Martha Stewart and chose her recipe for Turkey 101.

The Bourbon Red turkey was fantastic. It was likely eating turkey for the first time. The skin was golden red and crisp (thanks, Martha!) and the white meat succulent and the dark meat perfect. The meat had flavor and it was great on its own! Plus you didn’t have to brine it! (Although it is amazing what a pound of butter, and a bottle of white wine can do!)

Every year since then, we’ve sought out a heritage bird and have been rewarded. It’s gotten a bit less expensive for us to have that elusive heritage bird on our doorstep since that first encounter, but to us the results seem worth the expense. We were lucky in 2003 that Willie Bird Turkey in Santa Rosa began raising heritage birds and we were able to get our bourbon red by driving 15 minutes to Sebastopol, CA thereby saving the shipping charge. Last year we had a Mary’s Heritage Bourbon Red Turkey that was from a grocery store in Mill Valley…it was our least favorite of the three.

This year we’re going with a Bourbon Red from mail order company Heritage Foods USA. Heritage Foods USA is a project by Patrick Martins and Todd Wickstrom. Here’s a quote from their website:
ˮHeritage Foods USA was formed in 2001 as the sales and marketing arm for Slow Food’s Heritage Turkey Project, which helped double the population of heritage turkeys in the United States and upgraded the Bourbon Red turkey from “rare” to “watch” status on conservation lists. Now an independent company, Heritage Foods USA remains a sponsor of Slow Food and donates a portion of its profits to support Slow Food projects. Heritage Foods will assist Slow Food USA in the shipping of products promoted by Slow Food USA.ˮ
We’ve placed other orders with them throughout the year for lamb, pork and chicken and had great results.

This year our 19 lb+ turkey will likely come from Good Shepherd Farms in Kansas or any of the other five farms that Frank Reese oversees for the project. The price tag is more than you will pay locally, as they are FedEx’s to you. Consider that you are helping to save a breed from extinction. Consider that it tastes better than mass-produced turkey. Consider the cost per person. Consider it an investment in your and your children’s culinary future.

Good Shepherd Turkey

You can read more and/or order from Heritage Foods USA website. Heritage Foods USA also offers heritage turkeys year round but they are frozen.

To find a local source (and save the shipping) visit the main Heritage Turkey page at Slow Food.

Turkey with Marsala-Sage Sauce

Turkey with Marsala Wine Sauce

This recipe is based off of an Italian one (called Filetto Di Tacchino con Marsala to be precise). But alas, I did not have any white truffles, which is key I’m led to believe. But this recipe is still is a good one. Both Tara and I were quite pleased with how this came out.

In conisdering this recipe, both Tara and I commented that the turkey breasts could marinate in Marsala wine and sage leaves overnight. If I make this again (and I sense I might), then I would do so.

  • 4 Turkey fillets cut from the breast, pounded
  • flour
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 16-20 leaves of fresh sage
  • 1 cup Marsala wine
  • 4 Tablespoons butter (salted)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Season the fillets with salt and pepper, and dredge them lightly in flour shaking off the excess. Heat 3 Tablespoons of the butter in a skillet and brown the fillet gently on both sides.

Cook the fillets for 5 minutes on each sides, then transfer to a heated serving dish. Keep warm in oven.

Stir 2 tablespoons of the butter in the pan, scraping the bottom and add the sage, then add the Marsala wine. Stir well, add the remaining butter, stir and cook until all of the butter as been incorporated into the Marsala.

PLate the fillets and spoon the sauce over the fillet. Serve.

Serves 4

Turkey Hotlines

Yeah, I stole these from press releases. But if you need them, they’re here. If you need help in making T-Giving dinner tomorrow, give one of the folks listed below a call.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline: Food-safety specialists answer calls about meat and poultry preparation and cooking questions, year-round Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. (5 a.m. to 11 a.m. Thanksgiving Day).

Recorded information available 24 hours a day at the same number. Also available in Spanish.

Call 888-674-6854 or go online to www.fsis.usda.gov

Butterball Turkey Talk-Line: Home economists and nutritionists answer holiday cooks’ questions, in both English and Spanish. Callers can request a free pamphlet with safety and cooking tips and recipes.

Today, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Tomorrow, 4 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Nov. 26 to Dec. 23, weekdays, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Dec. 24 to Dec. 25, 4 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Dec. 26, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Automated assistance available outside the above hours and all year long.

Call 800-288-8372 or go online to www.butterball.com