Thursday, November 26, 2009
It's my job, this Thanksgiving, to cook the turkey and to do the gravy, and I have been studying up for the task.
My bird is 22.5 pounds, is not frozen, and will be basted, and foil-hatted beginning very early Thursday morning. At a temperature of 325 degrees, it should take about 5 hours to cook the bird.
Since my mother has expressed some concern about my gravy-making abilities, I have carefully culled through the literature to learn a few tricks, and I have purchased a can of cream of chicken soup, two packages of turkey wings, and a small box of instant mashed potatoes as my "secret weapons" for success. We shall see if it is enough to overcome my natural culinary incompetence.
The modern Turkey was bred to be eaten -- it has no wild equivalent. To call it Meleagris gallopavo is an insult to the wild bird, which is both cunning and adaptive, and which can actually fly a bit.
The modern farm-bred bird, the so-called "Broad Breasted White," is a bio-engineered animal with an enormous body and breast, and it can barely waddle.
In fact, my bird is to large that had it not met its timely end to serve my needs, it probably would have died on its own within a month or two due to the strain on its heart. This is not a bird bred for health or longevity; it is a bird bred to die young, with a lot of meat on its bones.
Like most turkeys, my bird was almost certainly a product of artificial insemination due to the fact that farm turkeys, like English Bulldogs, are too big to reliably mate on their own.
Yes, this is a real job; grabbing big Tom turkeys, flipping them over, and stroking their cloaca until a bite of semen is extruded and then aspirated up a vacuum straw afixed to the finger of the worker. The reverse, of course, is done for female turkeys whose fertile eggs are then wisked off to waiting incubators. A single insemination is good for a month of fertile eggs,
My bird was probably beak-trimmed within a day of its incubator hatching, and from birth to death it had a steady supply of good grain and clean water. This is a turkey that never saw cold, flood, fox, coyote, raccoon, or bobcat. It never saw a parasite or a disease. My turkey is a bird with a health plan, even if that health plan does come with a "death panel" at the end of its life.
The animal rights folks will tell you that farm-bred turkeys have a miserable life, but I am not sure I agree. Sure, they may have their beaks trimmed, but so do a lot of folks in Hollywood. Funny how it's OK for humans to have nose jobs and tummy tucks, breast implants and face lifts, pierced nipples and tribal-art tattoos, but its a horror to trim a beak on a chicken or dock a tail on a dog.
Of course, some folks will say my Turkey lived an "unnatural life" in a massive shed crowded with other Turkeys. Right. But what is a "natural" life for a turkey that is already so far removed from nature? Why am I supposed to feel bad that this bird, and all its incubator brethren, lived to a large size in a secure shed rather than died at the age of one or two-weeks, drowned by flood, or predated on by fox or hawk?
My bird was born and raised at Plainville Farms in Pennsylvania and was raised on a pure vegetarian diet and without antibiotics. At a weight of 22.5 pounds at the end of its life,it had four or five square feet of room to move about in. No, that's not much. On the other hand, if people delivered me all the ice cream and steak I wanted, I might not venture too far from the couch myself.
To be clear, a turkey farm is not supposed to be Disney World; it's supposed to produce a fat and healthy bird as quickly as possible, and with a minimum of fuss and expense.
My bird was bred for a purpose, and that purpose is in the oven right now.
There is a lot of talk these days about "Heritage Turkeys."
A "Heritage Turkey" is nothing but a marketing scam. This is failed farm stock being raised in a failed farm system, and the price you pay for maintaining this failure is somewhere between $7 and $10 a pound.
I am not opposed to folks buying Heritage Turkey -- it's still a free country. But let's be clear that what is being bought here is not meat; it's philosophy. It's romance. And in the end, what you get is a dead turkey, and a higher price, and a bird that, by most accounts, is not as tasty as a modern Broad Breasted White. Is there a win in any of that? If so, I cannot see it.