Heritage breed birds with a depth of flavour that belies turkey’s reputation for blandness
Without a turkey (and pigs in blankets, we’d argue), Christmas dinner is really just a glorified roast, unworthy of the pomp and ceremony that surrounds it. And yet so often, the bird itself is really rather disappointing—dry, bland meat, unworthy of its premium price tag. But like any other meat, the key to bagging a bird worth writing to Santa about can be found in its provenance.
“The commercial approach is to kill birds young, when they aren’t fully mature. This means the meat lacks flavour and there is very little fat coverage,” Amelia at The Ginger Pig explains. The likes of the heritage breed bronze turkeys found at the Market’s butchers, however, have received the full royal treatment. “Surrounded by expansive green space as they peck off fertile organic pastures, the flock enjoy wind through their feathered breasts and sunshine on their backs, making for the highest quality gaggle—happiness has been redefined for our hand-reared birds,” Sarah at Rhug Estate laughs.
The fowl sold at Northfield Farm’s stall have lived similarly sunny lives on a Norfolk farm, Godwick Hall, which has been owned by the Garner family for three generations. The Ginger Pig’s turkeys, meanwhile, have been cared for by the Botterills, who slow-grow different strains of the breed to account for different maturation sizes. And in each instance, the resultant flavour and quality of the meat is about as different to hybrid, commercially bred white turkeys as the lives they’ve led.
What’s more, unusually, all of the birds found at Borough have been hand-plucked. “Unlike the industrialised wet-plucking method, which introduces heat and water to the process—much like a car wash for birds—dry-plucking significantly prolongs the shelf life of the bird, as bacteria is much less likely to form,” Amelia continues. “Dry-plucked birds also have lovely, velvety-soft skin, as opposed to the clammy, slightly smelly skin of those that are wet-plucked.” Once de-feathered, all are hung for at least a week to achieve a superior taste.
Like a glass of wine
Over at Wyndham House Poultry, as well as bronze turkeys you’ll find a couple more unusual varieties. “We get Norfolk blacks and bourbon reds from a chap in Norfolk, who rears the birds as part of the Rare Breed Survival Trust,” says owner Lee. “These lovely little birds are much closer to the original wild turkey, so they do look quite different—less breast meat, much bigger legs.” These too are left to grow at their own pace and are naturally slightly smaller than bronzes, reaching around five kilos: perfect for a family of four. “To me, turkey is a bit like a glass of red wine: to some people they all taste the same and they chug it down regardless,” Lee laughs, “but other people like to have a really delicious glass of something and savour it—that’s what these sorts of turkeys are. There’s definitely more texture to them and I think they have a really strong, fabulous turkey flavour.”
“In my house there’s always a bit of a debate when it comes to the best cooking method,” continues Lee. “I think it’s great to cook them breast-side down, because most of the fat on turkeys is on their backs so if you cook it this way, it keeps the meat nice and moist. Then you flip it over and brown it off for the last 20 minutes or so.
“My wife doesn’t like it because it does flatten the breast a bit, so it doesn’t look quite as lovely when you put it on the table,” he laughs, “but it tastes absolutely great.”