Cooking Poultry for Christmas: Turkey, Mallard, Pheasant

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christmas_turkey_cDo you know that turkey fossils dating back 40 million years have been found in the US. Both Great Britain and United States have a tradition: to cook and eat turkey for Christmas and other holidays. That's why turkey meat is rather popular in these countries. British and American people often buy turkey meat in stores and market places.


Nowadays a turkey's last journey is not very picturesque, usually consisting of the short haul to the processing plant. In the UK, for example, people consume more than 10 million turkeys a year, 70% of them frozen, the remainder fresh, and of the fresh market, 5% are free range. They fall into four categories:

Wet Frozen The birds are chilled in water and then frozen (the method used for 99% of frozen birds). If there's more than 5% of water added to the weight of the turkey, then, by law, water must be mentioned on the list of ingredients.

Dry Frozen After being washed, the turkeys travel along a drip-line, so that all the excess water can drain off. Next, they're air-blasted in a special chamber to chill before freezing. You can recognise them by the wrapper, which says 'No added water'. When cooked, they don't dry out as much as Wet Frozen birds.

Farmfresh Killed at 18 weeks or over, compared with 12-14 weeks for frozen birds. If the bird hang for a minimum of seven days then it must be dry-plucked. More expensive than frozen turkey, but a superior flavour.

Bronze Top of the range. Prior to the mid-1950s, this traditional breed was the most favoured turkey. Consumers' objections to the black stubble left after plucking (plus demand for volume) led to the development of the modern white turkey (which can be plucked much younger). Raised to maturity in the Farmfresh method with plenty of space and the best food, the Bronze turkey has been bred back to the wild stock. It has a broad breast and incomparable flavour, though it is inevitably more expensive than the rest. It's only available through butchers and even then not everywhere.

I've gone on at some length about the Bronze turkey for two reasons: it's the best-tasting bird, by common consent, and its increasing popularity is in line with the overall movement towards recapturing freshness, flavour and character in food. At the same time, it can't be denied, of course, that frozen turkey does indeed represent very good value for money.

Meanwhile, we have to bear in mind that, whether frozen or fresh, turkey (like chicken) may be host to salmonella and should be treated in exactly the same way as chicken meat. Do remember that it'll take longer to defrost a turkey.

Should you feel like a change for your Christmas meal, you might try mallard or pheasant. Hen birds are fattier and not as likely to dry out as cocks, but the male has the advantage of being large enough to feed four people. Hang from the neck, so that air can circulate (leaving feathers on and innards in) for about a week in cold weather or three days when it's warmer.

Mallard needn't be hung at all if it's freshly killed. Prices vary greatly, as they do for pheasant, but it's obviously cheaper to buy in rural areas.

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