Other Names:Dinde or dindon (French), fryer-roaster turkey, guajolote (Mexican), pavo (Spanish), tacchino (Italian), young (hen or tom) turkey.

General Description:Native to North America, the popular and versatile turkey (Meleagris gallopavo, NAMP P2000) is now farmed and eaten around the globe. The word turkey (originally turkey-cock) came from the English, who may have had their first birds imported by Turkish merchants. In America, turkey is traditional fare for Thanksgiving, because according to legend the Pilgrims ate turkey at the first Thanksgiving dinner in 1621. Deep-frying turkeys is a Southern tradition that produces a very juicy bird with crispy skin.

Wild turkeys, among the largest game birds in North America, have lean, dark meat. In their natural state turkeys live in flocks, roosting in swampy areas and feeding on woodland berries and seeds. Wild turkeys are leaner and have denser flesh than the domesticated type. About 200,000 wild-type turkeys are farm-raised annually in the United States.

In Louisiana’s Cajun country, turducken is a specialty. This is a deboned chicken stuffed into a deboned duck and lastly stuffed into a deboned turkey. A properly prepared turducken provides rich slices that present all three birds’ meat in layers.

Characteristics:A 15-pound turkey typically has about 70 percent white meat and 30 percent dark meat. Wild turkey is extremely lean, savory, and more intense in flavor than domestic turkey. Farm-raised wild turkey is somewhat more tender than the hunted type.

How to Choose:Some people believe that smaller female (hen) turkeys are moister and plumper than males (toms); you may specify a hen or tom turkey when ordering. It’s more economical to get a large bird, since a 15-pound turkey has about twice as much meat as a 10-pound turkey. Ground turkey is available as either dark meat, light meat, or a mixture of the two. Whether light or dark or mixed, it is suited to meatballs, meat loaf, picadillo, and stuffed peppers. Cut-up turkeys are also available: The major cuts are turkey breast, tenderloin, cutlet, drumstick, and thigh. Turkey wings are an excellent and inexpensive way to enrich poultry stock. Turkey London broil is a butterflied breast that is marinated for broiling or grilling.

Amount to Buy:Allow 1 pound whole turkey per person; 6 to 8 ounces of boneless turkey per person. Young turkeys, which run 8 to 24 pounds, are best.

Storage:Fresh turkeys should be used within 2 days. Frozen turkeys should be thawed on a tray in the refrigerator, allowing one day of thawing per 5 pounds.


  1. Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity (use the neck, gizzard, and heart for stock; use the liver for stuffing).
  2. Rinse the turkey under cold water. Pat dry and season inside and out with salt and pepper. Stuff as desired–using cool or cold stuffing and never stuffing ahead of time. Tie the legs together with butcher’s string, or use trussing needles to keep its shape.
  3. For a 12- to 18-pound turkey, roast at 425°F for 30 minutes.
  4. Reduce heat to 350°F and cook for about 2 hours more, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 170°F at the thickest part of the thigh and the juices run clear.
  5. Remove the turkey from the oven, drape with foil, and allow to rest for 20 minutes before carving.
  6. Make a pan sauce if desired and serve.

Flavor Affinities:Allspice, apples, bacon, cranberries, garlic, grapes, onions, oranges, mushrooms, sage, soy sauce, walnuts.

from Quirk Books: