Here comes Thanksgiving, and for many of us, our thoughts turn to turkey. It’s the national bird. Ben Franklin picked it over the eagle. And it appears on the dinner table for many American families.
Finding a turkey at Thanksgiving is easy. They are in most every food market. Sure, the typical generic turkey can be found in frozen foods. You also see fresh turkeys in the meat market section.
Most of these are the same birds from the frozen section, but harvested later. They are never really frozen. That is to say they never made it to 0 degrees. It doesn’t mean they didn’t get lower than 32.
Our choices have become even greater. At some food stores, you see organic turkeys. You’ll also find smoked turkeys. Look carefully and there may be Kosher turkeys. Now, there are pre-brined turkeys on the market. Not sure if there will be any locally.
The choices get even broader with our ability to shop in larger markets and online.
A popular option is heritage turkeys. This takes us back to breeds of the past. Sometimes there will be pastured birds. You will even find wild turkeys in more specialty markets.
In a few places, Turduckens can be found. This Cajun specialty of stuffing a turkey with sausage and a duck has its following. Try places like “The Cajun Grocer” online.
Another way to have our Thanksgiving turkey is other than whole. Turkeys breasts have been popular for years. They are perfect for smaller needs and for those who prefer white meat only. Sometimes there are boneless ones, too. And there are turkey thighs and smoked turkey legs.
We can get our bird prepared for us. Food stores offer them and our entire dinner. Restaurants and caterers have options. My friend Jimmy Stinson will fry one for you. He’s on Facebook.
We can also go out for Thanksgiving lunch and dinner. Not a bad option for a larger gathering. They prepare your spread and clean up.
We’ve gone from a small variety of turkey options to a significantly greater one.
How about other birds? Sure seems like a possibility.
We can go big and opt for a goose. Remember that you can get a Tom turkey weighing up to 28 pounds. Chickens qualify — but don’t. Not special. What about Cornish hens? Not really, but closer. We can get ducks year-round, but we very often don’t. Plus, we are limited to a single variety. How about quail? Too common in our part of the world.
When we look a little deeper, a broader world opens. There are other breeds of ducks and also duck breasts. Poussin may be more interesting. Guinea hens bring another option. Squab are flavorful dark meat alternatives. Pheasant and Scottish game birds are available.
Where can we get birds like that? A great source is D’Artagnan. This company is first class and has a great variety of poultry, both frozen and fresh. They have other meats, too. Williams-Sonoma is a candidate. So is Harry & David. Fossil Farms is a source as is Joyce Farms.
All our local food markets will have turkeys of some variety. Stores like Earth Fare will let you place orders now to be picked up when you need your turkey. Branch out a bit and you will find Fresh Market and Whole Foods stores. The latter has a number of choices.
Birds aren’t the only option. Pork with its many options is a fine alternative — or addition. A succulent baked ham sure qualifies. So does a pork rib roast.
It’s time to stop. No matter your bird of choice and more, don’t forget Thanksgiving is about family. No matter the size, gather ’round and share the love of the season. There’s hardly a better way to do it than with food.
Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident; a food, wine and restaurant consultant; and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.