Narragansett turkey

If a turkey will grace your Thanksgiving table, where will you get it? Does your local farmers’ market offer poultry? Do you wonder about the birds’ back story?

I pre-order mine from nearby producers who specialize in raising “meat birds.” It’s interesting to try a heritage breed like the Narragansett pictured above, but a simple, plump, standard variety will do just fine….as long as it has been raised in a non-standard way—clean, free-range environment and a diet of grass, insects, organic grains (but no soy or corn), and vegetable and fruit scraps.

The turkeys I buy will be humanely slaughtered (there is such a thing) in a USDA-inspected facility a day or two before I pick them up at my neighborhood farmers’ market, and the meat will never have been frozen. Therein lie the differences between small-farmed and industrially processed meat. Fresh, thoughtfully raised poultry is supple, juicy, and flavorful.

I bet the high quality will remedy that old turkey-roasting worry—you know, when the white meat gets dried out before the dark is cooked through. It’s certainly made a difference with my weekly roasted chickens (a quick rub with kosher salt and an hour in a 400-degree oven). My other strategy is to cook two medium turkeys (about 15 pounds) instead of one large one. They’ll be easier to handle and will yield a better light-and-dark balance for our drumstick-loving crowd.

This holiday, I encourage you to source healthy, fresh, local poultry and give thanks to the farmers whose passion is producing wholesome meat and who must overcome a lot of obstacles to do it, including the challenge of finding certified processors. If you’re pleased with your find, send me the information and I’ll post the resources on my website.

Now turkey alone does not a feast make. Just a reminder that you’ll find lots of great accompaniments in The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook and find my contributions on Bon Appétitbreads by Peter Reinhart, potatoes by Josie Le Balch, and new sides by yours truly, including Carrot and Cranberry Salad with Fresh Ginger Dressing, and Brocccolini with Smoked Paprika, Almonds, and Garlic. In the spirit of giving thanks, here’s my favorite pumpkin pie recipe.