Talking Turkey

A jar of home canned turkey in front of the pressure canner it was processed in

Turkey is one of the best protein values. It was nearly the National Bird of the United States. It is one of the healthiest as well. Yet it is often relegated to a once-a-year feast, where its novelty and size make preparation a challenge. That’s sad, because, turkey is a great everyday food. I usually buy one or two after the holidays, when the price drops to a mere fraction of the regular price.

The only real down side (once you know what to do with them)? They take up a lot of space in the freezer. Our remaining personal turkey had migrated to the farm‘s freezer. But, we had lambs to pick up from the butcher, and needed all the space we could get. So, time to talk turkey!

So, really, how much can you do with one turkey?

Turkey in a Local Diet

Before we get to the business at hand, let’s talk about the role turkey plays in an “eat like you live here” diet. Because we’re not talking about a locally raised heritage turkey here. We could. There are a few small-scale folks in the area who raise local turkeys. We could raise them ourselves (and might sometime, if time and customer demand allow. But it’s not currently in the plan.)

But this was a standard, Bb, frozen supermarket turkey. Cheap. Impersonal. Raised by who knows who, from wherever. Wrapped in plastic. But it still plays a role in our mostly locavore diet. It is a healthy protein option: low in fat and cholesterol, high in vitamin B, phosphorus and selenium.

Selenium is particularly important for those of us who mostly eat locally-produced veggies, because our soils are selenium-deficient. We work to amend the soil to make up for this, and provide selenium-providing mineral supplements to our livestock. But it’s still in short supply in our food. And it’s important: a key component to enzymes that fight infection and disease, critical to the production of white blood cells, and a powerful antioxidant. It is also important for thyroid health, and healthy skin and nails. However, it is often poorly absorbed in supplement form: it’s best provided naturally by your food.

So, when we do choose to eat anonymous food from “the system,” it is best to choose those that help fill a weakness in our local foodshed. Turkey fits that bill perfectly.

How to Use a Turkey

Most Americans eat turkey in two forms: the Thanksgiving roast/fried/smoked bird, and processed foods such as cold cuts and sausage. Many turn to ground turkey as a low-calorie/low-fat substitution for ground beef. But commercial ground turkey is of questionable origins, has no flavor, does nothing to enhance other flavors, and has an insipid texture. It is best avoided.

When we have a turkey outside the holidays, though, we can do so very much more. I find it’s best to cut up the turkey (it probably is best for Thanksgiving, too, since the different parts are best cooked to different temperatures). Then, we can do many different things with just one turkey. I think I’m going to make this a more common practice, and will add to this post in the future.

Turkey 1: Jan 15, 2023

The bird we had was quite small – less than 9 pounds. Yet I was able to do many things with it (links to posts for each coming soon):

  • Dry brined roast turkey breast and legs, and gravy (8 servings, with leftovers)
  • Made Turkey Manhattan Pizza (with leftovers of the turkey breast and legs) (3 pizzas)
  • Canned turkey meat (2 pints)
  • Made (and canned) stock from the bones, skin, neck (4 quarts + 2 pints + what I used for gravy)
  • Made a casserole, somewhat similar to turkey tetrazzini, with meat picked off the bits from making stock (7 servings)
  • Sous vide turkey breast cold cuts (1 lb 9.5 oz cooked yield).
Cost Breakdown

I don’t really cook to save money. But, it is a side effect of home cooking. It is difficult to quantify exactly the savings from a project like parting out and cooking several meals from a turkey – in part because there are other ingredients, and time. Speaking of time, all told, I spent most of a Sunday (late morning to early dinner time) dealing with the turkey. Much of that time was simply simmering the stock, processing in the canner, and letting the sous vide machine do its thing. While it’s important to stay within earshot of the canner to make sure it’s weight is jiggling appropriately the whole processing time, you can do other things during most of that time.

The turkey cost $7.03 (marked down to $.79/pound after Christmas, it had an original price of $2.89/pound, so would have been $25.72). The roast turkey and gravy, pizzas, and casserole are a bit difficult to quantify, as there aren’t really grocery store equivalents. But the canned turkey, stock, and cold cuts are pretty close to single ingredient (just some veggie scraps and a few herbs/spices for the stock, and salt, pepper and spices for the cold cuts).

  • I was expecting to get more canned turkey than I did. Still, the two pints are equivalent to 4 cans of turkey chunks. They’re on sale right now, $4.99 and buy one get one free. So that would have cost $9.98.
  • Turkey stock isn’t generally available at the grocery. But it’s comparable to chicken stock. This week, the middle-of-the-road (Swanson) chicken stock is $3.79/quart. It’s also watery and tasteless, lacking the rich flavor and gelatin-laden, joint-health-protecting quality of homemade. But, equivalent would have cost $17.06 (and not have had the meat pickings that went into the casserole, for which you’d probably buy at least one can).
  • The lowest price deli roast turkey breast at our local Kroger this week is $10.49/pound (on sale!). So the cold cuts, made from only half of the breast, would have cost $16.72 (and been lower quality).

So, just those three items were a $43.76 value – an 84% savings (plus all the other stuff)!

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