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Although goose and duck have their supporters, in most households the traditional centrepiece of Christmas dinner is a roast turkey.  Served with gravy, stuffing and an assortment of colourful vegetables, it’s a meal many people look forward to all year.

With this much attention on the turkey, you’ll want to make sure you buy a bird that meets expectations. But how do you choose the right turkey?

In recent years, turkey shopping appears to have grown into a massively complicated affair, with endless choices and confusing terminology making what was once a simple task now seem daunting. Fortunately, it really boils down to a few key decisions – read on for our tips on choosing the best Christmas turkey.

Fresh or frozen?

This is perhaps the most fundamental choice facing the turkey shopper. Frozen turkeys have generally been flash frozen to 0 degrees Fahrenheit (or approximately -18 degrees Celsius) soon after they’ve been packaged, whereas fresh turkeys have merely been chilled to a temperature not below 26 degrees Fahrenheit (or -3 Celsius).

Frozen turkeys are sometimes seen as the convenient option for organised cooks, enabling you to purchase your bird well in advance and thus avoid the last-minute scramble for depleted stocks in the days before Christmas. However, in recent years there’s been a shift in favour of fresh birds, as many experts feel that the freezing process negatively affects the taste and texture of the meat. The secret is to order your bird ahead of time and then remember to pick it up in the days before Christmas – that way you’re guaranteed the turkey of your choice.

If budget is your chief concern, frozen turkeys are usually cheaper than fresh, but try to choose less processed birds that haven’t been injected with additives. For instance, most “self-basting” or “self-brining” birds have been injected with saline solutions to keep the meat moist during roasting – however, the extra sodium can contribute to health issues in some people.

Remember, too, that frozen turkeys need to be thawed completely before cooking, so make sure you remember to move yours from the freezer to the refrigerator in plenty of time – it can take several days for a large turkey to defrost completely, so check the timings well in advance. On the other hand, fresh turkeys can only be kept in the fridge for up to three days, so make sure you don’t acquire yours too soon.

Organic and free-range?

Another reason that fresh turkeys tend to have a superior taste and texture to frozen is that fresh birds are more likely to have been raised in natural conditions with a greater concern for animal welfare. People who have only tasted battery-farmed birds often think of turkey as a bland and tasteless meat, but it is generally acknowledged that allowing a turkey to live as natural and active a life as possible will make its meat denser and richer in flavour.

“Free-range” turkeys have been given access to the outdoors and allowed to exercise regularly during their lifespan; “organic” turkeys have been raised to even more stringent standards, being generally slow-reared and allowed to mature at their own peace, as well as eating an organic diet. Because it takes more time and effort to rear these birds, they are usually more expensive; however, many people feel that having a tastier turkey and supporting ethical farming is worth the extra cost.

The best way to ensure that you’re eating responsibly sourced meat is to purchase it directly from a local farmer or through a small local supplier who can tell you about the turkey’s history. If you’re shopping in a grocery store, look for turkeys that originate in the UK, where animal welfare and farming practices are more strictly regulated than in some other countries. You can also look for the Red Tractor or Freedom Foods logos – these indicate that the animal was raised according to high standards of welfare.

What size?

Getting the right size turkey is a prime concern for many shoppers. You want to have plenty for each person at Christmas dinner, and perhaps enough for some leftovers, too. However, buy too big a bird and some of that meat might end up going to waste (unless you freeze it and eat it for weeks after).

The general rule is to allow about 1lb or 500g of turkey per person for Christmas dinner (or 1.5 lb or 750g if you want leftovers). Remember that the size of your turkey will affect its cooking time and, if it’s frozen, the amount of time it needs to thaw completely.

By following these tips and choosing carefully, you’re far more likely to end up with a delicious, high-quality turkey that will be the highlight of your Christmas feast. For more tips on choosing and cooking a turkey, visit the British Turkey website.

Do you have a turkey preference? What kind do you usually buy?


Lockhart Catering on 19 December 2013 10:52 AM

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