QUESTION: What is your opinion on turkeys? Everybody is talking about those super-special Slow Food turkeys, but they run about $60 to $70. Is it worth it? Do I need to custom-order one? Or should I just pick up the usual Butterball and to hell with it? I draw the line at Mrs. Cubbison’s Stuffing, so don’t try to yank my chain.
ANSWER: For the last few years, Slow Food, an international society that has been to traditional foodstuffs more or less what the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been to Dixieland jazz, has been promoting antique turkey breeds — the anti-Butterballs — and this November there should be almost enough turkeys to go around. If you give your local Bristol Farms a call in the next few days, you should be able to land one for Thanksgiving, or you could try the birds at Campanile or the Slow Food–friendly Angeli Caffe.
Although I’ve never cooked one of these heritage turkeys, the one I tasted was delicious; dense, chewy and rich, almost like a partridge. Some people I know are less happy — it’s a leaner, darker bird, and is much, much easier to overcook than the fat and sassy bioengineered birds that seem to be 90 percent breast. If you are cooking for a discerning group of friends, you might as well try one. At $5.99 a pound it may be expensive for turkey, but it’s cheap for a taste of the 19th century. But if you’re cooking for an extended family that includes easily disgruntled in-laws and finicky 6-year-olds, you might as well go with the organic, locally raised (and cheaper) Shelton turkeys they sell at Wild Oats and Bristol Farms, among many other places; or the delicious Willie Birds from Sonoma usually available at Puritan Poultry in the Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax. As always, call ahead.