Turkey, hailed as the "great American bird" and a hallowed holiday tradition, appears to be going mainstream. Many cooks will serve turkey for their Easter dinner this year.
Thirty years ago, 90% of all turkey was purchased in November and December. Today, 60% is bought in the first 10 months of the year.
According to the National Turkey Federation, Americans ate an estimated 13.5 pounds of turkey per person last year, with health-conscious Californians leading the flock by consuming 16 pounds per capita.
Why the increase? One reason is variety: Fresh and frozen turkey comes in the form of roasts, nuggets, hot dogs, deli meats, fillets and sausages, in addition to the standard whole bird.
Moreover, given the array of turkey parts and sizes, turkey can be adapted to almost any meat dish. Try using slices or "scallops" of turkey breast in recipes calling for veal (schnitzels and roulades, for example), or in ethnic dishes calling for pork or chicken (stir-frys, sweet-and-sour preparations).
Ground turkey serves well as a pizza topping, or as the main ingredient in meat loaf, tacos, chili and lasagna. Dark turkey meat can be substituted for beef and lamb.
Tired of the usual meat filler? Consider adding turkey reubens, turkey cordon bleu, turkey salad and cream of turkey soup to the culinary repertoire.
Generally, the same rules for purchasing chicken apply to turkey: Look for smooth skin and a pale pink color. When buying frozen turkey, avoid packaging with pinkish ice inside, usually a sign that the meat has been defrosted and refrozen.
A Delicate Meat
Considered a delicate meat, turkey, like fish, should be prepared just until it's cooked through; turkey's high protein-low fat ratio makes it sensitive to extreme heat and prolonged cooking.
As a rule, fresh cutlets should be sauteed two to three minutes per side, stew meat about 15 minutes, roast breast and breast portions 15 to 20 minutes per pound at 325 degrees. Drumsticks, wings and thighs should be cooked at 325 degrees for one to 1 3/4 hours.
Whatever the cooking method, remember to preheat the pan or oven before adding turkey parts to help retain juices.
Using a microwave? For best results, cook the parts in an oven cooking bag on MEDIUM-HIGH heat or 70% power.
As agreeable as its adaptability and low cost is turkey's nutritional portfolio--a 3 1/2-ounce serving of cooked turkey breast is a mere 157 calories. What's more, turkey is a good source of vitamins B-6 and B-12, as well as iron, zinc and riboflavin.
Plain roast turkey, move over.