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Out & About / Ventura County | at the market

It's Show Time : For those not planning a big dinner, take advantage of the turkey bargains anyway.

November 21, 1998|BRENDA LOREE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The fourth Thursday of November is but five days away, good news for those who like to eat--such as yours truly, the Market Lady--but bad news for turkeys.

The Thanksgiving meal is historically the year's most traditional menu, right down to the midget gherkins served alongside a pretty arrangement of black olives on the family relish tray.

In fact, this feast is made up entirely of dishes most of us would never think to prepare at any other time of the year.

Candied yams with miniature marshmallows, you say? . . . Lime Jell-O with shredded carrots and pineapple? . . . Corn bread dressing with Pet milk?

Well, yes. It's what great aunt Ethyl always made.

Even those who don't plan to sit down to a 22-pound roasted gobbler should still take advantage of the 30-cents or 40-cents per pound frozen turkeys available in all the supermarkets this week. If nothing else, that's a week's worth of instant leftover turkey sandwiches, which is the best part of Thanksgiving dinner, anyway.

Cooking a turkey is so easy it requires nothing more than a double-digit IQ, a turkey, and an oven. Plus the ability to read the very, very simple instructions on the package.

But here's the question: Should you buy a Tom or a Tina turkey?

Conventional wisdom has always held that girl turkeys are more tender, more tasty, "But these days, the toms are probably just as tender and have as much breast meat," said Ron Laufer, a meat cutter at a Ventura Vons Market. Laufer's boss, head butcher John Weber, said he plans to take home a frozen 20-pounder himself this Thanksgiving.

The question of a tom or a hen is often moot in today's supermarkets, anyway. Once upon a time, a turkey's sex was on the wrapper it came in. Today, most turkeys are merely labeled "young turkey."

Turkey trivia offers up this rule of thumb: If your bird weighs 16 or more pounds, you most likely have a Tom on your hands. Under 15 pounds usually means it's a Tina. "Fifteen to 16 pounds--well, that's a gray area," butcher Laufer said. Hmmm.

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County residents looking for kosher turkeys will be happy to hear that they are available in most Ralphs and Hughes markets around the county, though they're all frozen. "You can also get kosher turkeys at the Kosher Connection market in Agoura Hills," said Rabbi Seth Hochberg-Miller, of Ventura's Temple Beth Torah.

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If only a fresh bird will do, all five of Lassen's Health Food stores in Ventura County are still accepting walk-in orders for fresh, free-range turkeys at $1.89 per pound, with a $5 deposit.

"These are hormone-free, pesticide-free barnyard hens and toms," said Lassen's regional manager Todd McHatton, who is a vegetarian.

"The hens go up to 18 pounds and the toms to 22. If you're feeding a lot of people, toms are the way to go. I think you're supposed to figure 2 pounds for every guest," he added.

(The Market Lady tastefully suggests that you allow 3 pounds per guest, because what's Thanksgiving without enough turkey to take home for sandwiches?)

As for himself, vegetarian McHatton will eat "Tofurky" on Thanksgiving Day: "It's a tofu turkey roast with the basic shape and taste of turkey. It's good."

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Now, the Market Lady is afraid she must become instructive here: If you buy a frozen turkey, let it thaw two full days in the refrigerator.

The Market Lady's mother has never let her forget the Thanksgiving dinner that was served four hours late because the Market Lady had only allowed 12 hours for a 15-pound turkey to thaw, which is not enough time. Dinner guests can become cranky after a four-hour wait.

On that very same Thanksgiving, the Market Lady also failed to remove the neck and giblets in their little paper sack from deep inside the turkey's gullet before baking it.

Do as the Market Lady says, not as she does.

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Tip of the week: Last-minute forgetfulness permits defrosting your frozen bird in a big pot of water in half the time. But, Julia Child says to "leave it in its wrapper while you're defrosting."

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