It’s that time of year again for turkey, Learn about the history of this bird and access a great recipe using either leftover roasted fowl or its ground version, which comes in one pound packages at any food market; the latter makes this dish accessible year-round.
Background of Turkey
Turkey is in the genus Meleagris, which is native to the Americas; the Mexicans domesticated it by 800 BC. It was either introduced to Southwest U.S., or tamed here independently, by 200 BC; these indigenous people used its feathers for ceremonies, as well as in making robes and blankets; they didn’t, however, consume it as a meat until around 1100 AD.
Cortes Brought Turkey to Spain
This bird arrived in Europe in 1523-24, when the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes brought certain foods back from Mexico; in Spain, it was known as gallopavo (peacock). There is some confusion concerning the exact derivation of its subsequent name turkey; most likely this was taken from our American bird’s mistaken resemblance to the African guinea fowl, which the Europeans knew as turkey fowl, as these were imported from Turkey.
England Adopted Turkey
Many believe that English navigator William Strickland introduced this food to England; indeed a tribute was made to him in 1550, in that he was granted a family coat of arms, including a “turkey-crop in his pride proper”; this coat of arms, with its turkey crest, is still in use today.
Christmas “Goose Clubs” Established in England
Until recent times, this bird was considered an extravagance in Europe, where native grouse and pheasant were cheaper alternatives. In the 19th century, the English working class aspired to partake of goose for their holiday celebrations; Christmas “goose clubs” were established in England in the 1800’s, so these impoverished people could insure the necessary savings for their festive meal.
“The Christmas Carol” Goose Replaced by Turkey Today
One of the first mentions in literature, of turkey becoming this celebratory roast, is Charles Dickens’ vivid portrayal in A Chistmas Carol: a resultant, decadent Christmas dinner occurred, when the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge replaced Bob Crachit’s meager goose with a massive turkey. Nevertheless, only since World War II, as growing conditions for turkey became less expensive, has this developed into the holiday fowl of choice in England.
Turkey Would Have Been a Better National Bird
In U.S. history, Benjamin Franklin was disappointed when turkey was not selected for our national bird; he argued that it is a true original native, whereas the eagle can be found in all countries.
With our present heightened fascination in high cuisine, “heritage” birds are gaining in popularity. These are traditional breeds, much like Strickland and Dickens encountered, which can trace their ancestry to the earliest domesticated animals. They have a ratio of dark to white meat of about 50/50.
Broad Breasted Whites have been sold predominantly in grocery stores for decades; these were bred to have a ratio of 65% white meat to 35% dark, while weighing up to 50 pounds; the maximum weight of a wild turkey is 25 pounds, which is also the upper weight of the traditional heritage birds. These latter come with such colorful names as Bourbon Red, Royal Palm, and Midget White; even with their gamy taste, people are willing to pay $9, or more, per pound to partake of this delicacy, while Broad Breasted Whites are often given away free, as promotional deals, at local supermarkets nowadays.
You may call me penurious, but I made this dish with all-natural Foster Farms ground turkey, which is close to $3 a pound; my recipe, however, is great for Thanksgiving leftovers, whether they be of a Broad Breasted White or a heritage breed.
- James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1995), pp. 86, 87, 180.
Turkey with Shallots, Cauliflower and Green Pepper Yields: 5-6 servings. Total prep time: 50-60 min.
5 tsp oil (Coconut or avocado oil is best for health; olive oil is carcinogenic, when heated to high temperatures.)
1 med yellow onion, cut in even 1/8” slices
4 oz shallots, chopped in 1” pieces
1 tbsp butter
1 lb natural ground turkey (May use leftover roasted turkey, broken in bite-size pieces.)
Salt to taste (Real Salt is critical for good health; available in nutrition center at local supermarket.)
Fresh ground pepper to taste
2 lb cauliflower (Yellow or orange cauliflower is sometimes available, in the organic section, at our local Fred Meyer-Kroger-stores.)
1 lg bell pepper (In particular, it is important that peppers be organic, as they readily absorb pesticides.)
3-4 tbsp flavored vinegar (I used elderberry vinegar, which I purchased in Montana.)
- For caramelizing, peel and cut onion in even 1/8” slices. Heat 1 tsp oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat; when a small piece sizzles in oil, reduce heat to medium/low; add rest of onions and slowly cook, stirring every 2 minutes, until color begins to form. (It is important to not crowd pan, or add too much oil, as
this will slow down the cooking process.) When a light golden color is beginning to form, start stirring every minute, until dark brown. Deglaze pan of onions-scrape fond, browned, cooked-on-juices, off bottom of pan with a spatula-by adding 1-2 tbsp of the vinegar (see above photo of caramelized onions with vinegar). Go to the next steps, while onions are cooking.
- Spray cauliflower and pepper with an inexpensive, effective produce spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle); let sit for 3 minutes; rinse well.
- Peel shallots, cut large ones in 1” pieces, and set aside (see photo above).
- In another frying pan, melt butter; add shallots; and cook over medium heat, until they are translucent. Add raw turkey, salt and pepper generously, cook until pink is gone-see photo below. (If your turkey was previously frozen, there will be lots of juices, but if cooking fresh-ground, you may need to deglaze hot pan with 1-2 tbsp of vinegar; if using roasted turkey pieces, just stir these into shallots-do not cook.) Set turkey/shallots aside in a large bowl.
Cut peppers into 1” x 3” strips, set aside.
- For ease in dividing the cauliflower into bite-size florettes, first break chunks of cauliflower off the head; next, cut off all excess stalk from these bigger sections; then, make small knife-cuts in the stems of these pieces, gently pulling apart small florettes with fingers; set aside separately in a bowl.
- Heat 1 tsp of oil over medium heat in the above, empty meat pan; when a piece sizzles in hot oil, add the remaining peppers; cook until somewhat soft, but still crisp. Deglaze hot pan, with a tbsp of vinegar-may have to deglaze with water instead, for only a total of 3-4 tbsp of vinegar should be used for all deglazing, in entire recipe; vinegar adds delightful flavor, but too much is overpowering. Put peppers in with bowl of meat.
- When onions are done, mix together thoroughly with meat/shallots/peppers. Heat last tbsp of oil in this pan, over medium heat; after a small piece sizzles in hot oil, add rest of cauliflower; salt and pepper florettes, distributing oil evenly among them. Add 1/4 c water, cover pan, and cook until soft, stirring occasionally.
Blend turkey and vegetables into soft cauliflower, adjust seasonings, and heat thoroughly (see photo). Serve with anticipation!