It’s a traditional holiday scene: A golden-brown roasted turkey accompanied by mashed potatoes, gravy and all the trimmings on the dining room table.
But try picturing that scene at some time other than Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter.
That’s the challenge facing the Turkey Farmers of Canada.
The good news is that 36 per cent of all Canadian households (4.7 million) purchased turkey and turkey products for Thanksgiving last year. Two months later at Christmastime, they bought 4.5 million whole turkeys, equal to 43 per cent of all the whole birds sold that year.
But aside from those two holidays, turkey tends to languish in supermarket freezers. So the challenge is get Canadians to eat more turkey year round.
Progress is being made: Annual sales of turkey parts and processed products more than doubled from 10 million kilograms in 1993 to 21.5 million kilograms in 2008 (out of a total of 148.1 million kilograms, or 4.4 kilograms per person).
But processors and producers are trying to boost that volume further with new and innovative turkey products.
Earlier this year, Granny’s Poultry, Manitoba’s largest turkey processor, introduced a double-breast, pre-stuffed roast infused with flaxseed oil high in omega-3 fatty acids. As a “heart smart” product, it qualifies for the Heart &Stroke Health Check logo. The item is placed frozen in the oven and baked slowly for three hours. One roast serves six to eight people.
Another new Granny’s product going into stores in time for Thanksgiving is fresh turkey breast, also oven ready and suitable for small groups.
Jason Wortzman, Granny’s marketing and product development manager, is enthusiastic about still another recently launched product: breaded turkey strips. Baked in an oven for 20 minutes, they can be served either as a main dish or a snack. Because they are also omega-3 infused, they qualify for the Health Check label, too.
Ground turkey is growing fast in popularity because it’s easy to use as a beef substitute in burgers, chili and meat loaf, said Wortzman.
“That’s the obvious easiest application for people where they can replace ground beef with ground turkey for everyday use,” he said.
Another easy use for turkey is to cube boneless, skinless turkey breast, marinate it, thread it onto skewers and grill it like kababs, said Wortzman, adding that Granny’s is also working on new lines of turkey deli meat (the second-largest use for turkey after holiday roasts).
The company is also working with Manitoba Turkey Producers on year-round promotions.
The board, which represents Manitoba’s 59 registered producers, sponsors ads, TV programs, and an annual turkey cook-off in which Red River College culinary students use turkey pieces to come up with recipes for appetizers and entrees, said Krista Pratt, Manitoba Turkey Producers communications co-ordinator.
But traditional roast turkey isn’t being forgotten, and Wortzman, a chef by training, has some tips.
First, don’t stuff the bird. It extends the cooking time and makes the white meat dry. It’s easier to achieve the proper internal temperature of a bird if it’s not stuffed. Wortzman makes his stuffing by first sautéing ingredients on the stove top, then cooking the dish as a casserole. Before serving it, he adds drippings from the turkey for authentic flavour.
Cook the turkey uncovered on a roaster rack. It allows the air to circulate and evens out the cooking. Wortzman likes to lightly coat the carcass with olive oil, then sprinkle on salt, pepper and maybe a little paprika.
Choose fresh turkey over frozen if possible. Although frozen turkey is standard during the offseason, Wortzman said grocery stores will carry fresh Grade A turkey at holiday time.
There are three places to roast a turkey: a conventional oven, a gas barbecue and a charcoal barbecue. Wortzman uses the third one with a dome lid that has vents at the top and bottom. Using oak hardwood charcoal and adding fresh fuel every 45 to 60 minutes, he can cook a 20-pound turkey in 2.5 hours. The oak also adds a light smoky flavour to the meat.
Always use a meat thermometer. Electric ovens don’t always cook at the temperature set on the dial. Insert the probe in the thigh, not the breast. Because it’s denser than the breast, dark meat takes longer to finish cooking.
Wortzman plans to post how-to-cook-turkey videos on Granny’s website ( www.grannys.ca) in time for Thanksgiving.