Somehow, despite the acres of column inches, television air time and even whole books about the shortcomings of intensive chicken farming, turkeys have been overlooked. Yet these birds are also too often packed into sheds, deprived of daylight and frequently fall victim to ill health, such as during the bird flu outbreak at a Suffolk farm in 2007.
Traditional free-range Bronze turkeys are the best turkeys available, and are farmed in the same ways as other traditional free-range poultry, roaming the fields, only put away at night and foraging as well as eating a natural grain diet. The one difference between turkey and other poultry is their size. They are larger than most other poultry so they take longer to grow. Slow-growing Bronze turkeys will take six months to reach maturity. They are dry-plucked and hung for 10-14 days to relax their muscles and develop flavour.
Bronze turkeys were originally the product of crossing domestic turkeys brought from Europe with wild American turkey. The two produced a larger but tamer bird, which has become very popular. In 1981 a farmer in Essex, Derek Kelly, bred the Kelly Bronze turkey, which is considered a tremendous bird for the book.
In Europe a hen bird with a broad breast is favoured because, when cooked, the breast is the most popular cut. In the USA, size is everything, so the larger bird - the male - is the king of the Thanksgiving feast. Although turkeys are most popular in the USA in November for Thanksgiving and in the UK at Christmas, the meat is now available all year round, is economical and very low in fat.
Ask your butcher to secure you a tasty, traditional free-range bird that has lived a humane life. You will probably need to place an order, as free-range turkeys are raised in small batches and are in huge demand at Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Always choose a bird with a dry, blemish-free skin with a plump breast and no rips or breaks. Make sure the giblets come with the bird, as they make the best stock for gravy.