Our Great British Chefs Feastive App is turkey free, but we know that turkey’s still a good option for Thanksgiving & Christmas. Find out what happened Great British Chefs guest blogger Chris Osburn, visited a turkey farm to see whether it was possible to have a turkey with taste.
Photography by Chris Osburn
Love it or hate it, there’s a good chance you’re going to be tucking into a roasted turkey sometime soon. The mandatory centrepiece for a proper British Yuletide feast here, turkey isn’t necessarily a maligned meat but is often considered to be among the most ‘meh’ of main courses.
Which is kinda crazy if you think about it. Christmas dinner is one of the most important meals of the year, right? And the most essential part of that once-a-year meal? Gobble gobble. So why is it that the actual turkey chosen is so often a last minute purchase with little thought put into the flavour of the bird (not to mention its welfare and origin)? You can actually purchase decent tasting turkey in the UK.
But hold on a second. Before we get to Christmas dinner (and I really hate how the festive season build-up seems to get earlier and earlier every year), I have something to admit … I’m an American. And the stateside tradition I grew up with and which is still very near and dear to my heart is to have my turkey (and eat it too) at the end of November for Thanksgiving Day .
American Thanksgiving is a lovely time. More or less devoid of the commercialized frenzy that encroaches upon Christmas and essentially about taking the day off, spending it with your family and eating copious amounts of home cooked food, it’s a tradition I’ve tried to sustain with varying success over my years here in London.
And this year, I’m hoping to have a couple of friends over and make my own Thanksgiving meal. The turkey’s already been chosen and is in the freezer awaiting its defrosting. It’s from Copas Turkeys, a family owned turkey farm that I visited last month out in Berkshire.
The Copas family has been living in Cookham, Berkshire since the late 1600s. But it wasn’t until 1901 that they started farming and not until 1957 that they got into the fowl business of raising turkeys. What began as a new project for a young Tom Copas is now the primary business for his family, whose ‘first-class’ premium product turkeys are sold at quality stockists throughout Britain as well as at their farm on December 23rd for Farm Gate Day. Yes, Copas produces its turkeys for the traditional end of year season only. It’s still a year-round job though, with a particularly epic workload that’s about to start up for the Copas and crew right about now.
Any other Yanks out there keen to cook a juicy bird for your fourth Thursday of November chow session should give them or their stockists a buzz ASAP as they do cater to a small but growing American Thanksgiving market.
While down on the farm, I not only got to check out how the birds (all 40,000 of them) live but also how they taste. Livin’ la vida free range in the Copas family’s cherry orchards seems to yield a particularly succulent meat. But that’s just one slice of the story.
Among the Copas’ thousands of fowl, you’ll only find traditional breeds sourced from specialist British hatcheries, allowed to grow at a natural pace and fed an ethically sourced oat-rich diet free of growth promoters and the like. The birds are aged between five to seven months as opposed to the industry standard of two. According to Tom Copas, a fuller life results in denser meat with a ‘superior fat cover’.
The mature bird’s natural fat layer also means that dry plucking the birds by hand is possible. Dry plucking by hand is apparently a slow and labour intensive process but keeps the turkeys dry, thus enabling the farm to game-hang them for an extended period for extra tenderness and depth of flavour. And what this adds up to is that that Copas Turkeys don’t need to be basted, buttered or covered with bacon to be succulent.
Yeah, that’s right, no nothing to be added. And unless I really cock things up, I reckon my turkey should taste as good and be as tender as the one I had at the Copas’ family home.
Find out more about the ‘very,very special turkeys’ at Copas Turkeys and how to purchase one of them at www.copasturkeys.co.uk
Blog post for Great British Chefs by Chris Osburn
What are your views on turkey? Is it possible to celebrate Thanksgiving without turkey? What are your tips for a succulent turkey? We’re discussing this over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page