Talking turkey

Frank and Rachael Dispenza of Dispenza’s Natural Meats in Ransomville, watch the turkeys they are raising in preparation for the holidays. 

Frank Dispenza is a butcher and the owner of a small farm in Ransomville. He’s seen a lot of turkeys in his time — and he has some thoughts he likes to share about the birds.

Dispenza’s Natural Meat Market will sell about 400 fresh turkeys this holiday season, all of which will be raised as naturally as possible and killed humanely, according to the Dispenza’s belief about treating food animals as thoughtfully and kindly as possible. 

Frank and Rachael Dispenza and their six children have owned the farm and butcher shop for about a decade now after having quit their day jobs, his as a policeman and hers as an emergency medic. 

Frank, who has been an instructor of meat-cutting at the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, has a few opinions about how to purchase a big bird for holiday feasts. Here they are, in his words: 

1 FRESH OR FROZEN? Fresh local turkeys when raised properly will give a noticeably better tasting turkey. Fresh turkeys will cook faster than a frozen commercial turkey and fresh will hold more moisture than a frozen turkey giving a moist delicious meat.

2COMMERCIAL OR LOCAL? Commercial turkeys are often raised confined to indoor pens leaving little space to walk and exercise. Constant unlimited amounts of grain that may contain growth additives is often given to turkeys to lessen the growing time but still yield large turkeys. Local raised turkeys when done properly are allowed to graze on pasture and be outside as much as they prefer. Non GMO and organic feed is used to supplement natural grasses. 

3 BROAD OR HERITAGE? The main turkey being raised locally and commercially is a Broad Breasted White which grows at a healthy rate even when on pasture. Heritage breeds such as Blue Slate or Royal Palm grow slower and yield a smaller bird in the end. Broad Breasted White turkeys can not breed naturally and the turkeys are hatched under incubation in a commercial hatchery. There is a long debate as to a heritage bird tasting better than a Broad Breasted White. Basically, a properly raised local fresh turkey will taste great no matter which breed it is. Any farmer who takes pride in how the animals have been raised will boast that the turkeys they raised are the best and they should boast!

4 PLAN! The most common complaint we get is that the turkey cooked much faster than anticipated and cooks who plan everything to be ready at the same time find themselves scrambling to get the sides done. A fresh turkey takes approximately 12 min per pound to roast to an internal temp of 165 F.

5BRINE OR NOT?  Brining a turkey is an excellent way to bring some new flavors deep into your turkey. A simple brine of salt and water on its own will enhance moisture and tenderness of the meat. Add to the basic brine honey, fresh herbs, fruit or whatever flavors you like and now you truly have a masterpiece on your table. You can find many brine recipes on the internet and most can be tailored to your specific taste. Some factors can change cooking times so allow some wiggle room and definitively let the turkey rest at least 10 minutes after removing from the oven before carving!

6CARVING!  We all have memories of a turkey being carved right at the table off the bone and onto our plates. To properly carve a turkey you need to disassemble the bird and carve the meat on a cutting board. First remove the legs and thighs. Remove the wings and then remove the wish bone. Removing the wish bone allows the breasts to be removed without leaving a large amount of white meat on the wish bone area. Remove the breasts and lay them flat on a cutting board. Slice from top to bottom creating short slices of meat. When we carve the long way across the breast we are cutting with the grain and can cause the meat to be tough and chewy. Cutting from top to bottom cuts across the grain and will give you the turkey you have waited a whole year for!

Frank Dispenza is owner of Dispenza’s Natural Meats, located at 3130 Ridge Road, Ransomville.  He can be reached at 791-3400 or via email at dmeatmarket@gmail.com