Halal Turkeys in the Bay Area
It's that time again. After trying every method imaginable - kosher, brined, brined for 24-hours and then dried in the fridge over night, organic free-range, organic free-range brined, basting bag, on a rack, not on a rack (I think you get the picture) - some one recently swore up and down that a halal turkey is the way to go. So for this year, halal turkey it is.
My question to all of you wonderful people is whether anyone out there has had experience with halal turkeys or can recommend a halal butcher that they trust. While I'm always willing to make the trek for something extrordinary, east bay from Vallejo to Milpitas is preferred.
(Ohohoh, and I promise to report back.. I've done Diestels for the past few years, but I've also tried a couple of Foster Farms, a Butterball, and an Empire)
Alhambra Halal meats on 24th St between Folsom and Shotwell has gotten very good reports here on CH and elsewhere. It has been on my list to try for a long time but I haven't made it there. They do have poultry and I'd bet they have (and/or can order) turkeys this time of year. Prices are supposed to be reasonable.
By the way, the other day I was in the nabe and got behind a truck advertising that its product as halal, free-range organic chicken. Didn't catch the brand, but sure enough, it appeared to be heading for Alhambra. Would be worth checking out.
Alhambra Halal Meat Company
3111 24th St, San Francisco, CA
Halal is similar to kosher in that both are rid of residual blood and the way the animal is butchered has to be done by certain religious guidelines. I'm not sure exactly what it does for the flavor. I do think that the halal meat I've had tastes less fatty than the supermarket equivalents I've had, but I don't go out of my way to buy halal meat.
Halal? Trendy? My family does happen to be Muslim, but doesn't practice for the most part. We're more culturally Muslim. I'm trying out a halal turkey for the reasons I listed above -- tried everything else in the book, why not this?
Interesting question. Of course Muslims and Jews (Christians too) are "Sons of Abraham" and thus share some common customs. I was looking for an old NY Times article about an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in NYC sharing butchers with observant Muslims...but I found this:
A key paragraph:
"Under the Islamic dietary code, many customs relating to meat handling have evolved. Halal meat, for instance, is almost never more than two days old, is never frozen and is almost always sold by the slaughterhouse to the retailer as a whole carcass, rather than cut into portions."
Additionally the article states that halal meat is usually younger then non-halal meat. This suggests to me that the meat would be of better quality. It would be interesting to find out the time duration of a typical non-Halal product from slaugther to the last retail stop.
As the article indicates, Halal products have become popular probably due to new immigrants and their "replacement" of former immigrants (Jewish, Italian, French, etc.) that filled the same function. Nice article.
On a side, I read an article years ago about how Halal butchers in France greatly raised the quality of beef and lamb there (to the benefit of everyone) even if there are tensions.
Hope everyone had a fantastic Turkey Day, just stopping by to report back on my halal turkey experience.
Alhambra Meat Co.: I reserved my turkey on the 13th, right after reading Susan's post and requested a fresh, 20-lbs. turkey. Showed up the 22nd (Monday before T-Day) and they had been sold out of the "large" fresh turkeys since Saturday when they were delivered(!) because they didn’t get the numbers they requested. The options I had left were a smaller fresh halal Mary's or a larger semi-frozen halal Fulton Valley Farms. I opted for a 16.5-lbs. fresh Mary's. The wonderful guy behind the counter (his name started with an S, Soleman? ..can't find his card) was apologetic and ended up giving me a discount “for coming out from the East Bay,” but I actually think he felt bad after hearing my mum and me squabbling over the phone about now having to cook two turkeys. :o) In the end, he was so nice about everything, even offering to save me some of their house-made merguez sausage if I called in before making the trip out after work, that I didn't even mind.
The Turkey: I had been hearing about the LA Times dry-brining method for some time and decided to try it out so I could get a better idea of any taste differences between Mary’s and my usual Diestel which I wet (salt/sugar) brine and then rub down with a compound butter. Starting on Monday night gave me two days of salting and about 17 hours of drying time in the fridge. I did stray from the recipe a bit and tucked a compound butter made with herbs de Provence under the breast and over the skin right before roasting. Half an hour breast down at 425, the rest of the time breast up at 325, no basting for 2.5 hours as opposed to their recommended 2.75 hrs. The resulting bird was probably the most beautiful turkey I’ve ever seen outside of a magazine with a gorgeous, even, deep chestnut color and an amazingly crisp skin. As for taste, it was perfectly salted, the texture pleasantly firm (I do think that it should have been breast down for an hour per their recipe last year), and while the compound butter did add something, I missed the gamey-ness of the Diestel. Never the less, everyone was happy.
So, in the end, what have I learned about halal turkeys?
1.) Although they are butchered by religious guidelines, they aren’t going to taste any different because they come from the same producers of non-halal turkeys. What your turkey tastes like really does boil down to which brand and fresh vs. frozen.
2.) While they can be “lightly” frozen, they are most often not so and are more likely to be local.
3.) You will probably not find halal Butterballs or Foster Farms because the butcher must special order them from a place that will be willing to butcher them by religious standards (by hand, while saying a prayer, etc.), so you will not be paying supermarket prices. Expect to pay $2+ per pound. Alhambra’s were $2.59 per pound.
4.) Of the 3 different shops that I called, all were organic and free-range. Me thinks this may be a common trend.
5.) There is competition for halal turkeys. Make friends with your butcher and do not wait to pick it up!!!
As for next year, unless I can find a halal Diestel, I will be going to Alhambra again (just maybe a day earlier). :o)
thanks for the very helpful report back, and I am glad to hear that overall your experience was a good one!
We also had a halal turkey (at my sister's in Vegas), I will have to ask her if she noticed that it was any particular brand (it was very good).
I probably would have chosen the Fulton Valley, just because I really like their chickens. Nice to know that Fulton Valley has a halal option; I need to go check out Alhambra soon to see if they offer their chickens.
No, sorry, don't remember the brand, or more accurately, it was a brand I did not recognize. It did say that it was organic and free-range, and I must admit it was priced accordingly :-)
I agree about getting it in advance...the butcher I went to (Mediterranean Market in Las Vegas) had a very limited supply. Mine was 17.5 pounds, the largest one available. And reserving one over the phone was not an option; they required payment in full 10 days before to hold it......