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Why is Kosher Turkey so much tastier?

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Hi all, am only today reviving myself from turkey overdose- just in time to start researching turkey (as food).

Many posts I am finding on cooking sites hail the benefits of Kosher turkey (which I've been eating for many years since moving to NY).

The benefit I keep hearing is that Kosher turkey is tastier and moister than most commercial turkeys. As a cook, I can't help but wonder, "Why?".

Does anyone have any ideas about how the turkey is raised, processed, etc. which might affect the taste? Are Kosher turkeys brined and others not? Or something else?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

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  1. "Are Kosher turkeys brined and others not?"

    Essentially, yes. The koshering process involves soaking the birds in salt water to remove their blood. In other words, brining. Butterballs and similar are injected with solutions, which adds liquid but doesn't have the same effest as brining. Natural turkeys are, well, natural - and that's hard to overcome when roasting a whole bird where the white meat tends to be overdone by the time the dark meat's done.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

      this is only partly correct. Koshering really involves just a brief salting (less than an hour) before the bird is rinsed and dried. That's not enough to affect the flavor. Brining, or salting, calls for several days. In fact, I've tasted hundreds of roast turkeys (literally) and I'd say there's no more guarantee of a good bird with a kosher turkey than any other.

      1. re: FED

        sort of correct. kosher meat, turkey, or chickens are soaked and salted twice to remove any blood. The whole process isn't very brief- it takes a few hours. I would assume it's like brining. I've never had a brined turkey.. only a kosher one, but from what I understand a lot of non kosher people prefer kosher meat.

        1. re: cheesecake17

          Absolutely. I'm not kosher but prefer to buy kosher birds (chickens too, not just turkeys) as they consistently taste much better than ordinary ones. Empire and Rubashkin brands in particular.

          1. re: cheesecake17

            hmmm, according to the Orthodox Union,
            1. Salting:
            The meat must first be soaked for a half hour in cool (not ice) water in a utensil designated only for that purpose. After allowing for excess water to drip off the meat, the meat is thoroughly salted so that the entire surface is covered with a thin layer of salt. Only coarse salt should be used. Both sides of meat and poultry must be salted. All inside loose sections of poultry must be removed before the koshering process begins. Each part must be soaked and salted individually.

            If the meat or poultry was sliced during the salting process, the newly exposed surfaces of the cut must now be soaked for a half hour and salted as well.

            The salted meat is left for an hour on an inclined or perforated surface to allow the blood to flow down freely. The cavity of the poultry should be placed open, in a downward direction.

            After the salting, the meat must be thoroughly soaked, and then thoroughly washed to remove all of the applied salt.

            The time for brining varies, but is usually a couple of days for a chicken (cut up parts may be shorter). If you want further evidence ... you do still need to season kosher chicken before cooking, right? so obviously it hasn't been salted for very long.

            There is another reason you may prefer kosher poultry --- and that is that it is usually raised on smaller farms, not the giant processing places in Arkansas, Maryland, etc.

            1. re: FED

              Hi!

              Brining is usually done for a much shorter time than a couple of days. For turkey, the magic happens after 6 - 12 hours. Smaller cuts of meat are brined for less time. A whole chcken is usually brined for 1/2 to 1 hour.

              -Mary
              www.BestinKitchen.com

              1. re: MEH

                i have brined a lot of birds and all i can say is that's not at all my experience.

                1. re: FED

                  Hi!

                  I just follow the Cook's Illustrated guidelines. They recommend 6-12 hours for a turkey no matter how large. They just change the amount of brine (but not the concentration of salt) for birds over 18 pounds.

                  -Mary
                  www.BestinKitchen.com

            2. re: cheesecake17

              Wife did a "brined" turkey some years back. It soaked for two days and was good, but did not make my top three.

              Maybe other elements were at play?

              Hunt

          2. re: Caitlin McGrath

            If you go to the Empire website, they discuss the Koshering process they use on their birds. The birds are salted, not brined.

            I like Kosher turkeys better than natural or "basted". I think the best turkey I ever made was an Empire. The only problem was the time it took to pick out all the pin feathers from it before cooking.

          3. using cold water instead of warm water for processing helps to explain it.

            10 Replies
            1. re: xanadude

              There is a difference. No question. The removal of blood most likely results in a cleaner, fresher taste -- the soaking, then the one hour salting, followed by additional soaking. I don't believe there are any fast and hard data on how much sodium a kosher bird retains, and it probably varies from bird to bird. And the fact that only healthy birds are permitted to be sold as kosher may make a difference too.

              There was unquestionably a difference between the kosher birds with the Empire label, and those sold in the company store that were non-kosher. Since I'm not kosher, I tried both. Same birds, different process.

              And if you've ever visited a non-kosher poultry plant, where the smell will gag you, and a kosher one where it won't, you'd appreciate the difference cold water makes.

              1. re: birgator

                The downside of cold water, though, is that you will typically find a bunch of pinfeathers on kosher chicken, especially on the legs. No biggie, they're easy enough to remove with tweezers or small pliers, but not what the modern styrofoam-and plastic-wrap supermarket consumer is accustomed to finding.

                I do find a variation among brands - Empire and Rubashkin, as I mentioned above, being quite good, while Aaron's I always found to be TOO salty. But Aaron's seem to have disappeared from the market. I believe they were processed by the plant that got all that publicity recently and was shut down for unethical labor practices - leading to some interesting discussions in the kosher community about the propriety of sticking to the letter of the law in kosher meat processing as such while bending the rules in other areas of the business.

                1. re: BobB

                  Unless I'm mistaken, Aaron and Rubashkin are/were the same thing out of the same Postville plant.

                  1. re: BobB

                    Aaron's and Rubashkin are the same company.

                    1. re: cheesecake17

                      Interesting, I didn't know that. I wonder if they were handled differently - I never had an Aaron's product I enjoyed, while Rubashkin's seemed less salty. At any rate, Empire is still out there and going strong.

                      1. re: BobB

                        The owner (who was arrested) is Aaron Rubashkin. I usually buy my chickens from a kosher butcher, the type who cuts to order, who told me his source was Empire. I'm not sure if he is getting different chicken than what you find in the supermarket, in styrofoam labeled "Empire."

                        I do buy ground turkey from a regular supermarket and not my butcher, because they charge $2.50/lb for prepacked Empire.

                        1. re: cheesecake17

                          Same chicken. Butchers can either buy butcher wrapped, or (I imagine still) unpacked in crates/boxes. Supermarket ones obviously need to be individually wrapped and sealed and are deep chilled to prolong shelf life (not frozen, but almost).

                          1. re: birgator

                            Maybe the deep chill is the reason it tastes better from the butcher rather than the supermarket.

                            1. re: cheesecake17

                              Yes, maybe the deep chill is similar to the freezing of meat before cooking for maintaining moisture. I'm not Kosher, so have had many non-Kosher birds and several Kosher ones as well, but not side-by-side. I get mine from a Kosher Butcher so do not know what "brand" (if any) it is. I do think it has a more robust and natural turkey taste, but now it has been so many years since I've had a non-Kosher bird I can't remember what they taste like so can't say that I notice a difference.

                              I volunteer with elderly folks and they (whether Irish, Jewish (non-Kosher), or Italian) swear by the Kosher birds.

                2. re: xanadude

                  I appreciate everyone's comments... and understand how cold water would affect the smell of the processing plant as birgator mentions... but don't understand why that would affect the taste. Maybe the cold water helps it retain the bird's natural moisture? I have a good friend who insists on freezing meats, then letting then thaw partially and cooking them from that half-thawed state. He swears it helps the meat hold moisture. Similar phenomenon?

                3. Now, I have not lived in NYC, so maybe I am missing something. However, in several other venues, I've had turkey from delis, that "keep Kosher." The turkey has been good, but then we've had definitely non-Kosher turkey, that I found better.

                  I guess that I'll have to pay more attention. Maybe I have just missed something.

                  Thanks for pointing this out, as I will now start looking more closely.

                  For me, my wife has done three non-Kosher turkeys, that really hit me:

                  1.) An ancho-chili rubbed turkey w/ strong SW elements
                  2.) A Zinfandel marinated turkey served a horizontal of Zins
                  3.) Second "Cajun" deep-fried turkey. First one was nearly a flaming disaster, though it did taste good, once they put the fire in my beard out! I think that the scars have finally healed, and I had all of the seared grass removed, and a putting green put in.

                  Hunt

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Bill,
                    Does your wife have a recipe for the ancho chili turkey? I would love to make something like that on either a turkey roast or cutlets.

                    1. re: cheesecake17

                      I'll check. IIRC, it came from Bev Gannon of the Hali`imalile General Store, Maui, HI. I'll ask her upon her return. If I do not get to it, before we actually head to Maui, I'll do it upon our return. Bookmarking this thread now. if it IS a Bev Gannon, we might have it in one of her cookbooks, though I seem to recall hat it came from a dinner with Chef Gannon.

                      Hunt

                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        Thanks so much!

                        1. re: cheesecake17

                          Since my wife has a board meeting this evening, and we leave tomorrow, I did some research. The recipe is NOT in Bev's cookbook, and I looked at my wife's notes from our dinners with her - nothing.

                          I'll get this, but my memory is obviously cloudy. Maybe Chef Mark Miller? It'll probably not be unti mid-Dec, before I get this for you. I did not want you to think that I am ignoring your simple request.

                          Hunt

                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            Just got the info. I was *somewhat* close in my remembering. It was not Bev Gannon's recipe, but was from Barbara Pool Fenzel. I checked in her "Seasonal Southwest Cooking," Northland Publishing, ISBN: 0-87358-882-7, and found the "base" for the recipe on page 88. It is titled Achiote Butter-Basted Turkey with Ancho Gravy. She and my wife did some modifications, to the original recipe. My wife is now looking though her "hand written" recipes to try and come up with that.

                            Basically, it is a turkey, basted with Achiote paste, which is a combo of chiles, spices and Achiote seeds with butter. The skin is loosened and the Achiote paste (half of the preparation) is rubbed between the skin and the meat. The exterior is then basted with the remaining paste and chicken stock. Ancho (soaked in a water bath) slices and a quartered onion are placed into the cavity. Chef Fenzel's notes state that the Anchiote paste is available pre-made in most Latino markets, but I know that she and my wife conferred on creating it from scratch, with some modifications. The turkey is then served with an Ancho gravy. IIRC, we did not sample Chef Fenzel's "pure" version, but the modified version was absolutely to die for. As my wife usually orders "fresh" turkies, sized for the anticipated crowds, I would think that this might have made some contribution to the final bird.

                            If I can locate the "amended" Achiote paste recipe, I'll add it.

                            I knew that she had picked this up at a dinner with a cookbook author, and that we had a book from that event.

                            If you enjoy SW cuisine, I strongly recommend Chef Fenzel's book. She has found a way to take some pretty traditional dishes and add some very interesting twists to them. Every dish we have done, has been very good to excellent. There are enough dishes featuring chiles to create an entire meal from apps to dessert with them as a theme.

                            Hunt

                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              Hunt,

                              The recipe sounds so interesting. I'm going to have to try it or something similar soon since I don't really cook with chiles or anything really spicy. Thanks again.

                    2. re: Bill Hunt

                      The fried turkey is soooo good! We did a Cajun fried turkey for a big gathering (20+ people), it wasn't Kosher but those of us cooking it took it out of the fryer and let it drain on a big platter with the goal of taking it to the table for all to enjoy. Unfortunately (for everyone else), after everyone in the kitchen picked on the bird, there was nothing but a carcass left only twenty minutes after we took it out! Wonder how the Kosher turkeys would fare under frying...

                      1. re: ideabaker

                        That is a good question. We have only used "fresh" turkeys, and each has been great. Some, however, have contributed to Thanksgiving stories for later use. Luckily, I have pictures of some of these "near failures," but we have learned from each episode, and the last two were totally without incident, though my cooking attire did evoke comments from the guests!

                        Hunt

                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          Bill, bet your birds were tasty though, eh? :-) I just wonder how the Koshering process would give any special taste to the fried turkey process. (Thinking about grabbing my coat to head out to my local Kosher deli to find out... but snowstorm coming tonight... maybe will head out tomorrow...)

                          Would love to see some of your "near failure" pics. Do you use a "Turkey Fryer" set-up, or do you set your own up with the propane base and a large pot? In your experience, is there a better material for the pot (when frying turkeys)?

                          In my opinion, turkey just tastes like turkey, delicious when cooked right. It seems very hard to mess up. That said, if Kosher turkeys are a bit more salty or dry... would that have an effect on the end "fried turkey" effect (all opinions welcome!)?

                          1. re: ideabaker

                            You pose a really good question, for which I do not have an answer. Maybe next year (after several near-fatal experiences), we can give it a try.

                            I'll dig down and see if I can locate some of the photographs. Especially those from the 1st attempt, should be worth viewing. My ex-partner shot the event with a high-speed Nikon motor-drive at about 5 FPS. I thought that I had the sequence digitized, but could not find it. I'll see if he has the slides, or negatives, and digitize them for posting. Let's just say that the Big Island of Hawai`i has nothing on me, when it ocmes to erruptions! I still have some scars, but with the freckles, they do not show - too mcuh...

                            Gotta' try a Kosher/Cajun Deep-fried turkey. Sounds like a real winner, so long as my loving wife dries the interiror adequately.

                            Hunt