Delving into the Christmas turkey tradition

10 December 2021, 08:45 AM
Delving into the Christmas turkey tradition

“I love the fact that the tradition of sitting down to a turkey at Christmas is still going strong,” says Lee Mullet, who founded Borough Market’s Wyndham House Poultry alongside his wife Lin. “Attitudes about food have changed a lot since we started, but sitting down to turkey on Christmas Day is something that remains close to a lot of people’s hearts. It’s linked to memories of growing up. It’s linked to family. For many customers, ordering the turkey is one of the milestones in their of Christmas preparations.”

For those loyal customers who have been buying their turkeys from Lee since his early days as a poulterer, it’s not just the ritual that brings back memories, but the taste of the turkeys themselves. “We’ve been dealing with the same three farmers for around the last 15 years and primarily sell three breeds of turkey, all with their own distinct flavours and
textures.” Lee explains.

“The Bronze is the main one we sell,” Lee continues. “These are completely free range, drug free, additive free and raised in a woodland in Norfolk. The others are Norfolk Black and Bourbon Red, both of which are closer to a wild turkey. These two are reared under rare breed survival programmes, so we only sell a limited number of them.”

The length and quality of life of these birds and the depth of flavour of their meat is a world away from that of the bland Broad-Breasted Whites churned out by industrialised poultry farms, but this does cause a logistical problem.

While for households across the land, Christmas dinner would not be the same without turkey, family dynamics have changed. Birds large enough for a family feast are no longer what many people need.

“Size definitely matters,” Lee explains. “Many people want a three-kilo turkey, but in our world, these simply don’t exist. Our turkeys have lived a full life and been grown to maturity. They lay down more fat, and this gives a lot more flavour and makes them more succulent, but it does mean that even the smaller ones are around five kilos.”

The only way of addressing the size issue is through skilled butchery. One popular cut is the turkey crown. “We leave the breast on the bone with the wings, but remove the legs. It reduces the size but still offers different cuts of meat,” says Lee.

Alternatively, they will debone and stuff the breast. If you’re wondering what happens to all those turkey legs, they don’t go to waste. “We debone and stuff them. They roast up beautifully and are perfect for two people.”

The other option is to buy a whole bird and eat it for days on end. Mention leftovers and Lee breaks into a wide smile.

“Turkey curry is a must at our house,” he says. For the rest of the bird, Lee has another idea. A turkey and gammon pie.

“You can make it and freeze it to eat several weeks later. It takes the pressure off having to eat your way through a whole turkey over the course of a week.”

This article was originally published in Great British Food magazine.