Finding Flavor

Published in FSD Update

Operators break turkey out of its only-for-Thanksgiving box.

By Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

A turkey wrap from LDS Hospital.

When talking turkey, the subject inevitably leads to Thanksgiving. Chefs can’t help but cite the bird’s big day when discussing how they serve turkey. However, with turkey’s position as a healthier protein, many operators are playing with techniques to take turkey’s flavor up a notch. At Yale University, in New Haven, Conn., Ron DeSantis, director of culinary excellence, is excited about a new flavor enhancer his department is using this year in several turkey preparations: duxelles.

“We’re using mushroom duxelles to enhance the flavor of items like turkey meatloaf and turkey burgers,” DeSantis says. “Instead of using 100% ground turkey, we combine 70% ground turkey with 30% mushroom duxelles and it gives the dish incredible flavor. It makes the turkey moister and improves the health factor by introducing more vegetables.” Another benefit: It reduces cost, DeSantis adds.

Beyond using the duxelles, DeSantis says students also really like the department’s turkey quesadillas, which use slow-roasted turkey thighs, sautéed onions, Monterrey jack cheese and traditional quesadilla toppings. DeSantis says for turkey burgers, students like a Mediterranean-influenced patty that uses garlic, lemon zest and marjoram.

“We also use [turkey] in stir-fry [and]chilis and we make hot turkey croissants for brunch that work really well,” DeSantis says. “We roast our own turkey for cold sandwiches, which is a great way for us to control the amount of sodium.”

In-house roasting

At LDS Hospital, in Salt Lake City, Executive Chef Josh Taylor’s department also roasts its own turkey for a roast turkey with walnut and onion compote. 

“We take a turkey breast and we roast it off in the oven,” Taylor says. “We usually baste it with some Dijon mustard and a little bit of honey so the turkey gets a nice skin on top. Then we top it with an onion and walnut compote, which features caramelized onions, garlic, chicken stock, white wine and walnuts. We’ll slice the breast and serve it with either a roasted root vegetable mix or a parsnip purée.” 

Another popular item at the hospital is a turkey salad made in the style of chicken salad. Taylor takes roasted turkey, light mayo, grapes and nuts and mixes them with curry powder, salt and pepper and serves it in a wrap. 

“Obviously the health benefits are there versus ground beef, but there are some challenges to working with turkey,” Taylor says. “You really need to add flavor to it to make it more interesting to people.”

Ryan Conklin, executive chef for Rex Healthcare, in Raleigh, N.C., has also found a fun twist on traditional turkey preparations. “As part of our Carolina Smokehouse and Marketplace [two of the hospital’s retail locations], we introduced our housemade turkey pastrami,” Conklin says. “We brine the turkey for two full days, then crust it with our own pastrami rub. We then smoke the meat for two hours at a low heat using cherry wood. ”

As part of the concept, Conklin uses slices of the turkey pastrami on charcuterie plates, paired with Gruyére cheese, grapes, mini pretzel rolls, whole-grain mustard, and housemade pickles and sauerkraut. The plates are served as a grab-and-go item, and Conklin says they have been very popular in the café.

Perfect substitute

At the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), in Providence, Pierre St-Germain, associate director for dining and catering, is attempting to apply some of his personal dining preferences at the university. Pierre St-Germain doesn’t eat beef, so he’s trying to add more turkey to the menu. 

“Making substitutions with turkey in items like burgers, meatballs, burritos or tacos is a good switch,” St-Germain says. “Any place you use ground beef, you can correct the spices and make a great substitution with ground turkey that will be better for you and easier to digest.” 

The department also makes turkey legs at its Jolly Roger deli for Talk Like a Pirate Day. “We’ll get in raw turkey legs and, a couple days out, we’ll put them in a jerk marinade,” St-Germain says. “We’ll usually tone it down a little bit because some jerk marinades can get too hot. Other times, we’ll make a mojo sauce and add some extra citrus to it like orange, lemon or lime juice. We’ll marinate the legs for a couple of days and then we’ll sear them before the staff finishes them off in the oven.”

Despite the desire to incorporate turkey into everyday menus, St-Germain’s department still menus turkey in a seasonal capacity. “We still offer turkey a lot in the fall when people are thinking of turkey,” St-Germain says. “We make a turkey hash for brunch with sweet potatoes or butternut squash. You can put a little tarragon in there. It’s a nice twist on a traditional corned beef hash. It also gives you the ability to use product that is either left over from Thanksgiving or other more traditional turkey dishes.”

Turkey stats

•The United States, Canada, European Union, Brazil and Mexico were the top five turkey-consuming countries and regions in 2010. The U.S.’s per capita consumption was nearly twice Canada’s, at 7.3 kilograms compared to 4.2. That’s something the U.S. turkey industry is thankful for.

•Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri and Virginia are the top five turkey-producing states in the U.S. (based on the number of turkeys raised in 2010-2011).

•The amount, in pounds, of turkey that the average person in the U.S. consumed in 2011.

Source: National Turkey Federation