Eighty-eight percent of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation fessed up to eating turkey at Thanksgiving. About 30 percent of the turkey consumed in the United States is reported as being consumed during the holidays. From a nutrition perspective this is good news since turkey is high in protein and much of it is low in fat. There is a difference in the fat content between the dark and white meat. The average weight of a turkey purchased at Thanksgiving is about 15 pounds and usually is about 70 percent white meat and about 30 percent dark meat.
A 3½ ounce (100 gram) portion of turkey is about the size and thickness of a deck of cards.
The nutrition breakdown for the different meat types for a young hen turkey is as follows:
• Breast with skin: 194 calories, 8 grams fat, 29 grams protein
• Breast without skin: 161 calories, 4g fat, 30g protein
• Wing with skin: 238 calories, 13g fat, 27g protein
• Leg with skin: 213 calories, 11g fat, 28g protein
• Dark meat with skin: 232 calories, 13g fat, 27g protein
• Dark meat without skin: 192 calories, 8g fat, 28g protein
• Skin only: 482 calories, 44g fat, 19g protein
Turkey is an inexpensive source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins.
Contrary to popular belief, eating turkey does not cause you to feel sleepy after your Thanksgiving dinner. The carbohydrates in your dinner are more likely the cause of the sleepiness.
To be sure that your family and friends enjoy your Thanksgiving turkey, practice safe thawing and food handling procedures.
There are three USDA recommended ways to thaw turkeys, meaning these are methods that don’t contribute to food-borne illnesses. Turkeys can be safely thawed in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave. Never defrost a turkey on the counter — you may have done it safely before but don’t press your luck. It is best to plan ahead and allow time for your turkey to slowly thaw in the refrigerator.
Unfortunately the best prices on turkeys are usually the week of Thanksgiving and that doesn’t always allow enough time to thaw if you have a large turkey. About one day for every 4-5 pounds of turkey is necessary to thaw in the refrigerator.
A second thawing method is to keep your turkey in the airtight packaging that it comes in and thaw submerged in a sink of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to be sure it stays cold.
Turkey can be thawed in the microwave but should be cooked immediately after thawing because some areas of the bird may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food isn’t recommended because any bacteria that may be present won’t necessarily have been destroyed.
Now that you’ve safely thawed your turkey you want to continue to practice safe food handling when preparing and cooking your turkey. Wash your hands, sinks, counters and utensils and platters thoroughly with soap and hot water before and after working with raw turkey. Remember to remove the giblet bag from inside the turkey. The giblets are the heart, liver and gizzard of a poultry carcass. The neck of the bird is often packaged with them, but it is not a giblet. Giblets are usually cooked by simmering in water to use in flavoring soups, gravies or stuffing. Place the turkey neck and giblets in a pan with water, cover and simmer on the back of your stove.
If you are going to stuff your turkey the ingredients can be prepared ahead of time, but keep dry and wet ingredients separate. Mix the ingredients together just before filling the turkey cavities. Fill the cavities loosely, just before putting the turkey in the oven.
If you don’t have a meat thermometer now is the time to buy one to add to your kitchen tools. Dark meat takes longer to cook so always insert the thermometer in the thickest innermost part of the turkey thigh. A whole turkey is safely cooked when a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees is reached as measured with a food thermometer.
For quality, let the turkey stand for about 20 minutes after you remove it from the oven and before carving to allow juices to set. The turkey will also carve much easier.
After the meal, cover and store leftovers in the refrigerator as soon as possible, 2 hours from the time you take the bird out of the oven is safest. Leftover turkey will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. If you don’t plan to use it during such time, then freeze it.
As a different way to use up some of that leftover turkey meat, try this:
Creamy turkey soup
Makes 12 servings
½ pound celery, diced
¾ cups butter
½ cup onions, finely chopped
1½ cups flour
¼ teaspoon ground thyme
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
3 quarts turkey broth, heated
¾ pounds turkey meat, light and dark, cubed
1 quart milk, heated
¾ cups pimiento, chopped
⅛ cup chopped fresh parsley
Garlic croutons as needed
Dice celery. Melt butter and saute celery and onions for about 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir flour and seasonings into vegetable mixture. Cook 5-6 minutes at medium heat. Gradually whisk broth into vegetable mixture. Cook at medium heat, stirring constantly, until sauce is slightly thickened and bubbly. Fold turkey meat into sauce and continue cooking about 15 minutes. Stir in milk, pimiento and parsley. Continue cooking until a temperature of 160 degrees is reached. Serve each portion with garlic croutons if desired. Nutrition information per serving: 300 calories, 17g fat, 23g carbohydrates, 14g protein.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.