Five sustainable alternatives to turkey this Thanksgiving or holiday season

If you expected to see “Tofurkey” anywhere in this article, you clearly aren’t familiar with my work. Nope, no textured vegetable protein here.

As a kid–an obnoxiously picky eater, at that–turkey was on my lengthy list of foods to avoid. I suspect it was the notoriously dried-out birds of my youth that caused my aversion. Today, I like turkey, but it’s honestly not one of my favorite eating birds: I much prefer a good roast chicken or a game bird.

Game birds–both wild and farmed–are popular throughout much of Europe, especially in the UK, France, and Italy. Goose and duck are frequently seen in Asian cuisine, depending upon the country and region. And now, game birds are growing in popularity in the U.S.. Quail and duck aren’t difficult to find on menus, but there’s also squab, guinea hen, partridge, wood pigeon, etc.. Some birds, such as goose, heritage breed turkeys, or wild game birds may be seasonal or require order well in advance; just to give you an idea, the turkey farmer at my local market has people start signing up for Thanksgiving birds in March.

If you can’t find these birds at your local farmers market on butcher shop, you can order them online. The important thing is to ask or research how the animals are raised, and make sure it’s in a humane, ecologically responsible manner (see end of article for more information).

With the proliferation of farmed birds (mostly small-scale operations) in the U.S., I’m hard-pressed to recommend you shoot yourself some dinner (although I’m behind roadkill), but hunting is a discussion for another day. For the record, while I don’t participate in it myself, I support hunting wildlife as a means of population control, as long as the animal in question is fully utilized.

As for you city slickers, just be aware that wild birds are much stronger in flavor, less tender, and in most instances need to hang for a few days so the proteins can break down and render the meat edible. So put away your bird call and shotgun unless you have the experience and permits, and do your shopping locally or online. No muss, no fuss, and trust me, plucking birds is a serious pain in the ass. Farmed birds are bred for more tender meat, are usually hens (also more tender and mild), and a great choice even if you’ve never cooked anything beyond a chicken breast.

Do note that goose and duck, are very fatty (the extra padding helps keep these aquatic birds buoyant) and you’ll need to render the fat before you can cook the meat. The key to successfully preparing most birds, however, is to not overcook them. Your butcher or any number of cookbooks will be able to tell you how to prepare them. Some good resources: Nose to Tail Eating (Ecco) by Fergus Henderson, and River Cottage Meat Book (10 Speed Press) by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Sourcing information for all of the following bird species can be found at the end of this article.

1. Goose
Goose was once a British Christmas dinner favorite (oddly, turkey is now the bird of choice), and it’s still popular in Germany. According to esteemed food writer Joan Nathan of Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook (Random House), German Christians traditionally ate goose for Christmas, and Jews cooked it for Hannukah. In her book, she provides a lovely family recipe for roast goose stuffed with chestnuts and apples that would make any Thanksgiving table proud.

[Photo credit: Flickr user turtlemom4bacon]Goose is considerably more fatty than other birds, so it’s not a good choice if you’re watching your cholesterol or calories (stick with white meat turkey). But it’s that layer of fat that makes the meat so succulent and juicy. It’s very rich, so a little goes a long way; ideal if you’re feeding a crowd.

2. Pheasant
The Common Pheasant is native to Asia, but there are over 30 subspecies that have been introduced all over the world as a game bird; it’s naturalized in Europe. In the U.S., we’re most familiar with ring-necked pheasant: the males are striking, with emerald- and crimson-colored heads. Farmed pheasant is growing in popularity on menus, and is similar to dark chicken meat in flavor

3. Quail
While tiny and full of bones (imagine gnawing on a giant hummingbird drumstick), quail is a great choice if you’re having a small gathering because you can serve one bird per person. They’re very dainty and require simple preparation. Just butterfly them, thread on skewers and toss on the grill, or pan-fry. Quail meat is dark, juicy, and non-gamey; it pairs beautifully with dried fruit such as figs, dates, or cherries. Toss grilled quail atop some bitter greens dressed with a bacon vinaigrette, add some plumped dried fruit, and let the cooking juices wilt the greens. Dinner is served.

4. Duck
Duck is commonplace on fine-dining menus nationwide. While technically white meat (as is goose), it’s similar to red meat: rich, rosy, and juicy with burnished, crackling skin. Many people are intimidated by cooking duck, but it’s one of the easiest alterna-birds to work with, especially if you just use breast, thigh, or leg meat. Breasts will have a thick layer of fat beneath the skin; you’ll need to score the skin in a cross-hatch pattern to help the fat render (Don’t throw it out! Store it in a clean, sealed jar, and use it to fry potatoes or other foods for extra crispy goodness). Grill or saute breasts; legs take well to braising or confit.

There are three main breeds of duck sold commercially: Pekin, Muscovy, and Moulard. Pekin are the most tender and mild, while Muscovy are large, meaty, and stronger in flavor. Moulard are a Pekin/Muscovy cross; they’re larger, more fatty, and stronger in flavor than Pekin, and are usually raised for foie gras.

5. Squab
A more civilized term for pigeon, these aren’t your standard “rats-with-wings” variety. Squab are eating pigeons, and the meat is similar to duck–very juicy and rosy in color, with an almost livery flavor. Think of it as a smaller duck in terms of cooking technique.

Speaking of park pigeon, when I lived in the Bay Area, there was a semi-factitious activist group advocating the consumption of the out-of-control resident pigeon population (something I’d be completely behind if these birds weren’t such carriers of disease). To prove their point, they cooked up a bunch of captured birds in a San Francisco park one day and had a well-documented pigeon picnic. I’ve always found that hilarious.


Even if you decide to just stick with turkey or switch to chicken this holiday season, the most important thing–besides technique–is to start with a great bird. It’s worth the extra expense to get a pasture-raised animal that’s been supplemented with exercise, sunshine, plant matter, and foraged bugs. You’ll taste the difference, but it goes beyond just flavor.

Industrially-raised poultry (i.e. chicken and turkey) are the taste equivalent of Styrofoam with bland, watery meat plumped with saline solution; their feed is often supplemented with arsenic to produce pinker meat and act as a growth promotant and antiparasitic. They’re hybridized to grow quickly and possess outrageously oversized breasts (because that’s the part most people prefer to eat). Factory farming is also an inhumane, environmentally devastating industry with far-reaching impacts upon human health (Click here for more information on sustainable-vs-industrial turkey farming).

Sonoma County Poultry sells Liberty Ducks (actually a strain of Pekin ducks adapted to a slower, less stressful growing process) ships nationwide. Grimaud Farms of California’s San Joaquin Valley sells Muscovy duck and guinea fowl online

D’Artagnan is a well-regarded purveyor of specialty foods. They have a strong focus on sustainability and humane poultry and game bird production and procurement, and sell farmed quail, pheasant, quail, goose, squab, poussin (technically, young chicken, although sometimes game hens are sold under this name); capon (castrated rooster, which makes for flavorful, tender meat); guinea hen, and wild Scottish wood pigeon, grouse, pheasant, and Red-legged partridge online

Mad Hatcher Poultry
in eastern Washington produces quail, squab, poissin, and quail (heritage turkey and rabbit, too).

[Photo credits: roast goose, Flickr user Herman Saksono; cook, Laurel Miller]

Hotel chefs offer their best Thanksgiving recipes

Thanksgiving is in less than week and if you’re like me, you’ve thought about how great the dinner will be but haven’t actually put any thought into building your menu. And who can blame you (us)? From deadlines to due dates to the mental preparation one needs in order to host Thanksgiving dinner, it’s no wonder you (we) haven’t had a moment to plan the menu.

Good news procrastinators: I put in a call to a few of my favorite chefs at hotels from coast and coast and asked for their best Thanksgiving Day recipes. The results are, simply, delicious. Even better, each one of these recipes is easy to make!

A special thanks to the chefs at Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, XV Beacon, Hotel Viking, Charles Hotel and The Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove Miami for their recipes.

Slow Roasted Free Range Turkey, Victor R. Casanova II, Culina, Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills


1/3 cup coarse kosher salt
3 tablespoons, grated orange zest 4 oranges, quartered
12 fresh rosemary sprigs
20-to 22-pound free-range turkey, rinsed cleaned and dried
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 cups water


4 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice
6 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups orange juice
½ c pomegranate molasses


1. Rub salt and zest together in small bowl.
2. Season turkey.
3. Place turkey in large roasting pan.
4. Reserve 2 teaspoons orange salt for roasting.
5. Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate turkey overnight.
6. Rinse turkey thoroughly inside and out; pat dry.
7. Rinse large roasting pan.
8. Leave turkey at room temperature 1 hour.
9. Set rack at lowest position in oven and preheat to 350°F. T
10. Truss turkey.
11. Cut 4 oranges into quarters.
12. Stuff quartered oranges, rosemary and onions into cavity.
13. Spread butter all over turkey.
14. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon pepper and reserved 2 teaspoons orange salt.
15. Pour 3 cups water into pan.
16. Roast turkey 45 minutes; baste with pan juices.
17. Reduce oven temperature to 325F.
18. Roast turkey until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 165°F, basting occasionally with pan juices, adding more water and covering loosely with foil if browning too quickly, about 4 hours.
19. Transfer turkey to platter; tent with foil and let rest 30 to 45 minutes.

1. Pour juices from turkey and skim fat.
2. Render pancetta in clean roasting pan.
3. Deglaze with orange juice.
4. Reduce by half then add pomegranate molasses.
5. Add turkey jus.
6. Adjust to desired consistency then season to taste.


Rib Roast, Chef Kevin Thiele, Hotel Viking


6-Bone Rib Eye Roast
1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup Course Sea Salt
Bunch Rosemary
Bunch Thyme
Bunch Parsley
Bunch Chervil

1. Ask local butcher to truss (tie) the roast for you. This will ensure an even roasting process for best results.
2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
3. Rub the Roast with olive oil and liberally sprinkle all sides with sea salt.
4. Place on a roasting rack and insert into the oven.
5. Meanwhile, pick and chop the herbs, mix and set aside.
6. The high temperature will sear the meat quickly and trap juices inside. After 30 minutes, reduce heat down to 350 degrees and continue cooking until internal temperature reaches 120 degrees about 1 hour and 20 min.
7. Rest the meat for 20 minutes more and the internal temp will rise to about 128- 130 degrees, which is a perfect medium rare.
8. Coat the rib roast with the herb mix, cut in between each bone and serve.


Squash Brulee, Executive Chef David Hutton, Mooo, XV Beacon Hotel


1lb Georgia roaster candy squash
1lb butternut squash
4 Tablespoon softened butter
Salt, pepper to taste
4 Tablespoon brown sugar
Pinch ground cinnamon
1 Teaspoon brulee sugar


1. Halve squash lengthwise and remove seeds and strings.
2. Rub the inside with 2 tablespoon softened butter; season with salt and pepper.
3. Place on a roasting pan, skin side up.
4. Bake in a preheat 350 degree oven for 30 0r 40 minutes or until fork tender.
5. Remove from the oven, scoop out the flesh and place it in food processor, add the brown sugar and the remaining butter, puree until smooth, add pinch of salt and the cinnamon, pulse a few times to incorporate.
6. Put the squash puree on a serving dish spring the sugar on top use a torch to caramelize the sugar.


Roasted Pumpkin Soup, Henrietta’s Table, Charles Hotel
Chef Peter Davis’ cookbook “Fresh & Honest – Food From the Farms of New England and the Kitchen of Henrietta’s Table”, which was released in November 2009


1lb Fresh Pumpkin or Heirloom Pumpkin, cooked
4 ounces white onion, julienne
1/2 ounce butter
1 quart water
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 ounce brown sugar
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 dash cinnamon
1 dash cayenne
1 cup heavy cream


1. Split the pumpkins in half and de-seed
2. Place the pumpkins on a rack on a sheet pan and roast skin side up for 45-60 min. at 350 degrees or until pumpkin is soft
3. Remove the skins and discard.
4. Roughly chop the pumpkin.
5. Sauté the onion in the butter until transparent
6. Add the remaining ingredients and the pumpkin and cook for 1 hour on a low simmer.
7. Remove from the heat and puree until smooth.


Pear Walnut Pie, Chef Michael Finizia, The Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove, Miami


5 poached pears in a syrup
8 oz almond flour
2 oz pastry flour
3 eggs
8 oz sugar
8 oz butter
4 oz walnut pieces


1. Cream the butter and the sugar
2. Add the eggs, then dry ingredients
3. Add the Amaretto liquor
4. Spread the bottom of the pie with above
5. Add the pear, thinly sliced on the top then finish with another layer of walnut cream
6. Bake in the oven at 350′ for 25 minutes