Debbie Freeman
Consumer Insights Manager, Menu & Innovation
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
NTF Advisory Board Member

Because June is Turkey Lovers Month®, I started thinking back to when I first fell in love with turkey. When I was growing up, turkey was what you ate for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, then finished off either as Turkey Tetrazzini or Turkey Pot Pie for the week afterwards.  There really weren’t any creative uses or recipes for turkey in any of my cookbooks.  The Internet and Food Network didn’t exist, so there wasn’t a great way to find recipes.  Anything other than whole turkey, bone-in turkey breasts and sliced turkey lunchmeat wasn’t widely available.  That was the turkey I knew.  Until recently…..

After working for a fast food chicken concept for over 15 years, I burned out on chicken as a “main dish” protein, so I started experimenting with turkey in place of chicken in my favorite recipes.  My experiment started with Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes.  It was my night to host the book club discussion, and I wanted serve an Italian-inspired meal.  My local grocery store had fresh, boneless turkey tenderloins on sale, so I decided to try making chicken parmesan with turkey instead of chicken breast.  I knew I was on to something when all 9 of the attendees that evening asked for my recipe.

Since then, I’ve made turkey the star in all of my favorite recipes. Turkey breast and tenderloins are incredibly versatile and make fantastic turkey piccata, “oven-fried” turkey fingers, turkey fajitas, tandoori turkey, turkey tikka masala, turkey and dumplings, spinach stuffed turkey breast, turkey Cordon Bleu, turkey kabobs, curried coconut turkey…the possibilities are endless.

And, I didn’t stop there.

Ground turkey is also great to use whether it’s alone or in combination with your favorite ground meat in tacos, burgers, sliders, your Grandma’s famous meatloaf, chili, meatballs…again, there’s no limit to the options.  I like to use 93% or 99% lean ground turkey, so I add 1 tbsp of olive oil per pound of ground turkey to keep it moist.  I recently came across a recipe for Turkey Tips using boneless, skinless turkey breast in a traditional beef tips recipe, and another for using turkey breast in “Chicken Fried Steak.”

So what is it about turkey that makes it a headliner and not a mere substitute? Turkey takes on marinade and seasoning flavors beautifully, and it’s a lean, healthy protein.  At 110 calories and 2g of fat for turkey tenderloins or 125 calories and 2g of fat for turkey breast, it’s one of the leanest animal-based proteins out there.  It’s perfect for grilling, roasting and frying…for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacking.  Turkey knows no boundaries. Happy Turkey Lovers’ Month to my fellow turkey lovers!