Patrick Cassata
Corporate Executive Chef, Standard Market

NTF Advisory Board Member

Turkey’s versatility and ability to absorb bold flavors is tremendous. These qualities, along with its health benefits (high in protein, low saturated fat), make for an extremely lean and flavorful meal that elevates turkey far above other proteins. We are most familiar with the cuts we often see in restaurants, grocery stores and butcher shops, such as ground turkey, sausage and the occasional turkey breast. We are not, however, as well acquainted with the juicier, more succulent dark meat, such as the thigh.

As purveyors of delicious and inspiring dishes, our focus should expand to the “other parts” of turkey. While the breast will always be a mainstay, the thigh meat is also versatile and craveable. Asian flavors, for example, have a special ability to transcend turkey into delectable cuisine. A simple egg and cornstarch batter promotes texture as well as flavor and can be used in a variety of dishes, from Orange Turkey to a quick stir-fry. As a Chef and retailer, I have been exploring new and innovative ways to promote turkey, not as an alternative, but as a preference. I’d like to share some proven methods to induce moisture and flavor that will certainly entice you to step over to the dark side.

Wet Brining
Wet brining is a method that utilizes a salt solution (typically about 6%) with water and flavorings to help the meat absorb and retain moisture during the cooking process. With this method, many turkeys have been celebrated and enjoyed!

Dry Brining
A dry brine, also called pre-salting, seasons the turkey like a wet brine, but it does not use any water. Instead, a dry brine involves rubbing the salt, seasonings, and/or sugar directly onto the meat and skin, and then letting the meat rest in the refrigerator for a period of time before cooking. The “juice” is pulled from the inside out and forms a salty briny exterior, which loosens up the muscle texture. These dry brines can be found in many a rib shack, with killer spice and sugar blends creating exquisite regional foods. Dry brining bone-in turkey thighs, slow roasted or braised and served with Rainbow Chard and lentils gives an old world European spin on our classic bird.

Offerings like Fall Spiced Turkey Cutlets with Butternut Squash Cauliflower Rice and Spiced Apple Reduction or stuffed dry rubbed smoked turkey thighs with Spinach and Gouda with Bourbon BBQ and Sweet Corn Mash will ignite the fever to choose turkey as a mainstay, and tempt your customers to take a walk on the dark side.