I'm ambivalent about heritage turkeys, which is to say I feel strongly and not so strongly about them all at once. Not so strongly because I've managed to convince my family to partake in the ridiculously complex (but enjoyable) ritual of brining-roasting-poaching-steaming the Thanksgiving turkey to get good flavor. That's not necessary with the heritage breeds; in fact, brining them is exactly what you shouldn't do because it masks the flavor. So now that I'm sourcing heritage breeds each year, I may be increasing the diversity of our farm (which I feel strongly about), but I'm also aiding in the disappearance of a family tradition — the ten-step turkey roast dinner.

Fortunately the turkey operation at Stone Barns accommodates both camps. Livestock manager Craig Haney raises two breeds: Broadbreasted Whites and Bourbon Reds.

The Broadbreasted Whites are the classically conceived Thanksgiving turkey, a breed commercially developed in the 1950s that makes up the majority (or entirety — 99 percent) of turkeys raised in the United States. Despite their genetic resemblance, there's an important distinction between our Whites and the Butterball turkey you'd meet in the supermarket: the latter is likely raised in a windowless feedlot brightly illuminated 24 hours a day. At Stone Barns, on the other hand, our Broadbreasted Whites tour the pastures in a large mobile shelter, roosting on low, wooden trellises. Their diet of organic grain mash and natural forage allows the birds to grow quickly and contentedly.

While their rapid growth rate and large breasts make Broadbreasted Whites an attractive candidate for the farmer (and the white meat crowd), if you're thinking of flavor alone, or the preservation of rare breeds, Bourbon Reds are the natural choice. Unchanged by the homogenizing forces of the mass market, this heirloom breed has managed to maintain its genetic legacy of rich, dark meat. It's turkey that actually tastes like turkey, which is why I prefer the Reds in the end.

As far as the Thanksgiving table goes, though, I'm still undecided. 

Turkey pot pie


- 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes

- 1½ cups milk

- 3 tablespoons butter

- 6 cups shredded roast turkey meat

- 1 cup turkey gravy

- 2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar

- 5 tablespoons herbs (such as parsley,

- chives, and tarragon), chopped

- 1 tablespoon shallots, chopped

- ½ cup fine bread crumbs

- Salt and pepper, to taste


1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. Boil potatoes in well-salted water until fork tender. Drain and peel when cool enough to handle.

3. Heat milk and butter until butter melts.

4. Pass potatoes through a food mill or ricer; gently fold in hot milk mixture until well incorporated. Season well with salt and pepper.

5. In a large bowl, mix together the turkey, sauce, vinegar, herbs and shallots; season well with salt and pepper.

6. Divide turkey among 12 ramekins; top with potato puree and smooth with a spatula.

7. Heat for 20 minutes.

8. Remove from oven and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Place under a broiler for about 1 minute, until the bread crumbs are golden brown. Serve with glazed carrots or other roasted vegetables for a hearty fall meal.

Story by Dan Barber. Dan Barber is the executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill restaurant in new york City and blue hill at Stone barns, located within Stone barns Center for Food and agriculture, a pioneering farm and education facility in pocantico hills, new york (bluehillnyc.com). This article originally appeared in Plenty in November 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Farm to fork: Turkey conundrum
The architect of a satisfyingly complex dinner faces the ultimate turkey conundrum: heritage or conventional bird?