Over the years, the bird has has been moving centre-stage at Christmas feasts thanks to social media. Now homecooks lend a unique, indigenous spin to the classic roast
Sunu Mathew is not sure when the plump turkey roast — stuffed with potatoes, sausages, bacon and bread — became part of the Christmas feast at her home in Kochi. It probably began after two of her sisters moved abroad, she says. “When all of us gathered for Christmas or Easter, my mother had substituted the traditional duck roast with turkey roast. Then it became a family tradition whenever us sisters and our families got together,” Sunu adds.
Manju Jose, however, says that no Christmas lunch at her ancestral home in Pala, Kottayam, was ever complete without her maternal grandmother Annakutty Kayalackakom’s turkey roast. “Meats, fish, cutlets, home-baked breads, cookies, cakes, pies and puddings made up Christmas feast. The piece-de-resistance, however, was roast turkey made by my grandmother, a renowned homecook of her time. It would be a free ranging country turkey reared by her specially for Christmas,” recalls Manju.
Nevertheless, until a few years ago, turkey was a rarity in most Malayali homes.In the last few years, however, the bird has found pride of place in the Christmas or Easter spread in many hotels and homes.
“Globalisation, frequent travellers, non-resident Indians who vacation in India during Christmas, social media and television images have made the turkey roast a familiar dish for many in India,” explains Chef Mahesh Kumar of Madison Street, a restaurant in Thiruvananthapuram that has been serving turkey roast as a season special for the last two years.
The dish is also on the menu of restaurants such as Hotel Hycinth and Villa Maya for Christmas. “It has been part of our buffet for Christmas for the last six years and served for dinner on December 24, and for brunch on December 25,” says Santosh Kumar Sinha, General Manager, Hycinth Hotels. In the case of Villa Maya, apple-cranberry stuffed turkey roulade with giblet gravy will be served this year for dinner on Christmas eve and for lunch on December 25, says Sashi Jacob, vice-president (food and beverage), Muthoot Sky Chef and Villa Maya.
Chef Mahesh Kumar’s turkey roast recipe
- Apply salt all over the turkey and keep it refrigerated overnight. The next day, wash it off and apply butter mixture of thyme, parsley, garlic paste and salt between the skin and flesh, and inside the turkey too. Keep refrigerated overnight. Fill it with your choice of vegetables and roast in the oven between 160 degrees and 170. For one kilogram of turkey, it takes 60 minutes, likewise three kilograms of turkey takes three hours to roast. Every 20 minutes, make sure to keep it moist by pouring the melted butter from the tray on the turkey.
Turkey roast or sliced turkey is served from December 1 to January 1 at Madison Street. Mahesh says that about 68 to 70 orders of roast turkey (at ₹1,650 for a full turkey) is sold during the season. Each one weighs about four to five kilograms. “It is on our menu but once Christmas season is over, it has to be pre-booked. We do get orders even after the season is over,” says Varun Krishnan, one of the partners of Madison Street, who operates his own turkey farm near Karyavatttom in Thiruvananthapuram.
YouTube throws up interesting, indigenous recipes for turkey that are not necessarily served in the traditional Continental style, with cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. Innovative cooks have come up with turkey peralan, turkey stew and marinated turkey deep fried in coconut oil. Each household and restaurant has its own recipe for turkey roast to cater to local tastes.
Usha Mathew, a YouTuber (Samanwayam) from Palakkad, says she took her mother’s recipe for chicken roast, and added a little twist to come up with her recipe for a spicy turkey roast marinated with ginger-garlic paste, chilli, turmeric and pepper, and cooked in an uruli.
“Ammachi had her own special recipe for the turkey roast. It was stuffed with biryani rice, and served with mashed potatoes and vegetables. Another recipe of hers was to slice it and serve it with sautéed vegetables,” recalls Manju.
As turkey became part of the Christmas feast, turkey farms too have multiplied across Kerala. “The bird is much in demand during Easter and Christmas, and even during Onam. During lockdown, we had customers from Neyyattinkara in the south of Kerala to Malappuram and Kannur in the north. At present, we are overbooked and all the birds (about a month-old) have been sold to farms and families all over Kerala,” says veterinary surgeon Dr Josephine Francis, who is in charge of Kerala Government’s Regional Poultry Farm (RPF) specialising in turkey) at Kureepuzha, Kollam.
Between April and November this year, RPF sold as many as 15,824 birds including one day, one month and a few two-month-old birds. The increased demand has forced RPF to stop supply of day-old chicks recently; only one-month-old chicks are sold now (at ₹150 per chick), mainly for farms and households. Buyers who purchase 50 to 100 chicks usually do so for turkey farms that breed for the meat. Families generally buy 10 to 15 chicks to fatten them for Christmas and Easter, or to grow as pets. The birds are best for the table when they are about six to seven months old. When they are a year old, the meat starts becoming tough.
“Prior to lockdown, some birds were arriving from poultry farms in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Once that stopped, there was a sharp spike in demand for local chicks from families and farms. The situation is such that we take about three months to supply the birds after the order is placed,” Dr Josephine points out. So people who are having turkey for Christmas would have bought it by May/June from the farm. At present, the farm does not have birds to sell for meat. The veterinarians at the farm advise new entrepreneurs on how to feed and care for the birds.
“One-day-old birds are fed a starter while one-week-old birds are fed boiled and mashed eggs, milk solids, vitamins, calcium and liver tonic. Adult birds are given greens. There are no free range birds at the farm. However, poultry farmers who buy from us may choose to grow them as free range or in the intensive system (caged all the time). Pets are naturally free range birds and rarely grown for the table. Turkeys are omnivorous, and eat both leaves, vegetable waste, and insects, snails and so on. Growing these birds has become a source of income for many entrepreneurs as there is a steady and assured demand for them during Christmas,” Dr Josephine adds.
It is the same story at Arackal Farms, a private farm in Alappuzha. Most of the chicks are sold much before Christmas to be fattened for the table. “During thelockdown, many families did buy turkeys as pets as well. By December, all our chicks are booked, and we rarely have any to spare,” says Swaroop Arackal, who has been running the farm for two years. He adds that the demand this year has been from Kerala primarily whilst the previous years saw buyers from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu as well.
Not everyone is a fan of turkey meat though. “It is a taste one gets acquainted with. We had it once for Christmas and I found the meat quite tough. In our family, the favourites are chicken, duck and pork,” asserts Rhea Philip.
However, thanks to gourmet recipes and Instagram, looks like the turkey roast in its many forms has carved a niche for itself on the table for Christmas .