Food

A turkey for the table

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This festive season, the unusual turkey biryani is making its presence felt across Tamil Nadu

Tamil writer RN Joe D’Cruz remembers the mammoth cauldrons that were brought out at home before midnight mass on Christmas eve when he was younger.

“Women made kuzhi paniyaram, murukku, seedai, and munthiri kothu in them, chatting away,” remembers the author, who was born in Uvari, a coastal village in Tirunelveli district. Christmas delicacies made at home have, however, evolved over time. “Then came bread with mutton, also a Christmas speciality,” he adds. Joe says that it is only recently that chicken, the country variety especially, made its way into the southern coastal belt. Another addition to the list is turkey.

City-based home caterer Shobana Thomas, who has been in the field since 1987, says that roast turkey, that she stuffs with apple, mint, and walnuts among others, is her Christmas staple. But there’s another, rather unusual dish, that her customers are asking for, to be served for Christmas lunch: turkey biryani.

“Roast turkey is not very spicy,” says Shobana. “Biryani is better suited for our palate and people have started preferring it over roast turkey for Christmas.”

Of course, there’s no edging out mutton and chicken biryani that most households make for Christmas. “People order turkey biryani for some variation,” adds Shobana, who has her regular suppliers raising the birds in farms in and around Chennai just for this time of the year. “Turkey meat is white and lean, and if cooked using the right technique, becomes very tender,” she explains, adding: “To make a good biryani, I cook the meat separately with masalas and then mix the rice with it.”

Chef K Damodaran, who has travelled across the State studying local cuisines over his 35 years in the industry, says that several restaurants have joined in the fray, making the dish for the season. “I’ve also had some delicious homemade turkey biryani at Velankanni and Nagapattinam,” he remembers, adding how once, he once made an Indian version of roast turkey by stuffing it with biryani.

Damodaran feels that “turkey meat is tougher than chicken and its flavour is quite different too.” But it lends itself well for a good biryani. “The fact that it is lean enables it to take in all the flavours and masalas,” says Aaron Coutinho, chef consultant at Desi Di in Chennai, which is serving the dish on Christmas eve as well as Christmas day, for lunch and dinner.

Turkey is also cooked during Easter, according to Jude Rice, the restaurant manager at Sangam Hotels, Trichy, which is known for its turkey specialities. “Turkey biryani is part of our Christmas buffet this year too,” adds Jude.

Not many people are fans of the meat, though. Jude finds it rather fibrous. “But it finds a special place in village festivals in places in and around Trichy every year,” he says, adding that he would choose fish over turkey any day.

Damodaran also prefers mutton biryani over its turkey counterpart. “The meat takes some getting used to,” he says. “But it is nice to indulge in something different once in a while.”

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 6:37:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/a-turkey-for-the-table/article30379615.ece

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