I just about fell out of my chair when a colleague suggested turkey meat tastes better than chicken. Taste is subjective, but still, the clean neutrality of chicken is more delicious (and versatile) than the gamey undertones you get with turkey. At the risk of heresy, I’m of the opinion Thanksgiving dinner is the least appetizing of American holidays. For the last few years, I’ve convinced my family to roast chickens instead (with lemon, herbs and butter), and we haven’t looked back since.
But if the traditionalists clamor loud enough and demand a turkey, I suggest an unexpected source: Popeyes.
Primarily known for its top-notch fried chicken and biscuits, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen offers a 10-12 pound turkey each holiday season pre-rubbed with Cajun spicing (it’s available through December for $40). Most attractive is that this flash-fried turkey arrives frozen but pre-cooked, and after thawing in your fridge, only requires 90 minutes in the oven for the bird to heat through. This alone makes it an ideal emergency turkey in the event of a kitchen cataclysm (there are even instructions for roasting from frozen). But “emergency turkey” implies an inferior, less desirable option, and Popeye’s turkey will likely taste better than anything you roast this Thursday.
Out of the packaging, the turkey is splotched with random crusts of spices (ingredients listed include salt, red peppers, the legally vague “spices,” dehydrated garlic, and butter flavoring). Cooking was effortless—place in shallow tray with a half cup of water, cover turkey in foil, then roast at 350 degrees for 90 minutes.
What came out of the oven was ugly as hell: a gray, sodden, flaccid mass with zero crispness to the skin, like a dirty deflated basketball (smarter cooks would roast the turkey uncovered, on high, for 10 additional minutes). But I was never one to correlate the aesthetic qualities of meat with its deliciousness, and this turkey exceeded expectations.
The interior breast meat was incomparably juicy, a moistness usually only accomplished via brining. That flabby wet skin? It had decent zing and heat, with a citrus vinegary tang and residual burn. But what won me over was that, impossibly, it didn’t taste much like turkey meat. I’m not sure if my palate was overpowered by the assertive spicing, but my mind recognized the flavors as closer to dark meat chicken. (Though it’s not part of the instructions, we heated the pan juices, whisked in butter, and squeezed the juice of half a lemon to make a zippy pan sauce.)
Sure, this turkey doesn’t come with the sentimentality of your home smelling like rosemary and sage, or removing the stuffing from the cavity, or family members fighting for that crisp and brittle flap of skin. But from a pure flavor and practicality perspective, Popeyes has performed a public service, saving Americans from wasted kitchen prep time and the scourge of dry, gamey meat.