Classic and modern takes on the Thanksgiving bird

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How to talk turkey when buying one

When buying a bird for Thanksgiving, it's good to be able to talk turkey. What's frozen, organic, heritage or kosher? Here's a guide to help.

• Free-range: This is a legal definition that requires that the birds be raised having access to the outdoors. There's a bit of wiggle room. They don't necessarily need to have access to pasture or grass, just the outdoors, which can mean dirt or gravel.

• Fresh: Legally, it means that a turkey has not been chilled below 26 degrees. Practically speaking, a 26-degree turkey is still as soft as a bowling ball.

• Frozen: The turkey has been chilled to 0 degrees. It should be noted this doesn't necessarily mean an inferior bird. Properly frozen, stored and defrosted, it can be delicious.

• Hard- or deep-chilled: An intermediate step that means it has been chilled to between 0 and 26 degrees.

• Hen: This is a female bird and they usually come in at less than 16 pounds.

• Heritage: This is probably the hottest category among food lovers, but it is not legally regulated. Basically, it means anything but the standard turkey breed, which is the Broad-Breasted White. Heritage birds tend to be leaner with less meat, which means they won't feed as many people and will dry out if not cooked carefully. They also have a gamier flavor, which is appreciated by some but not everyone.

• Kosher: Turkeys that have been slaughtered and cleaned in accordance with kosher law. Notice that while they have been briefly salted to draw out any remaining blood, this is not the same as brining. There is lots of confusion about this, but koshering requires salting for only one hour before rinsing, which is not at all the same as brining for several days.

• Natural: Basically no added ingredients and only minimal processing - no injecting flavors or brining.

• Organic: Turkeys raised without hormones and steroids and have been processed without preservatives. In addition they have been fed only organic feed and have ready access to the outdoors.

• Pastured: This is a new, non-regulated definition that is kind of like free-range-plus, as the birds have had access to grass.

• Self-basting: The familiar supermarket turkeys injected with flavor solution or brine to keep them from drying out.

• Tom: This is a male turkey, which usually means it weighs more than 18 pounds.

Thanksgiving can be a landmine of a meal. Creative cooks who tinker too aggressively with classic recipes may find themselves at the head of a table of disgruntled diners.

It's hard to blame them. Thanksgiving is rooted strongly in culinary traditions. Now you go and add a layer of complexity -- every family has a special way of roasting this, mashing that, baking those or stuffing these. Tinker too much and you risk divorcing the meal of some of its meaning.

Yet cooks love to try new flavors, new techniques, new ingredients. None of which is easy to balance.

So to help you navigate, we've create dueling turkey recipes. Each is grounded in a classic roasting technique.

But while one stays true to tradition, seasoning the big bird with sage, citrus, rosemary and thyme, the other reaches for ginger, sesame oil and chives to tease different, but delicious flavors.

Which way will you go?

Traditional Turkey and Gravy

Start to finish: 2½ to 3 hours. Makes a 12- to 14-pound turkey with gravy.

12- to 14-pound turkey

For the compound butter:

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ cup minced fresh sage

For the filling:

1 orange, cut into 8 wedges

1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges

3 sprigs fresh rosemary

6 sprigs fresh thyme

3 medium yellow onions, cut into wedges

4 medium carrots, cut into large pieces

4 stalks celery, cut into large pieces

For the gravy:

¼ cup white wine

2 cups low-sodium chicken or turkey broth

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 350 F. Remove and discard the giblets and neck from the turkey cavity, if present. Use paper towels to pat dry the turkey.

To prepare the compound butter, in a small bowl mix together the butter, salt, pepper and sage. Rub the compound butter all over the turkey, making sure to get some under the skin.

In a roasting pan large enough to fit the turkey, combine the orange, lemon, rosemary, thyme, onions, carrots and celery. Mix well. Stuff some of the mixture into the cavity of the turkey, then arrange the rest in an even layer in the pan. Place the turkey on the mixture in the pan.

Roast for 2 to 2½ hours. The temperature of the breast should reach 160 F and the thigh should reach 170 F. If the turkey begins to darken too much, cover with foil.

Transfer the turkey to a serving platter, wrap with a layer of foil and then place several kitchen towels over it to keep it warm.

Use a slotted spoon to remove and discard the herbs and vegetables from the roasting pan. Place the pan on the stovetop over medium heat and bring the juices to a simmer. Add the white wine and scrape up any browned bits in the pan. Pour 1 cup of the broth into the pan, whisking continuously

In a small bowl combine the flour with the remaining broth and whisk until smooth. Add to the pan and whisk continuously while simmering for 5 minutes. Strain the gravy, then season with sage, salt and black pepper. Serve alongside the turkey.

Per serving: 460 calories; 220 calories from fat (48 percent of total calories); 24 g fat (9 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 200 mg cholesterol; 2 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 56 g protein; 480 mg sodium.

Asian Modern Turkey and Gravy

Start to finish: 2½ to 3 hours. Makes a 12- to 14-pound turkey with gravy.

12- to 14-pound turkey

For the compound butter:

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Zest of 2 lemons

¼ cup minced fresh chives

3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

For the filling:

3 lemons, each cut into 8 wedges

4 Thai chilies, halved

2 cups shallots, halved

2 medium yellow onions, cut into wedges

For the gravy:

½ cup sake

2 cups low-sodium chicken or turkey broth

4½ tablespoons rice flour

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

Soy sauce, to taste

Heat the oven to 350 F. Remove and discard the giblets and neck from the turkey cavity, if present. Use paper towels to pat dry the turkey.

To prepare the compound butter, in a small bowl mix together the butter, salt, pepper lemon zest, chives, ginger and sesame oil. Rub the compound butter all over the turkey, making sure to get some under the skin.

In a roasting pan large enough to fit the turkey, combine the lemons, chilies, shallots and onions. Mix well. Stuff some of the mixture into the cavity of the turkey, then arrange the rest in an even layer in the pan. Place the turkey on the mixture in the pan.

Roast for 2 to 2½ hours. The temperature of the breast should reach 160 F and the thigh should reach 170 F. If the turkey begins to darken too much, cover with foil.

Transfer the turkey to a serving platter, wrap with a layer of foil and then place several kitchen towels over it to keep it warm.

Use a slotted spoon to remove and discard the chilies and vegetables from the roasting pan. Place the pan on the stovetop over medium heat and bring the juices to a simmer. Add the sake and scrape up any browned bits in the pan. Pour 1 cup of the broth into the pan, whisking continuously

In a small bowl combine the rice flour with the remaining broth and whisk until smooth. Add to the pan and whisk continuously while simmering for 5 minutes. Strain the gravy, then season with sesame oil, cilantro and soy sauce. Serve alongside the turkey.

Per serving: 490 calories; 230 calories from fat (47 percent of total calories); 26 g fat (9 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 200 mg cholesterol; 3 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 56 g protein; 480 mg sodium.