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Ground Turkey, The New Ground Beef

Quincy
Posted by Quincy on Apr 28, 2017

 

I’ve been trying to eat healthier the past couple of months, so I decided to introduce ground turkey breast meat into my diet. On one hand, it wasn’t that difficult of a decision to make, most of my immediate family had given up ground beef years ago and replaced it with either ground turkey or ground chicken. But on the other hand, I knew it was going to be more difficult for me. I love a good hamburger, even though I try to only make them as a special treat. I feel the same way about several other dishes that I’ve prepared over the years using ground beef.  It just didn’t seem right to swap out the rich flavor of ground beef for the almost bland flavor and texture of lean ground turkey white breast meat. But with a bit of research and several attempts, here's what I came up with. 

First I must mention that ground turkey isn’t necessarily a healthier alternative to ground beef. They can both be very similar in their nutritional facts and in some cases, beef is actually more nutritious. For years we’ve been told that ground turkey is leaner, has less fat, less calories and cholesterol over ground beef, but that’s not always the case. 

There are several points to remember when making the decision to switch to ground turkey over ground beef.  First, read the product labels and check the nutrition facts. You want to look for low fat or fat free versions. You also want to choose organic, free range ground turkey breast meat. You might also want to avoid ground turkey made from the dark meat of the turkey. It contains a higher percentage of fat because it contains turkey meat from the thigh, drumstick as well as turkey skin, which definitely adds flavor, but also includes the fat you might be trying to avoid. 

Ground turkey is available in several lean to fat ratios that can determine its nutritional content. If you compare a 4-ounce serving of 85% lean ground turkey with a 95% lean ground beef, ground turkey provides 266 calories, about 15 grams of fat and 3.8 grams of saturated fat. Ground beef provides only 193 calories, 7.5 grams of fat and 3.4 grams of saturated fat. However, the same serving size of 99% fat-free ground turkey breast provides 120 calories, 1 gram of fat and zero saturated fat.  

Now, the science lesson is over!  

Using lean ground turkey breast meat for something like hamburgers or meatballs can be a bit challenging.  The darker meat is usually the best route to go because you want that fat content to add flavor and a moist texture to those dishes. But didn’t I just say to steer clear of the darker meat? Why, yes I did! But here are some things to think about when using leaner ground turkey breast.  

Compared to dark turkey meat, lean ground turkey breast lacks flavor, so you might need to add extra salt, pepper and other herbs or spices. Those seasonings are very important when lean ground turkey is used to make meatballs, hamburger and meatloaf. Dried herbs and some aromatics can also add an extra punch of flavor as well. 

Try to use minimal handling when you’re mixing all the ingredients together and shaping the meatballs, meatloaf or burgers. Over handling of the meat can make your finished product tough. Use a soft touch and you can also keep your hands lightly oiled when forming and shaping.  

Lean ground turkey has a low fat content, so if it’s cooked too long it gets dry very quickly and becomes crumbly and tends to lose its flavor. Ground beef is perfectly delicious when cooked medium-rare, but it’s not the same for ground turkey. Always cook your ground turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees, so keep a meat thermometer nearby.  

Here are some tricks to add tons more flavor and moistness to ground turkey dishes. 

Lets start with the hamburger. I’ve been experimenting and trying to incorporate more umami flavors into my dishes. We always think of our taste buds being sweet, salty, bitter and sour. But we now know that there is a fifth element of taste, that being umami. We taste using our taste buds, which contain receptors that are located on our tongue. The taste sensation of umami is savory and meaty. That can be achieved through the use of certain vegetables, sauces, mushrooms, meats and cheeses and several more food items. 

To introduce umami into my burger made from organic, fat-free ground turkey breast, I went the mushroom route. I used a combination of finely chopped cremini, shitake and reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms together, sautéed them in olive oil with a finely minced shallot. I then added a bit of Worcestershire sauce, cooled the mixture down and then combined everything into the ground turkey. 

Again, you want to be delicate when combining the mixture and not overwork it by handling it too much, which will create a tough burger. I suggest using your hands to combine everything. Gently form your patties ¼ inch to a ½ inch thick, don’t worry if they’re not perfectly formed, the taste will make up for that. I usually place the patties on a platter that I’ve lined with aluminum foil and lightly brushed with olive oil or cooking spray. If you’re cooking several patties, you might want to use an aluminum foil lined sheet tray to place your patties on. I like chilling the patties for a half hour before placing them on the grill. While the patties are chilling, heat up your grill. After a half hour, season your patties with salt and pepper to taste.  

If using an outdoor grill, be sure to oil your grill grates by using wadded up paper towels and a pair of long tongs, dip the wadded up paper towels in a small bowl of vegetable oil and wipe along your grill grates, to help prevent the burgers from sticking as well as seasoning your grates. Place the patties on your grilling surface. Grilling the patties 7-8 minutes per side, making sure to achieve some grill marks and only flip once. After the grill time has elapsed, place an instant read thermometer into your burger to check its temperature, once it reads 165 degrees, the burger is done. You should avoid cooking your burger under or over that temperature.  

After my burger was cooked, I placed some thinly sliced Gruyere cheese on top, I also added on top some balsamic, caramelized onions, a thick slice of tomato, on a whole-wheat bun, with no condiments required.  It was moist, tender, juicy and filled with tons of umami flavor. Alongside my burger I served some olive oil, oven roasted French fries, made from russet potatoes and I placed them in a pattern on the plate that my niece calls, “hash tag fries”.  Simple red cabbage coleslaw dressed with a red wine vinaigrette made with cilantro, scallion, and diced Serrano pepper finished off the plate. 

turkey burgerNow, on to meatballs. This turkey meatball recipe features baked meatballs with dried herbs, spices and spinach. A couple of precautions! The meatballs are baked in a 400-degree oven and cook fairly quickly, in about 20 minutes. About two minutes before the baking time has elapsed, check the temperature, to make sure that it is in the 165-degree range and the moment it reaches 165 degrees, remove from the oven right away, not a minute longer. You’re assured to have a moist, meatball that doesn’t have a tough texture or crumbly consistency.  

Baked Turkey Meatballs with Spinach

Makes between 38-40 meatballs (the recipe can also easily be cut in half)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic finely minced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon of crush red pepper flakes or less if your prefer
1 6-ounce container of fresh spinach, that has been finely chopped or a 16-ounce package of chopped spinach, defrosted, drained and squeezed to remove excess water (I prefer fresh.)
2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup of chicken broth
2 pounds of lean, fat-free, organic ground turkey breast
¾ cup of unseasoned bread crumbs
2 large eggs

meatball mise en place1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a large baking sheet by spraying with cooking spray.

2. In a sauté pan on medium heat, add olive oil and heat until hot. Then add chopped onion, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and dried herbs. After sautéing for four minutes, add minced garlic and sauté another minute or so, until the garlic has bloomed and you’re getting a nice scent of garlic from the pan. 

3. Add chopped spinach to the pan and combine with the onion mixture. Sauté until the spinach is completely wilted. Add the Worcestershire sauce and the chicken stock and mix well to combine.  Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.  If you’re using frozen spinach it might take a little while longer for the liquid to evaporate. Remove the spinach and onion mixture from the heat and let cool to room temperature. 

4. In a large bowl combine the ground turkey, breadcrumbs and egg. Add the cooled onion and spinach mixture to the meat and with your hands or a spoon gently combine the entire mixture.

meatball ingredients5. Using your hands or a ¾ of an ounce scoop, create meatballs that are 1-1 ½ inches in diameter and place on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray, leaving a little space between each meatball. When you’re done shaping your meatballs you will probably have somewhere between 38-40, if not more from this recipe.  

scooped meatballs6. Bake until your meatballs are cooked through with an internal temperature of 165 degrees, which should happen in about 18-20 minutes. Remove from oven right away and serve as desired. I used mine for Spaghetti and Meatballs in a simple marinara sauce.  After baking off the meatballs, you can always place the ones that you didn’t use in a plastic zipper bag and place in the freezer for up to 2 months for future use. 

meatballs out of the ovenNext time I make this meatball recipe, I’ll add some toasted pine nuts and a couple of tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese and see how that turns out. 

spaghetti and turkey meatballsWhen I was a kid, my mother would usually make "Sloppy Joes" when she got home from work on Friday nights. That is a meal that always transports me back to that time when browned ground beef, cooked in a sweet and spicy tomato sauce and placed between hamburger buns or sandwich bread was something special. The sloppier the Joe, the better!  

To transform this dish into turkey, I made Sloppy Jose’s! It had a spicy and sweet tomato, almost BBQ-like sauce, that contained, dried Mexican chilies, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, diced Serrano and jalapeno peppers, cilantro and a tiny bit of light brown sugar. This was served between a toasted whole-wheat hamburger bun with some oven-roasted, parmesan-crusted wedge French fries and a red and green cabbage coleslaw. The dressing was made from buttermilk, yogurt, mayonnaise, cilantro, diced Serrano peppers and scallions.  I like transforming a childhood memory into an adult version! 

sloppy joseMaking chili has turned out to be one of my favorite uses for lean, fat-free ground turkey breast.  Just by adding several types of canned beans, you can add tons and tons of flavor to the chili.  I used red kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans and garbanzos, spicing it up with a variety of dried herbs, spices, chiles, fresh jalapeño and Serrano peppers, canned tomatoes and chicken broth. This was perfect topped with 2 types of shredded cheese, a grass-fed sharp cheddar and Chihuahua cheese, roughly chopped cilantro, diced Serrano and jalapeno peppers, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, sliced scallions and a dollop of Mexican sour cream.  I recently made a pot of this chili, garnished with cubes of avocado, turned out to be a great added texture and flavor.  I made a batch of jalapeno, cheddar cheese and honey corn muffins to serve along with the chili.  

Turkey Chili Corn MuffinsI hope this has been helpful and that you will consider trying out some of my ideas, as well as the recipe I included for the meatballs. The right balance of preparing and eating healthy along with preparing and indulging in our guilty pleasures can go a long way. Listen to your body - it will tell you what it needs and if you’re interested in mixing it up with some ground turkey as a substitute for ground beef, then go for it. You won’t regret it! 

For tips on grilling burgers whether made with turkey or beef, check out one of The Chopping Block's upcoming hands-on grilling classes on our outdoor grilling patio at Lincoln Square. Our first class was just one week ago, so you have plenty of time to get up your grilling game this season. 

Grilling Classes 

Topics: turkey, beef, Recipes, ground beef, turkey burger

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