Marcus has covered food for Newsday since 1998.
Can I buy a live turkey on Long Island?
Indeed, you can. In addition to local farms such as Makinajian in Huntington, Raleigh's in Kings Park, Miloski's in Calverton and Mecox Bay Dairy in Bridgehampton, Long Island has three live poultry markets where you can buy a freshly killed bird.
At Westbury Live Poultry (40 Urban Ave., Westbury, 516-334-7599), orders must be received by Nov. 23, and you can pick up your bird any time before 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 27. Price per pound is $2.50. Neither Hempstead Poultry Farms (39 Newmans Ct., Hempstead, 516-485-6569) nor Bello Poultry Market (411 Union Ave., Holbrook, 631-467-3244) take advance orders.
The turkey you get at the live poultry market is likely to be the same broad-breasted white breed that you would buy in the supermarket, though it will be optimally fresh and free from any additives. Where these markets really shine is in the alternatives they offer to supermarket chicken.
Westbury Live Poultry sells more than a dozen varieties of live fowl. Lee DaCosta, who owns the market with his cousin Carlos DaCosta, said he generally keeps a few hundred birds on hand. "We get delivery every morning," he said, "and the idea is to sell out every day."
On a Saturday morning, the place was crowded with customers and with birds in their cages, nibbling contentedly (it seemed) on dried corn. Most of DaCosta's customers are immigrants and first-generation Americans -- from Latin America, Asia and the Middle East -- who have a tradition of buying live poultry. I was gratified to see so many children there with their parents. These kids will grow up with a deeper understanding of where their food comes from than those who believe that chicken grows in Styrofoam trays.
Here's the drill: You tell one of the workers which type of bird you'd like; the bird is retrieved from a cage and placed on the scale. Then it is whisked off into an adjoining room where it is slaughtered and dressed. (A dressed bird has, in fact, been relieved of its feathers, head, feet and guts.) You pay and, anywhere from five to 20 minutes later (depending on how busy it is), you are given a bag containing the bird. Inside the cavity will be its liver, gizzard and feet. The neck will still be attached.
I bought two birds in Westbury, a red pullet and a guinea hen. The pullet weighed 51/4 pounds when live, 33/4 pound when dressed, and cost $16.20. The live weight of the guinea hen was 41/4 pounds, 31/2 pounds dressed, and cost $14.80. I roasted both alongside a Perdue chicken, $7 for 3 pounds.
Compared to my two special birds, the Perdue was soft, plump and loose-limbed, the fat yellow and waxy. I rubbed all three with salt and roasted them in a 425 degree oven for about 1 1/4 hours.
Both the pullet and the hen proved more flavorful. The breast meat had a pleasant, meaty density (the Perdue bird seemed cottony and bland by comparison), while the dark meat was tougher, the hen's thigh reminding me of turkey, the pullet's of duck. Next time, I'll buy a red broiler (which DaCosta said is more tender) for roasting, and use the pullet or the hen for a slow braise.
Westbury Live Poultry also sells white broilers (like most supermarket birds), roosters and large stewing fowl, duck, squab, quail and rabbit. Turkeys range between 15 and 35 pounds. "It's not fun weighing those things," DaCosta said. "They're flopping around, you get whacked in the face. By the end of the day, your arm is shot."