The Food Fanatic’s Shopping Guide
The Protein Hall of Fame
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The advantages of HERITAGE TURKEYS are many. Unfortunately, they almost exclusively benefit the bird. These old-fashioned breeds get to mate naturally, roam free-ish, sport symmetrical white/dark meat ratios, and live a few months longer than the broad-breasted white, the ubiquitous gobbler that has been bred to yield more of the white meat Americans prefer. The windfall for the diner, however, is more elusive, usually adumbrated thusly: “It’s the way turkeys used to taste!” Meanwhile, anyone at your table under the age of 108 will probably find the meat gamy, stringy, and off-puttingly unfamiliar. We suggest safeguarding endangered breeds on your own time, not springing them on the family.
Just because you’re buying into the plebeian notion of “unchallenging flavor profile” doesn’t mean standards go out the window, however. There are two principles to keep in mind. First, BUTTERBALL TURKEYS are injected with broth, “moderated food starch,” and other ingredients—none of which is butter—to make them harder to overcook. Call us food snobs, but we prefer to know exactly what’s keeping our poultry moist. Second, once a turkey is frozen, its flavor degrades. Two clues you’ve got a frozen bird: (1) The directions advise you to “defrost before using.” (2) The town of origin has never appeared in a Yankee magazine road-trip feature. In this case, buying local equals discernible taste advantage, not just feel-good boostership. Our recommendation: a BOB’S TURKEY FARM TURKEY from Lancaster, ordered through SAVENOR’S ($4.99/lb.).
The Seafood (as Dictated by the Traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes)
When the North End’s sole fish market, Giuffre’s, closed two years ago, it seemed the neighborhood’s traditional food markets (the butchers, the bakers, etc.) were being gentrified right out of town. But then two corporate-world refugees (relative outsiders, no less) named Keri Cassidy and Liz Ventura opened MERCATO DEL MARE last June, closing the gap between the newcomers and the old-timers. For North End natives, the market carries whole fresh sardines, cockle clams, and head-on SHRIMP ($14.95/lb.), allowing customers such as Grace Brogna to properly celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes, the traditional Sicilian Christmas Eve meal that serves up a laundry list of marine species and “goes on for hours and hours,” she says. The shop also carries more mainstream fish such as Chilean sea bass and farmed salmon for the young professional crowd.
The Right Rack
Despite the name, prime rib denotes only cut, not quality. As long as it’s a bone-in rib roast containing between two and seven bones, it qualifies, whether it came from a beer-fed, sake-rubbed Kobe or an old dairy cow fit only for fast-food burgers. Meanwhile, the term prime beef refers to the “USDA Prime” label (representing the fattiest, juiciest 2 percent of cattle in the country), and its correspondingly high level of intramuscular fat, or marbling. And you ain’t gonna find a PRIME RIB ROAST ($15.99/lb.) at the supermarket, or find it cheap.
JOHN DEWAR stocks plenty of true-blue, corn-finished Prime-grade prime rib at his eponymous Newton outpost. But, ever mindful of his customers (and the headlines), he’ll also steer buyers to his own steer of choice, ANGUS PLATINUM ($13.99/lb.). These Choice-grade (the level just below Prime) animals have slightly less marbling, but all the robust beefy flavor unique to this Scottish breed. With a three-week stay in Dewar’s dry-aging room, they are practically tender enough to carve with a spoon. Meanwhile, for beefatarians willing to really splurge, a little advance notice at SAVENOR’S can net you insanely fatty WAGYU, or locavore-friendly grass-fed cattle from Vermont.
Oscar Mayer can claim its liquid-smoke-doused, paper-thin-sliced bacon tastes as if it came from a smokehouse, but the folks at LIONETTE’S do one better by actually cooking it that way. The small South End shop’s obsession with producing the most flavorful LOCAL BACON ($12/lb.) starts with a weekly shipment of a whole Yorkshire pig from Vermont. Then they brine it for 15 days, smoke it themselves on three different wood varieties, and coat it in maple syrup and brown sugar. You can buy the whole belly slab, or they can slice it however thick you want. Just don’t ask for it prepackaged in a vacuum-packed plastic wrapping.
The Helically Enhanced Ham
HONEYBAKED HAM‘s famous cured pork haunches are still the best we’ve found for that addictive, sticky sweet, maple glaze. That, and they come preglazed, presliced, and easier than anything to heat up and put on the table, a major plus for your overworked kitchen during the holidays. The 10-POUND HALF HAM ($85) feeds a single starving low-carb dieter, or a family of five with ample leftovers. Or you could invite the neighborhood over for the 16-POUND WHOLE HAM ($124), and they—and you—will truly be in hog heaven.
This isn’t a sympathy vote. Even before last spring’s fire destroyed its historic waterfront store, everyone knew JAMES HOOK & CO. was the best place to buy LOBSTER in Boston. It still is. The store’s temporary digs aren’t as scenic, but the bugs are still fresh and sweet, and plumper and firmer than they were in July, now that they’re well past the molting season. West Coast transplants, take note: They also sell Dungeness crab for your traditional holiday feast.