USDA Certified Organic Heritage/Heirloom Turkeys and Chickens
Humanely Raised on Pasture - No Chemicals, Pesticides, Herbicides or Antibiotics - The Way Nature Intended
Cooking Your Heritage Turkey
By Sandra Kay Miller
Heritage turkeys are coming home to roost in holiday kitchens. Besides the fact that most these old fashion birds are also raised the old fashioned way -- with plenty of grass and sunshine -- they need to be cooked quite differently than their modern, mega-farmed counterparts.
Most large supermarket chains give away frozen turkeys each year when you spend a couple hundred bucks at their stores. These birds have been bred to reach maturity in only a few months and more thank likely have been stuffed full of growth supplements, antibiotics and then injected with liquid post processing. Additionally, their unnaturally large breast prevents these birds from ever breeding naturally and from their increased growth rate commercial birds are commonly so heavy their legs cannot support their own weight. Sure, the meat might be tender but that is because the poor bird could only sit in once place and eat until reaching market weight.
A heritage turkey is not any particular breed, but made up of a group of breeds such as the Narragansett, Bourbon Red, Standard Bronze, Royal Palm, Slate and Jersey Buff. What distinguish these birds from the Modern Standard White Broad Breasted variety is their slower growth, smaller breasts and their ability to naturally breed.
These differences are also reflected in the way that a heritage turkey is cooked.
Remember having to cover the breast with foil to keep it from drying out while the rest of the bird cooks -- not with a heritage turkey. Their smaller breasts create a better balance between the dark meat and white meat, which means roasting a bird to perfection is much easier since white meat cooks quicker than the dark meat. If the breast is covered during roasting, it should be done with oiled parchment paper -- not foil -- which is then removed 30 minutes before the turkey is finished roasting.
Heritage turkeys are also much more leaner and smaller than sedentary commercial birds. This means that fast cooking at high temperatures is a better method than slow roasting -- another big plus since you won't have to set your alarm to get the bird in the oven to be done in time for an early dinner. Heritage turkeys should be cooked at 425-450 degrees F until the internal temperature reaches 140-150 degrees F. Butter or oil can be added under the breast skin to add flavor and moisture during roasting.
Sandra Kay Miller raises pastured heritage turkeys on her farm in Pennsylvania. She owned a catering business, a deli and was a chef for a historic hot springs restaurant in southern California. Sandra has contributed to several cookbooks and frequently wrote for the Los Angeles Times Food Section. Her goal is to now raise the quality of food she has had the fortunate opportunity to be exposed to over the last 25 years. Sandra is listed at LocalHarvest.org under Painted Hand Farm in Newburg, PA.
Recipe for Roasted Heritage Turkey
By Sandra Kay Miller
Besides the fact that most old fashion Heritage turkeys are also raised the old fashioned way -- with plenty of grass and sunshine -- they need to be cooked quite differently than their modern, factory-farmed counterparts. This tried and true recipe (which serves 10-12 people) will make the best of your Heritage bird this year.
- 15-pound fresh heritage turkey at room temperature
- Kosher or sea salt & fresh ground pepper
- 4 cups giblet broth (see recipe below)
- Rosemary Maple Butter (see recipe below)
- Oiled parchment paper
Rub turkey inside and out with salt and pepper.
Loosen the skin around the breast with your fingers and insert Rosemary Maple Butter between the meat and the skin as well as on the inside of the bird's cavity.
Set bird in deep roasting pan. Use a wire rack to lift the bird off the bottom of the pan.
Add the giblet broth to the bottom of the pan. Using a sheet of oiled parchment paper, tent the roasting pan with the oiled parchment paper. Any type of cooking oil can be used. Brush it on both sides with a pastry brush. The parchment paper is easily affixed to the roasting pan with a strip of foil on each end or you can use clean, oiled wooden clothespins. Remove parchment paper and the last 30 minutes of cooking to develop a crispy, golden skin.
Pre-heat oven to 425F-450F. Roast the bird until the thigh temperature reaches 140F-150F. Let the bird rest 10-15 minutes before carving to let the juices settle.
A word about basting.
Quick roasting at high temperatures means the oven temperature needs to be maintained and frequent basting defeats that purpose. By adding butter under the skin, the bird is self-basted. Baste the bird when you remove the parchment tent. If there is not enough liquid for basting, add either more water or wine.
- 2 cups white wine (a deep, oaky chardonnay lends a wonder taste)
- 2 cups water
- Giblets & neck
- Bay leaf
Simmer everything in a small saucepan for 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf and neck. Giblets can be discarded if they aren't your type of thing or they can be finely chopped and added to the broth.
Rosemary Maple Butter
- 1/2 pound butter
- 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon fresh minced rosemary
Bring butter to room temperature and whip all ingredients together.