Monday, November 23, 2009

How to Cook Heritage Turkeys

Turkey Brining 101:

Why Brine?
Brining your turkey before cooking is the best way to ensure that the meat is juicy and flavorful. The salt in the brine solution breaks down some of the muscle protein in the meat (making it more tender) and also allows the meat to absorb whatever flavoring you add to the solution.

Basic Brine
2 cups salt
2 cups sugar
2 gallons of water (orange juice or apple cider can be substituted for some water)

Optional ingredients for flavor:
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup of your favorite dried herbs and spices (sage, oregano, thyme, basil, cloves, cinnamon, etc.)
1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
lemon or orange slices
crushed garlic cloves

First: In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, combine 1 gallon of water, salt, sugar and optional flavor ingredients. Stir until sugar and salt have dissolved, but do not boil. Remove pot from heat and let cool for 15 minutes.

Next: Spread a layer of ice into the bottom of a cooler that is a little larger than the turkey. Set the brining bag inside cooler of ice and place turkey, breast side down, inside bag. Pour cooled brine over turkey, plus an additional 1 gallon of water or juice. To further cool brine, add 2 scoops of ice into brine bag. Seal bag, making sure to let out as much air as possible. Add additional ice to cooler so that your turkey stays at 40 degrees Fahrenheit while brining. Brine for one hour per pound of turkey. Do not over brine, or turkey will be salty.

Last: Remove turkey from brine, scooping some of the herbs and spices from brine solution and spreading onto the skin of the turkey for extra flavor. Brush turkey with vegetable oil or melted butter and cook as desired until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Discard brine and clean area exposed to raw poultry.

Cooking your heritage turkey:

Besides the fact that these heritage turkeys have been raised the old fashioned way--with plenty of grass and sunshine--they need to be cooked differently than their modern, factory-farmed counterparts. Heritage turkeys are much leaner and smaller than sedentary commercial birds. Fast cooking at high temperatures is a better method than slow roasting. Heritage turkeys should be roasted at 425-450 degrees F until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature in the thigh! Butter (plus flavorings like rosemary, sage, maple, etc) can be added under the breast skin to add flavor and moisture during roasting. Loosen the skin around the breast with your fingers and insert butter between the meat and the skin as well as on the inside of the bird's cavity.

Remember your giblets inside!

Giblet Broth:

- 2 cups white wine
- 2 cups water
- Giblets (look inside body cavity of turkey)
- Bay leaf

Simmer everything in a small saucepan for 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Giblets can be discarded if they aren't your type of thing or they can be finely chopped and added to the broth. Giblets can also be used to make gravy.

Finally, take a picture of your bird on the table - and maybe even with the family! - and send it to us and we'll put it on the blog. If you include cooking/eating notes, we'll post those as well!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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