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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pastured Turkey Tips

Okay so you have decide this is gonna be your first locavore Thanksgiving. You have ordered your locally raised pastured heritage turkey. You will go to the farmers market this weekend to buy the trimmings such as butternut squash celery, parsnips, rutabagas, carrots, rosemary, sage, garlic, onions, taters, apples, leeks, peppers, salad greens, kale, etc.. You will spend much of next week cutting and chopping your local bounty in preparation for your feast.

Congratulations. You are getting closer and closer to having one of the best meals you have ever cooked. it is almost impossible to mess up a meal made from exquisite ingredients but it can be done so a few tips about using whole foods.

Storage- Things like squashes, garlic, onions do not need to go in your fridge (this will give you more room for things that do need cold storage). they do need a cool spot to rest but that can be on the floor of your kitchen or out in the garage. Greens, fruits, herbs do need to go into the fridge.
Give yourself time. Start a few days early. I have been watching Martha Stewart this week and she sez she has been working on Thanksgiving for the past 2 weeks. I think that is going too far but than I am not Ms Stewart and I am not cooking at all this year (which really bums me out. I love doing Thanksgiving). Still, starting this weekend would be a good thing.

The Turkey. If you did not get a fresh turkey, start thawing the frozen bird at least 3 days in advance of cooking. It takes a 20 pound bird over 56 to thaw in a fridge. It would be totally irresponsible of me to suggest taking that clean locally raised and butchered bird and thawing it out in warm water in a cooler the day before you need to cook it. But that is what I would do. I would never ever do this with a factory farmed bird. Do not attempt to cook a frozen or partially frozen bird at 450F. This was been done in my family back in the 1960's. The results, while inedible, were hilarious. One day I will write about the Black and Serve™ rolls and the blackened and raw turkey dinner.

Okay, you got the bird thawed and it is sitting on the kitchen table. Now What? I suggest putting it in a roasting pan. All the grocery stores have aluminum pans to roast a big bird, though I find these to be quite dangerous. They are floppy affairs and can drop hot grease on your legs/feet. OUCH!. But in a pinch they are better than nothing. A proper roasting pan is best. If you do not own one go get one. Now, not next Thursday.

once you have the proper equipment and you have ascertained the bird will fit in your oven (I have been known to buy birdzillas that only fit in my oven with some creative finagling. One year we got a 42 pounder (it was local, organic, pastured and cheap-1/2 off. I could not resist) you are ready to cook the thing. I have found brining the turkey is a great way to go. Simply fill a cooler (that you have sanitized) with 5+ gallons of water (enough to mostly cover the bird). A cup of sugar and a 1/2 cup Kosher or sea salt (if you you table salt cut to 1/4 cup). Place the raw and thawed turkey into the brine and let sit refrigerated for 5 to 8 hours. If it is below 45F outside use the great outdoors as your fridge. Otherwise, add some ice to the brine to keep things cold. I can guarantee you that you will not have fridge space for this unless you have some commercial fridges at your house. Once the bird is brined, remove from the solution, pat dry and let the turkey sit for about 2 hours before roasting. Brining will guarantee a moist tasty bird

If you do not want to brine than one thing you can do is simply rub the bird inside and out with a mix of kosher salt, rubbed sage, chopped rosemary and garlic powder than roast./

I preheat the oven to 450F and place the covered prepared bird in the hot oven. After 30 minutes I turn the oven down to 350F and let it cook. For cooking I time I use the general 15 minutes a pound rule (20 minutes for a stuffed bird). Around 2 hours into cooking I will remove the cover and start basting

Now here is the biggest tip I can give you, o' eater of pastured turkey. Pastured turkeys have been allowed to roam around and that means they are full of nutritious collagen, this is a good thing. But collagen tends to make meats tough if not cooked to a high enough temp. I find pastured poultry needs to be cooked to at least 180 (190 to 200 is even better) in order to cook that collagen down to tenderness. I use a cooking thermometer to check but you can also use a wing or drumstick. If the wing/drum stick falls off or nearly falls off when wiggled your pastured bird is ready to be taken out of the over, placed on the serving platter (remove the stuffing if you stuffed the bird) and allowed to rest for 20 minutes or so before it is carved.

Bon apitite

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