Monday, November 19, 2012

Perfecting The Roasted Pasture Raised Turkey...

Since we raise heritage, pastured turkeys, we are asked quite frequently the best way to cook a turkey.  If you'd asked me as much as 5 years ago, I'd have told you to deep fry it with peanut oil.  I discovered that while working for a large restaurant chain's R&D department back in 1995.  It became a family tradition for many years after that.  For a broad breasted white, conventionally raised bird, it is the best way to go.

Since 2009, we've discovered that with heritage, pasture raised turkeys (chickens too), the fat is so flavorful and good for you that it would be wasted if cooked with a deep fryer.  Our birds dine on grass, bugs, and certified organic feed, so enjoying ever ounce of this turkey is the goal - even the fat!   It would melt in with the peanut oil, never to tickle our taste buds with its goodness and flavor again.  That would make foodies all over grumble with despair.

The other difference between pastured turkeys vs. conventionally raised turkeys is size. You'll easily find a 20-25lb broad breasted white, conventionally raised turkey at the grocery store but not nearly that size for pastured turkeys.  The biggest heritage, pasture raised turkey we've grow was a little over 17lbs, quite an anomaly.  The norm is usually 8-12lbs and many factors go into it.  

Some years we have more males that females and our breeders lay early in the spring. This makes for a nice sized bird, with averages over 12lbs.  Other years we have more females (smaller) than males and our breeders lay later in the spring. This creates a much smaller bird.  Many of the birds under this scenario weigh a little less that 8lbs and creates a mountain of frustration for us farmers.   Regardless of size, pasture raised birds are much more flavorful and much better for you.  

Ok, I hope you're ready for a turkey cooking paradigm shift.    This is a "not so traditional" way to make a turkey explode with flavor, however, the centerpiece beauty will look a little different on the table. (I give thanks to my beautiful wife, Nicole, for perfecting this into an art.  She is truly an amazing chef!)

For the pictures, we will use a French poulet rouge (naked neck pasture raised) chicken, since we didn't have a turkey at the time of this blog.

A whole chicken, ready to be transformed into yum!

We cut right through the center of the breast bone.  We then spread the bird, bone side down, on a sheet pan with parchment paper.  Press on the back bone until it is flattened out.  Make sure the breast is not curled under. (If you're going to brine, check below for brining instructions.  That would be the next step.)

This is what it should look like.  We then season it liberally.  Your preference on seasonings.  (For this bird, we used 3 tablespoons of Redmond sea salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons red cayenne pepper powder, 2 tablespoons paprika pepper, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2  teaspoon of thyme, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and 1 teaspoon onion powder mixed together.)  Pre-set oven to 425 °.  Once the oven is ready, you will put the turkey into the middle rack of the oven at 425 ° for 30 minutes.  At the end of 30 minutes, lower the temperature to 325 ° and cook for another hour for a 8-11 lb bird, 1 1/2 hours for a 12-14 lb bird and 2 hrs for a 14-16 . Use your cooking thermometer and check the temperature around the leg joints to see if it reached the 165 °mark near the end of the cooking cycle. If not, cook in 10-15 min increments until done. 

Another way we do it in addition to the temperature check is to make a small slit at the leg joint.  It the juice runs clear it's ready.  If blood is still in the joint, it needs another 10 minutes or so.

**Ovens can vary in cooking time, so these times are just guidelines.  Make sure the temperature is 165 ° internally before eating.  (For a 4 lb chicken, check at around 20 minutes. It may be ready.)

Here is the bird after cooking.  As you can see, the left knee joint was opened up to verify no blood.  The left leg also had skin pulling away from the end of the leg which is another good indicator that is ready or almost or very close. 

Notice the nice, clear yellow fat that was rendered at the bottom of the pan and that all of the skin is now nice and crispy!  No soggy skin on the bottom.  That fat will make a wonderful gravy for dressing and mashed potatoes.

Let the turkey rest for about 10-15 minutes before slicing. This will allow the juice to absorb back into the meat instead of running out on the cutting board if sliced too early.

Brine Recipe:
(Note: With a good pastured turkey, brining may not be necessary.  Turkeys raised on pasture are smaller (usually 7-12lbs) and usually have complex flavors from the forage they have access to. These flavors may be hidden by the strong flavors of a brine.)    


8 qts water
2 cups sea salt
2 cups organic maple syrup ( could sub out with 2 cups of brown sugar)
3 tablespoons of red pepper flakes
4 lg garlic cloves - minced
3 tablespoons blk peppercorns
6 bay leaves


Place all brine ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil.  Stir until salt dissolves, remove from heat and cool.

Place turkey (if split at the breast) in a hotel pan.  If whole, place in a large stock pot.  Pour the brine (room temperature) over the bird until it is completely covered, cover the pan, and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours and no more than 8.  

Remove from brine when complete,  dry the turkey off with a towel and refer to cooking instructions above for next steps.  


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  2. Wonderful recipe! I've been cooking turkeys for many years and I have to say I was reluctant to cut my bird open and cook it this way, but it was the best I've ever had. My whole family love it and we had no leftovers! That was the unfortunate part. We will definitely do it again for Thanksgiving this year. Thanks for sharing this with us!!

    Sarah Marshall