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!
(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.