Day 324–Talking Heritage Breed Turkey

Turkeys, man. There is a lot of pressure on the turkey at Thanksgiving. Even if you make a million roasted chickens (which does help), you can’t help but be a bit on edge when you are responsible for everyone’s Thanksgiving turkey. Now, I have an awesome family, and they are always great about whatever turkeys I’ve cooked, even when they haven’t been all that great. But still, I like to make something that is worth the 5 hour drive to my house. So this year made me especially nervous. I was cooking a new (old) kind of bird.

This year, we ordered a Bourbon Red heritage breed turkey from Homestead Harvest Farm in Wake Forest. Jan raises a limited number of birds with lots of sunshine, grass and love. I’ve heard a lot about heritage breed turkeys and how different they are from the standard grocery store variety, but I’ve never had one, so when I had the opportunity to place an order this summer (yes, this summer!) at the Downtown Raleigh Farmer’s Market, I jumped at the chance.

Our bird, Mr. Gibbles as he was named by Ellie, was “processed” Monday, picked up Tuesday and served on Thursday. I’ve never in my life had a turkey so fresh. At 17 pounds, he was quite a good sized bird! Our first observation was that he looked pretty different from the grocery variety. He seemed longer than a grocery turkey and he was not in that strangely uniform, compact shape. Ellie remarked that he really looked like a “real” bird. We got him all ready for his last journey in the oven and served him up to a delighted family. So how was it? Pretty darn fabulous. Very juicy, lots of rich, turkey flavor and great texture to the meat. I don’t think we’ll ever go back again.

Cooking Mr. Gibbles was very different from cooking a frozen bird. First, it does not take nearly as long to cook a fresh, heritage breed turkey. Our 17 pound turkey took 2 hours and15 minutes. For reals. And I used a thermometer backup to make sure. Second, heritage breed turkeys have a wonderful layer of thick fat under the skin, so basting is completely unnecessary. He basted himself, which was terrific, although when serving, the fat freaked my dad out a bit.

We used the recipe below, which was suggested by Homestead Harvest Farm and it worked beautifully. Being a skeptic, I allowed more time than I really needed, which made for some quick hurrying around when the turkey was done so soon, but it all worked out in the end.

Roasted Heritage Breed Turkey

1 fresh heritage turkey at room temperature
Kosher salt and ground pepper
1/2 cup butter, softened
Fresh sage and rosemary, chopped
4 cups chicken broth or white wine

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Mix the butter and chopped herbs until well combined.
Rub the butter mixture over the turkey skin and under the skin if you can.
Sprinkle the bird with salt and pepper
Put the turkey in a large roasting pan. Add broth or wine to the bottom of the pan.
Butter a piece of parchment to fit over the turkey. Use the parchment to make a tent over the turkey.
Insert a meat thermometer into the breast.
Put the bird in the oven and roast until the breast meat is 145 degrees. Do NOT open the oven door during this time.
Remove the parchment tent over the turkey and continue cooking until the internal temperature is 155-160.
Remove turkey from the oven (the meat temperature will continue to rise after removing it from the oven).
Let the turkey rest for about 20 minutes before carving.
Carve and serve the turkey with trimmings.

Voila!

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