Contains: Dairy (butter). Is: Meant for the holidays. (Or, whenever…)
I basically RUINED an (expensive Whole Foods) turkey by brining it some years back, following brining instructions no less. Alas, it was also a heritage turkey. I’ve been wanting a heritage turkey for years since then, so I could cook it properly – i.e., not by brining. And could have a better idea of how flavorful one could be. (The only flavor that turkey had was salt, although it was indeed tender – but tasteless because the salt took over any other taste sensations entirely.) Fortunately it was the weekend prior to Thanksgiving, where I was going to spend that time with others (the hosts at gatherings tend to supply the turkeys and the rest of us bring sides or desserts…)
The idea here is also to have a bird that looks like a proper Thanksgiving bird that Mother would have served – NO spatchcocking, which would eliminate some of that super tasty dark meat. (Maybe someday I will reverse-spatchcock – and get rid of the dry breast keel bone.) However at least as long as I can recall, she didn’t procure a heritage bird (though she must have eaten them growing up – many of her turkeys were given out to at least some staff at the company at which Dad worked, instead. By or before the time Dad retired, that was no longer an option, so it was supermarket-style.) And NO brining.
This little five-pounder came from a local farmer (from whom I also purchased my outdoor quail housing). She’d injured her leg, and would have to be put down in any case. So, I took her (he slaughtered her and I did the plucking and eviscerating here at home as soon as I got back here.)
Even the breast on the turkey depicted in this blog ended up with really good flavor.
Yes, I am posting this recipe AFTER Thanksgiving this year – I had a second two-person celebration the Saturday after. This is a dish that may be appropriate for Christmas as well – indeed it is traditional in parts of the United Kingdom to serve turkey at that time.
Heritage, pastured turkeys should be cooked differently than the over-balanced breast-meat turkeys that have never exercised in their lives which is all to be found in today’s supermarkets.
Ingredients here will be simple. I will post the dressing and the stuffing as separate blog recipes.
Prep Time: 15-20 minutes, and including the bacon butter here.
Cook Time: Plan on two hours, plus or minus.
Rest Time: 20 minutes.
Serves: 4-6, depending if your turkey is 5 – 9 pounds.
Leftovers: YES! In so many potential formats!
Basic Small Heritage Turkey
- 1 small heritage turkey, 5 to 9 pounds.
- 2-3 slices bacon (amount depends on thickness of your bacon)
- 1/4 cup / 4 tablespoons butter
- Salt and ground pepper
- Optional small onion, peeled and halved/quartered.
- Optional fresh sage, chopped coarsely.
Thaw suitably in advance, so that it is not frozen on the morning you are making this dish. Two days was sufficient for my small turkey.
Remove turkey innards and neck (reserve for other purposes, ie stuffing/dressing and gravy).
You can do the next step in advance (making it a first step?) – make the bacon butter. To make this, cook two or three slices of bacon in a pan to a crispy but not burnt stage, remove the bacon, and add the butter to the bacon in the skillet, allowing it to melt (this will happen even with the heating element/hob turned off). Crumble the bacon into small bits and return to the fat/butter in the skillet. Mix and decant into a small bowl. When this is cool enough, allow to congeal in the fridge.
For a store bought turkey, you may not need as much fat, but you will need more for the typically-lean pastured turkey if you procure one.
When it is time to roast, poke the bacon butter in pockets in the skin you open up with your fingers. Use any extra to rub the rest of the turkey. Add some into the cavity. You can also lightly salt your turkey.
Pre-heat the oven to 450 F / 230 C. Place the turkey on a rack in your turkey roaster. Ideally, place the onion and some sage in the turkey cavity – I forgot! This “stuffing” should be very loose and a very small amount, intended simply as flavor.
I did not cover this turkey. Allow to roast for 20 minutes, then without opening the oven reduce the temperature to 300 F / 150 C. (If you have a larger heirloom, you can let the initial roasting stage go for up to 30 minutes.)
Yes, use your meat thermometer – start checking temperatures at around 40 minutes after being at 300 F, and if the chicken breast is at 160 or so (70-75 C), you are done. The legs and thighs can go a bit higher but they probably will be higher anyway. You don’t need to bring those limbs out to 180 F!
Sprinkle fresh pepper (white or black) over the turkey, to taste. Pepper will burn if cooked dry at 450 degrees F.
Allow to rest at least 20 minutes, during which time you can prepare the gravy – oh, yes, PLEASE do save the drippings for the gravy!!! (For such a lean bird as this, you may want to reserve drippings from previous turkeys or chickens you have roasted.)
What I Would Do Next Time: Add fresh sage to the bacon butter! But overall, as this is the first time I’ve cooked a heritage / heirloom turkey (other than the misbegotten brined incident) I am very pleased with how this turned out. Even the white meat was flavorful!