Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I'm on a Diet: How to Cook A Heritage Turkey

Y'all know I'm not a fan of turkey.  It takes a lot of work to make one tasty. Otherwise, it's usually dry or bland or both.

But last year, we had pretty good success with a heritage turkey purchased at a local farm.  So I'm gonna share with you how we prepared the bird.  And no, it didn't look like this:

Our free turkey from Ryan's job.  We made it only for this photo last year.  And then we grudgingly ate it.

For the most part, it's not a good idea to cook a turkey whole.  The breast takes less time than the dark meat to cook.  And since a heritage turkey has smaller boobies, there's an even higher risk of ashy turkey that even the best gravy can't fix.

So whaddya do?  Cut the bird into pieces. Seriously. Hack its arms off and remove the jaw so it won't eat your flesh. Wait, that's what you do with zombies.  With a turkey, you separate the dark meat from the carcass and cook it a different way to preserve the integrity of the meat.  

You'll first cut the legs and thighs off the bird.  Then you'll rub the carcass and pieces with salt and herbs (in our case, rosemary), dump it into a bag, and leave it in the fridge for a day or two.  Impress your friends and tell them you're dry-brining your bird.  A water-based brine is so 2010.

Then take it out an hour before roasting.  Place the carcass into a roasting pan.  Lay pancetta slices over the breasts, then roast for 2 to 2 1/2 hours at 350 degrees.  You can try tenting it with foil the last 45 minutes to protect the pancetta, but honestly, I couldn't get that work because of our hobbit sized oven, and everything turned out great.

The legs, however, get a different treatment.  Pick a big pan for this--we used a large Le Creuset round casserole-ish type pan--because you're gonna need some space.  Heat up some oil and then sear both sides of the legs/thighs til each one is brown.  8 minutes on one side, 4 on the other.  Don't move them except to flip once. 

Take out the turkey from the pan. Add in 2 chopped carrots and a diced onion to the hot pan.  Add celery if you like. We don't like, so we went celery-free.  Put in a bay leaf.  Cook those veggies until soft.

Put the turkey back into the pan.  Pour in turkey or chicken stock until it comes halfway up the sides of the legs.  Reduce heat to simmer, covered, for about an hour until done.

At this point, you remove the turkey from the pan and let rest while you make the gravy with the pan drippings.  

Gravy you might not want to try
This gravy was pretty good, but I'm not sure it was totally worth the extra labor of watching the dry flour.  But here's what I did.

Toast 1/2 c flour (dry, with no fat) in a large stockpot over medium heat until it's golden brown.  Whisk it the entire time. Don't even think about stopping. Also, if the recipe says it'll take 10 minutes, it could take 20. Or more.  You might get a back ache.    Have a glass of wine in the other hand while you get cramps whisking.

After it's toasted, pour in 2 cups of chicken broth and whisk. It'll form a smooth paste.  Then you pour in 3.5 to 4 cups of the stock you just made with the braised turkey legs.  Or use other stock.  Boil it and then simmer 10 minutes.  

At this point, curse the recipe because it's not thick like gravy. Add more flour until it's lumpy but thick and serve it because you're too darn tired to do anything else.  It's time to eat.

Peabody Duck Apron is non-optional.
Delegate carving the turkey.

Enough food for about dozen families.

Enjoy the feast of turkey, asparagus, dressing, mac'n'cheese, sweet potato casserole, corn and mint, and a very strong, very tart cocktail that sounded better than it tasted (but did the job).  

Finish with a pumpkin cheesecake topped with candied pecans.

I don't think the leg braising is optional in the case of a heritage turkey.  It's worth the extra effort, and we got good reviews from turkey lovers (and non-lovers).  Thanks to Sunset Magazine for the recipe.

*Note: These photos are from last year and that's why I don't have a lot of them.  Yes, I waited a year to tell you all about this and managed to remember.  Why? Because I love you.

**Note 2: We are not eating turkey this year for Thanksgiving. It's just me, Ryan and the kids celebrating, so we'll enjoy Thanksgiving Shrimp. It shall be delicious. I shall share the recipe soon.


  1. it was definitely the most edible turkey i'd had in a LOOOONG time. (not a turkey fan)

  2. All that delicious food and do you know what struck me?? I LOVE her table! LOL

    That turkey really looks so yummy!

  3. Turkey is a good source of phosphorus, a factor in the normal development of bones and teeth. Aside from the aforementioned, it is also a good source for zinc, potassium and iron.


    1. Very interesting Jacob. I still don't like Turkey.


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