Let’s Talk Turkey
A plant-based diet is a desirable pursuit on many levels. Most blogs on this site attempt to demonstrate how to incorporate more plants with tasty recipe results. My plant-based philosophy is “In a quest for personal and planet health I have found that it is best to eat a wide variety of foods in moderation that are mostly plant-based, in season, local, produced in a sustainable, pesticide-free, humanely-raised and minimally processed way.” Currently, I believe that the quality, quantity, and frequency of an ingredient is as or even more important than type of ingredient. Therefore, an organic, pastured, turkey eaten in a moderate amount once a year is more beneficial to personal and planet health than a large white flour, granulated sugar, margarine laden plant-based muffin eaten daily. In future blogs I will discuss some of the diverse types of diets that follows this and other views. However, since it is the month of Thanksgiving I would like to introduce to you the “reducetarian” diet”, which is what I currently follow. The reducetarian movement is committed to eating less red meat, poultry, seafood, dairy and eggs regardless of degree or motivation to improve personal health, protect the environment and spare farmed animals from cruelty. I suspect that you may also be following a similar way of eating. Several years ago, my husband and I decided to eat red meats, and sugary sweets only on special occasions like holidays, birthdays, or vacations.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. And what is Thanksgiving without turkey? For well over twenty years I have sought out certified organic turkeys. Many of those years I have purchased certified organic, heritage breed, locally grown, and humanely-raised turkeys.
Please consider the following options as you purchase and prepare your holiday turkey this year.
An organic turkey is labeled “certified organic” by an USDA-accredited agency. It will have been fed 100% organic feed, given access to outdoors and will never have received antibiotics or hormones. A free-range turkey by USDA definition means birds have access to outdoors. Unfortunately, it does not specify how crowded the birds are when they go outdoors. A pasture raised turkey is free to roam on a pasture. A GMO free turkey will have a Non GMO Project Verified logo on the wrapping which means that the diet fed those turkeys are free from GMOs, which most western civilization countries (but not the United States) have banned as unsafe for human consumption. However, a certified organic turkey by law cannot be fed a diet with any GMOs. A Premium brand turkey will have been raised by a company who claim that their turkeys are raised with quality feed that is free of animal byproducts and can move about freely, not caged which produces a meat with a rich flavor and dense texture. Bell & Evans, Diestel, Eberly’s, Empire Kosher, Jaindl, Koch’s, Maple Lawn Farms, Murray’s, Willie Bird are premium reputable companies. A heritage breed turkey are breeds that small farmers are saving from extinction like Bourbon Red, Jersey Buff, Narragansett which tend to have darker, more flavorful meat and less breast meat. Ninety-nine percent of supermarket turkeys are the Broad-Breasted White breed. A natural turkey only means no artificial ingredient or color was added and they were minimally processed. A fresh turkey means that the turkey was never chilled below 26°F. A frozen turkey has been chilled below 0°F. Probably best to stay away from self-basting turkeys as they have been injected or marinated in a solution of fat, broth, spices, flavor enhancers (red flag) and “other approved substances”. Best to brine or dry salt rub the turkey after purchasing and thawing.
The price difference of a regular (government subsidized) supermarket turkey versus an organic, premium, non GMO, and/or heritage turkey is great. Consider that you are what you eat, that your health is important, and this is a celebration once-a-year purchase. The choice is yours.
The rule of thumb is to purchase one pound of turkey per person considering all the bones. Even so that will probably leave leftovers if serving size is four to six-ounce servings, which is the best portion size for personal health.
It will take twenty-four hours for each four to five pounds of turkey to thaw in the refrigerator set at 40°F. So, a ten to sixteen-pound frozen turkey will take approximately two to three days to thaw in the refrigerator. Then plan on allowing for another eighteen to forty-eight hours of brining or dry-salting time before actually roasting the turkey.
Before we get around to salting or brining let’s consider the turkey bone broth that will be used to make the gravy, stuffing and of course, left-over soup. Through the many years that I have been roasting turkeys I have found that to produce tender, equally cooked turkey meat, it is best to separate the turkey legs, wings, tail, and neck from the body which will be roasted. Since none of these pieces produce much servable meat, I use them to make turkey broth and use the easy to pick meat in the stuffing and/or left-over soup.
Turkey Bone Broth
Approximately 2 quarts
2 turkey legs
2 turkey wings, cut into three sections
1 turkey neck
1 turkey tail
1 large onion, small diced (about 12 ounces)
2 small carrots, small diced (about 8 ounces)
2 large celery stalks, small diced (about 8 ounces)
1 teaspoons dry thyme
1 large bay leaf
12 black peppercorns
12 parsley stems cut into small pieces
2 ½ quarts cold filtered water
1 cup dry white wine
1. Remove the turkey legs by feeling with your fingers for the leg-thigh joint. Wedge a boning knife in this joint and separate one from the other. Slice through the remaining skin.
2. Remove the wings in a similar manner. Wedge a boning knife between the wing and body joint. Move the knife in a circular motion to remove the wing bone from the joint. Slice between both joints of the removed wings.
3. Cut off the tail bone and find the neck bone in the turkey cavity.
4. Place all the ingredients in a non-reactive stock pot. Bring to a simmer and lower to a bare simmer which barely has a bubble or two breaking at the surface (about 180°F). This lower temperature will produce a clearer broth. Simmer for four hours or until the meat is falling off the bones.
5. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Chill the broth in an ice-water bath. Pick the meat from the bones while still warm. Reserve meat in the broth cold, refrigerated up to three days. May be frozen up to three months. (This will add more flavor to the broth and keep the meat from drying out before using in the stuffing or soup).
Through the years I have tried both brines and dry salt rub methods to tenderize a turkey before roasting. Though I like both, I now mostly use a salt rub due to its ease of preparation.
Herb Salt Rub Roasted Turkey
Adjust ingredient amounts according to the weight of the turkey.
Herb Salt Rub Per pound mixture:
¾ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh herbs*, minced
¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Roasting Butter Rub for a 10 to 12-pound turkey
5 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter
2 ½ tablespoons fresh sage, minced
2 ½ tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
6 juniper berries, crushed, finely chopped
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon truffle zest (I use Sabatino Tartufi from Amazon) optional
1 tablespoon room temperature butter
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion quartered
1 large carrot cut into eight pieces
1. Measure the salt rub ingredients according to the weight of the turkey. Mix the salt, herbs and pepper together.
2. Sprinkle the salt mixture lightly inside the turkey cavity and heavily on the meatier portions of the bird. Place in a non-reactive pan, cover, and refrigerate for at least twenty-four to forty-eight hours.
3. Remove from the refrigerator one hour before roasting. Drain excess juices and totally pat the turkey dry, inside, and out.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°.
5. Mix the unsalted butter, sage, rosemary, juniper berries, black pepper, and truffle zest together.
6. Gently loosen the skin from the breast and thigh meat using your fingers. Distribute the herbed butter between the skin and meat.
7. Butter the bottom of a twelve-inch cast iron pan (or heavy roasting pan) with one tablespoon butter, then cover with the olive oil. Place the onion and carrot pieces in the pan
8. Place the turkey breast side down in the pan. It will lean to one side.
9. Place in the oven. Roast for thirty minutes. Turn the turkey over to the other side with breast side down using two wads of paper towels. Roast another thirty minutes.
10. Using the paper towel wads turn the turkey over with breast side up. It will lean to one side again. Roast for thirty minutes. Turn to the other side with the breast side still up. Continue to roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted between the thigh and breast reaches 165°F. If the skin gets too dark, tent with foil not touching.
11. Remove from the oven. Drain the juices from the cavity into the pan. Remove the bird to a cutting board covered with foil. Let rest at least thirty minutes before slicing. Prepare the following gravy in the roasting pan.
3 cups (12 one-fourth cup servings)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 ¼ cups turkey bone broth
¾ cup white wine
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1. Place the roasting pan with drippings on a medium hot stove top burner. Cook the drippings until the liquid is evaporated and only fat and vegetables are left. The color will turn to a darker brown.
2. Add the flour and whip until smooth. Slowly add a ladle of broth to the pan, whipping smooth until adding another ladle of broth. Continue until all the broth is incorporated.
3. Whip in the white wine until smooth. Taste, Think, Transform with salt and/or black pepper. It may not need any additional salt due to the salt-rub.
4. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Keep warm. Serve hot.
*Fresh herbs for the salt rub may include any of the following: parsley, marjoram, thyme, oregano, sage or tarragon.
In the next few days look on this site for a plant-based stuffing recipe and next Thursday look for a vegetarian and vegan update to the Amaretto Yams recipe found in the book.
Happy Turkey Time!