Monday, December 19, 2011

*Bonus Guest Post: How to Cook Your Holiday Bird

From the country...

Mark Trealout is a co farmer on our family farm, Grassroot Organics, founder of Kawartha Ecological Growers, and a food activist.
(... also my main squeeze).

photo credit:

There certainly are a lot of opinions on how to cook that holiday bird.  Brining vs. not brining, larding vs. rubbing w/ fat, trussing vs not trussing, to stuff or not to stuff. Rest assured though, you can get good results with any of these techniques, if applied correctly.
A little difficult to do at home especially with large birds but if this is attempted, it is much better to err on the side of not enough brine time than too much brine time.  In the end, in my opinion, you want the bird to, almost, taste like it was not brined so that the natural flavours of the turkey will come through and not be disguised by herb/salt/citrus.  Just an ever so slight hint herb/salt/citrus is the ideal. - and, in particular, the salt aspect of the brine is more important to how it changes the cell structures than achieving a marinated-tasting bird (whereas the salt actually makes individual cells more elastic, enabling a juicer bird in the end, and being more forgiving if overcooked). A very important tip is to rinse, pat dry, and let the turkey rest, uncovered in the fridge, for 24 hours after brining.

Heritage birds have more fat than standard birds but when roasting a whole turkey, it is inevitable that the white meat will cook quicker than the dark meat.  A couple of tricks here:
Soak a cloth in some sort of fat (butter will do nicely, or melted duck/chicken/pork fat) and drape over the breast.  Leave the cloth there for the first 1/3 of cooking, then remove to allow breast skin to crisp up. 
Another good trick is to have some softened butter and rub the breast well with this, under the skin.

I like to leave legs untrussed, which allows them to cook a bit quicker.  I like to tie the wings in tight to slow down the cooking of the breasts a wee bit.

I wouldn’t recommend stuffing your bird you’re planning to brine, instead make it on your stove top.  Stuffing in a brined bird can be too salty otherwise.  A real turkey pure-ist would say that you can't get your stuffing up to a proper temp without compromising the breast meat (ie overcooking your bird). 
However, in my opinion, there's nothing more classic than pulling out that perfectly roasted turkey, complete with stuffing in both cavities.  Having that cloth draped over the breasts will help you achieve these good results.
What I’m planning to do this year to my heritage holiday bird:

photo credit:
  • ·   
  • Take turkey out of bag asap and let rest, uncovered, in fridge for as long as possible (up to a week is just fine, and a day or two will help too)
  • ·      The night before I roast it, I'll rub all over w/ salt and pepper (inside cavity too);  this is a bit of a cheat, giving you somewhat similar results as brining does (a lil' bit anyways)
  • ·      Heat oven to 450
  • ·      Gently lift skin from breast, and rub breast directly w/ softened butter (can be seasoned w/ herb too)
  • ·      Stuff both cavities (and it's better to under-season the stuffing, considering the cavity is rubbed down with salt and pepper already - can always be adjusted afterwards)
  • ·      Tie wings in tight to breast
  • ·      Drape a butter-soaked cheesecloth over the breast
  • ·      Put into your hot oven (450) for 5-10 minutes
  • ·      Reduce oven to 300, and continue roasting for about 20-25 minutes to the pound; remove cloth after 1/3 of cooking time.
  • ·      I don't usually bother with basting; I just don’t see the need!
  • ·      Remove bird when cooked to your liking (I go to 160 F, tested in the thigh); 
  • ·      Let rest 30 minutes before carving, in a warm spot, covered w/ foil tent (or something similar)
  • ·      Remove stuffing, put into a pot/casserole, and bring to temp, gently, on stove top or in oven
  • ·      Make gravy while stuffing is heating, and bird is resting
Click here for a low tech brining recipe. We hope that this little bit of cooking advice helps when preparing your holiday bird.

A BIG thank- you to everyone that supported us this season in our on going Heritage turkey endeavour!

Happy Holidays from our farm,
Mark, Laura, Nate, Lucas, and Millie Mae


  1. What a great post.

    Lucky for me, I don't have to worry about how to cook my bird, cause you guys will be doing it for me!!

    But seriously, good one.

    I bet the heritage birds are gonna taste amazing!


  2. saved in my recipe/cooking files. thanks mark! now can you give us a cooking lesson for everything else you make that's amazing?


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