I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve blogged! We’ve had an unusually fine fall and I’ve been madly trying to get the garden beds all tidy and neat for spring. Unfortunately, most of the fine days were days I was working. Still, I managed to get most of it done … good thing, as winter arrived quickly when it hit.
Thanksgiving was the usual family gathering, with one exception: We were eating our first home-grown, free-range Heritage turkey. We raised “Tough Guy,” as my husband named him, from a day-old poult. He was a real show-off, always trying to out-strut our other two Toms, one a Bourbon Red.
A beautiful Heritage Blue Slate Tom, but since he wasn’t the only one I had, was expendable. We debated for a month or two which of them would become Thanksgiving dinner. After Tough Guy, started showing aggression towards our 3-year-old granddaughter, the selection process was easy.
But I was worried that Tough Guy would be just that — tough! He was nearly a year and a half old, and had been a very active breeder. I feared we would be eating something the consistency of shoe leather. Still, the sure way to get butchered here is to get aggressive with the little one. So, when I had my broiler birds butchered, we had him butcher Tough Guy as well and put him in the deep freeze to await Thanksgiving. When he weighed in at 20 pounds, I knew I had a challenge on my hands!
I decided one way to tenderize Tough Guy would be to brine him. But last year, when I attempted to brine an “all natural” turkey from the store, it was way too salty. I decided on a very light brine, with 1 cup of salt, 1 cup of natural sugar, and a goodly bit of thyme, with a couple gallons of water. The only thing I had big enough to soak him in was a cooler, so I scrubbed and bleached one out and plopped him in overnight.
It became crystal clear looking at him in the cooler that nothing but the turkey would fit in the oven the next day! I was up until midnight, baking the stuffing and squash, then setting them overnight in sealed dishes in the garage to keep them cold, as it was only 34 degrees. The next day, the squash would go into the microwave to reheat and the stuffing would go into the Advantium oven. (It uses high-intensity light to cook, so browns wonderfully.)
Looking on the Internet for tips, I found no one agreed on how to properly cook these birds. Some wanted hot and brief, others suggested cooler temps for longer times. Tented? Untented? Good grief! The only thing everyone agreed on was not to put the stuffing in, as it wouldn’t cook as fast as the bird.
I finally settled on separating the skin from the bird and smearing the bird with butter, putting it upside down in the rack. I gave it an initial blast for 1/2 hour in a hot oven, then cooled the temperature for another hour. It was almost done at that point, so it got rotated breast up and had another blast of hot temperature to brown up the skin on the breast. At that point, my meat thermometer said the bird was done! But since we were over an hour away from eating, I tented the bird with foil, and put him back in the oven on warm only, and crossed my fingers he wouldn’t dry out.
He was beautiful and brown when he came from the oven, but I still worried if he would be edible. He was not only edible, he was delicious! The only disappointment was that the very deep brown skin was tough, a shame, as I dearly love nicely brown skin. The meat, however, was truly lovely. There was much less breast meat than from one of the hybrid birds, but it was juicy and tender and full of flavor.
The dark meat was very dark, and I was concerned no one would want to eat it. No problem, it was the best tasting dark meat any of us had ever eaten. Even my Hubby, who normally won’t eat dark meat from any poultry, ate large amounts of the after-Thanksgiving turkey dishes we ate for the next few days, before I vacuum-sealed the rest for the freezer. I believe the only thing I might have changed was to put a bit more salt in the brine, as he could have used a bit more salt.
I was delighted with this, our first home-grown heritage turkey. I can’t wait until spring, when we can butcher out some of our fall hatched birds – as I’m sure there are several more Toms than we need. If Tough Guy was this tender and juicy, the younger birds should be a real taste treat!