A perfect turkey from Our perfect Farm (with recipe!)
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
After we packaged and delivered our Feast Baskets and poultry for November feasts, it was time for our own feast preparations to begin. Like many of the people Brett delivered baskets to, I was cooking an O/p Farm, pasture-raised, heritage turkey.
Cooking a pasture-raised, heritage turkey for the first time can be intimidating. They look different — more like a long American football, not like the round European football most grocery store turkeys resemble. The musculature of our birds is spread more evenly across their bodies because they flew, frolicked, and generally flapped about throughout their lives. This means the flavor all of their meat – both white and dark - is richer and more developed than you would find on a broad breasted bird or even heritage birds raised indoors.
Over the years of cooking pastured heritage birds, I’ve learned a few things about cooking them, and mostly, what I’ve learned is that you have to get creative. That felt front and center this year!
First of all, our turkey was too big to fit fully inside the roasting pan. We nested a bread loaf pan in there to raise the bird up, and a cookie sheet underneath it all to keep the drippings from the ends of the bird from winding up in the bottom of the oven. Of course this meant the lid wouldn’t fit, either. I ended up with a patchwork cover of re-used aluminum foil, and some bleak expectations about how frustrating it would be to baste it.
As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry! This year, our turkey was done two hours earlier than I estimated, before my first round of basting was even due to begin. I’m grateful that I’ve learned to keep my cool about a resting turkey. Even with a luxurious rest of three hours, our turkey was still warm and steaming when we cut it for the table.
That meant ample time for me to learn some things about our new dog Sasha. While Poco has never even sniffed at a bird on the counter, as it turns out, Sasha needs to be watched carefully – around turkeys and the pieces of the puzzle we were solving while dinner cooked. He spent a good bit of meal prep time outside.
To support your next adventure cooking a heritage turkey, I thought I’d offer up some tips for the perfect roast turkey – whether you’re eating for a feast, or making any weekend of the year special.
Here’s how we cook O/p Farm turkeys here at O/p Farm
Unwrap, rinse, and pat dry. If the bird has organs in it, take them out now.
Let the bird sit at room temperature for about an hour and a half, regardless of the size of the bird, with a lid or foil tent. Covering it keeps it clean. Leaving it to get to room temperature allows the skin to crisp up when it goes in the oven at a high temperature.
Preheat the oven to 450°.
Many recipes you’ll find will recommend spreading a layer of butter underneath the skin. Unlike turkeys you buy in most grocery stores, our birds live outside and we feed them to accommodate their cold weather needs, so they put on a layer of fat for winter. I have not found butter necessary for our pasture-raised heritage birds, given the layer of winter fat.
On the outside and inside of the bird, sprinkle generous coarse salt and cracked pepper. Inside the cavity of the bird, put 1-2 quartered onions, 6 cloves of garlic, and the equivalent of about a sprig each of various aromatics, such as sage, rosemary, thyme, or bay. Dry or fresh herbs are great — whatever you have. We measure most of our ingredients with our hearts, so these amounts vary and will likely vary in your bird as your heart directs.
Keep the legs tied together throughout this process. If you can’t, tie them back together with kitchen twine before the bird goes in the oven. If you don’t have kitchen twine, any natural fiber twine that won’t leave strands all over the place should work fine. I’ve made do with a twist tie that I’ve removed the paper from, so feel free to get creative. I don’t recommend a rubber band.
Put the turkey in a roasting pan with a rack. If you don’t have a roasting pan, any oven safe baking dish with high enough sides to keep the juices from going all over the place will do. If you don’t have a rack, you could use an oven safe cooling rack to keep the bird out of its own juices.
Cook uncovered for 20 minutes at 450°, regardless of the size of the bird. Doing this uses the thicker, stronger skin of a pastured heritage bird. By crisping it at a higher temperature, we’re keeping the juices in for the rest of the cooking process.
20 minutes has passed, turn the temperature down to 375°, baste the bird with its own juices, and put a lid on it. A foil tent will work if you don’t have a roasting pan with a lid.
The remaining cooking time is about 10-15 minutes per pound. The variability of the conformation and specifics of each individual heritage bird make set-in-stone cooking times a little bit difficult.
At the halfway point, start basting the bird every 20 minutes and start checking the internal temperature in the thickest part of the breast every time you baste. (Be careful not to touch the bone with the thermometer!)
Once you reach an internal temperature of 155-160° in the breast, remove the bird from the oven. The internal temperature goes up 5-10 degrees during the rest period, enough to reach the recommended temperature of 165°.
Allow the bird to rest tented or in the cover for at least 45 minutes to 1 hour. Resist the urge to touch or poke it! If the turkey comes out of the oven much earlier than you expected – don’t despair. It is better to have the turkey resting for hours and do a quick warm up after carving than rush this stage, no matter how hungry everyone says they are or how insistent they get.
Enjoy your feast!