The Heritage Difference
What exactly is a heritage turkey? It's a naturally mating bird with a slow growth rate that spends most of its long life outdoors. By contrast, industrial turkeys live in cages, are bred to grow quickly, and can reproduce only through artificial insemination. In terms of flavor, a heritage bird is worlds away from the dry, tasteless turkeys most of us have grown up eating on Thanksgiving. In the picture below, the bulbous beast in front is a traditional broad breasted turkey and the handsome bird is a heritage.
Blind Taste Tests Prove the Superiority of Heritage
On November 11, 2011, Elizabeth Gunnison published the results of a blind taste test in Bon Apetit of identically-prepared Heritage and Traditional Broad Breasted Turkeys. The Heritage turkey won, 4 out of 5 tasters preferring the Heritage. "The eating experience is far from the only factor at play here," says Gunnison. "Thanksgiving is a symbolic holiday, a time when it makes more sense than ever to be mindful of the environmental and moral issues that come along with eating. Heritage turkeys provide an opportunity to support endangered breeds and to eat a bird that lived the lifestyle of its turkey dreams."
Unlike other turkeys, Heritage birds live long enough to develop a layer of fat beneath the skin, which imparts a rich flavor to the meat. They also have larger thighs and legs because they still run and fly which produces especially dark, juicy meat.
Note: the bird in the top of the photo is a Heritage turkey
Heritage Turkey Cooking Tips & Recipe
- Always bring the bird to room temperature before cooking.
- Roast heritage turkeys in a hot oven pre-heated to 425F-450F and cook until an internal thigh temperature of 140F-150F is reached. Don't let the tip of the thermometer touch the bone.
- Please note: The USDA recommends turkeys be cooked to 160F-180F, but these temperature will dry out a heritage turkey. Heritage birds are much more free of disease and bacteria, unlike commercially raised birds, and do not need extreme temperatures to make them safe for consumption.
- Cook any stuffing first and put inside the heritage turkey before roasting. Due to the reduced cooking time, stuffing won't become fully cooked. Alternatively, try adding a quartered orange, apple and/or pear inside the cavity instead of stuffing.
- Let the roasted bird rest 10-15 minutes before carving.
Recipe: Roast Heritage Turkey and Gravy*
- 1 16- to 20-pound heritage-breedturkey
- 1 quart apple cider
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 2 lemons, quartered
- 5 bay leaves
- 1 medium apple, quartered but not peeled
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
- 6 garlic cloves
- 1 bunch thyme
- 8 tablespoons/1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 6 sprigs rosemary
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon pepper
- 1 cup red wine
- 3 cups turkey or chicken stock, plus more if needed
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 hard-boiled egg, chopped (optional)
- A day ahead of roasting, remove neck and giblets from turkey. Mix cider, salt, lemons, bay leaves and 3 quarts water together in a large bowl or stockpot; stir to dissolve salt. Submerge turkey in the bowl or pot, cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours. Alternatively, put turkey and brine in two clean, unscented plastic garbage bags (one bag inside the other), tie well and place in a cooler with ice or ice packs.
- When you are ready to roast, heat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse turkey and pat dry. Stuff apple, onion, garlic and most of the thyme into turkey. Lift skin at neck and gently use your hand to separate skin from breast meat. Rub half the butter under skin and slip in remaining thyme and two rosemary sprigs. Use remaining butter to rub outside of bird, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.
- Set a rack into a roasting pan and place four rosemary sprigs on top of the rack. Place bird on top of rosemary. Add turkey neck and giblets to bottom of pan. Take two pieces of heavy foil cut to the length of the pan. Fold the two together to create a single sheet to tent the bird.
- Transfer to oven and roast. Roasting time will be 3 to 3 1/2 hours for an 18-pound bird. Add 10 minutes per pound for larger birds. Subtract 10 minutes per pound for smaller birds. Midway through cooking time, remove giblets and neck and add wine and 1 cup water. Twenty minutes before roasting time is complete, begin to test for doneness with a digital probe thermometer inserted at the deepest part of the thigh. It is done when thigh registers 160 degrees. Remove bird from oven and transfer to a serving platter.
- Place roasting pan over low heat on the stovetop and add 2 1/2 cups stock. Scrape all the browned turkey bits from bottom of pan. Skim 2/3 of the fat from top of drippings and discard. Bring drippings to a boil; reduce to a simmer. You may wish to strain at this point to remove stray bits, but they add character to the finished gravy.
- Finely chop giblets and neck meat. Dissolve cornstarch in 1/2 cup stock. Add slurry to drippings, stirring constantly, until thickened. If gravy seems too thick, whisk in a bit more stock. Add chopped egg and giblets and neck meat. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
*Recipe from Kim Severson in The New York Times
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