The Virtues of Heritage Turkey


I've long wondered what a heritage turkey would be like taste and texture-wise. I once tasted a wild turkey and it made my jaw ache it was so dry and tough, but I had heard that this was not true of the heritage variety. This Christmas I finally decided to take the leap or should I say flight? We had missed Thanksgiving this year and a year without turkey seemed like a sad state of affairs. When I called Heritage Foods I learned that only frozen turkeys were available after the Thanksgiving Season, but the price was considerably lower, so I ordered the 8 pound turkey to make for the two of us over the week between Christmas and New Years. The frozen turkey took about 48 hours to thaw in the refrigerator. As soon as it thawed enough to extract the neck and giblets I cooked them to make broth for the stuffing. (I also cut up the neck and added it to the stuffing.) I had heard that the breast on a Heritage bird was smaller in proportion to the rest of the meat than that of a conventional domestic turkey but though it was more raised and less rounded it turned out to be the same weight as the last turkey I had cooked. As the bird had been koshered, which means salted, I decided to roast it whole. My usual method involves removing the breast with the bone but leaving the skin intact, sewing up the skin and stuffing the bird, and then braising the rolled and herbed breast separately which predictably results in moist and tender meat. But to hedge my bets I placed the turkey on a rack breast side down to self-baste. I also followed the recommended instructions to bring it to a temperature of only 165˚F (the instructions that come with the turkey state that this is the USDA recommended temperature "However, the Chefs we work with around the country recommend a finished tepeature of 10 degrees less.".)


We enjoyed the turkey for 5 dinners. We never tired of our turkey dinners as each part of the bird had a different flavor. It was far more delicious and less fat than any turkey I've ever tasted. It was also more chewy but not unpleasantly so. I made 12 cups of stuffing and served both cranberry sauce and cranberry chutney from American Spoon Food. Here's my Christmas dinner plate of all my favorite turkey parts.