Vive la Difference! How to Cook a Heritage Turkey
We’re not so different you know, turkeys and us; we’re both made more interesting and – it’s true – a little tougher through a rich life well-lived. The more active we both are, the thinner and healthier we are too; you’ll notice these birds are different looking; they’re not all disproportionate breast meat, they’re actually built to do a little flying as opposed to sitting around a factory. Still, of the heritage breeds, the Bronze is a little more broad-breasted than the rest.
After about 7 – 8 months living a free-range life full of running and jumping, hunting, scratching, and pecking, these Bronze turkeys are full of flavour.
The flip side? There isn’t the same unnaturally high fattiness and the delicious meat can end up tough if it’s not cooked right.
Brining – soak the bird in a sweet and salty brine for 24 hours. You can buy a brine mixture and just add water, wine, beer, cider or stock, or you can make your own from your favourite recipe. In fact, Murray will have his own signature brine mix for sale leading up to the holidays!
Add Fat – heritage birds are naturally lean. Adding fat will introduce a ton of flavour and keep the meat moist. Try rubbing the bird all over with olive oil or butter; lay strips of bacon over the breast, or even stuff the gap between the skin and breast with butter and herbs, ground pork or sausage meat for an amazing change of pace!
Adding Liquid and Braising – low and slow is the way to go. A bird like this needs a bit of time and some moisture. Keep it moist, covered, and cook it more slowly at lower temperatures before raising the temperature to brown and crisp the skin uncovered.
Cook your heritage bird in a covered roaster or simply cover it with tin foil. Start with at least 2 cups (500 mL) of fluid – wine, cider, beer, stock, water, tomato juice, or any combination – and roast at 350F (180C) – calculate about 15 – 20 minutes per pound – then crank the heat up to 425F (220C), uncover and continue to roast for about 30 minutes to brown and crisp up the skin. Your bird is done when a) the juices run clear, b) the legs move loosely with a little wiggle, c) a meat thermometer reads 150F – 165F (65C – 74C) when inserted into the breast.
Flip it! – try roasting the bird “upside-down” which is actually right-side up for the bird. This way, with the dryer breast meat at the bottom, all the juices gravitate back into the meat. Flip it back over for the last bit of roasting to crisp all that amazing skin.
Make a Flavour Raft – this tip goes for any meat you roast; put something between it and the bottom of the pan. Sure, you could use a rack, but, well, boring! Why not make a rack of leeks, celery, carrots, parsnips, onions, fennel bulbs and fronds, apples…and the giblets, of course…or all of the above?! In the end these soft veggies are delicious to eat, can be blended into the gravy or added to mashed potatoes.
Start at Room Temperature – let the bird come up to room temperature before cooking. Prepare it and leave it on the counter under its tent of foil for about 1 hour before roasting.
Give the Bird a Wee Rest – after it comes out of the oven all nice and golden, loosely tent it with foil or parchment and allow it to rest for about 15 – 20 before carving. This allows the juices to stay in the meat rather than spill out all over the carving board.
Fun Fact – the Bronze turkey is a rare breed included on the Slow Food Ark of Taste!
Here are a few tips and tricks to make the most of a full-flavour, heritage bird that’s enjoyed a natural life well-lived.
Pick up some of Murray's Custom Brine Mix. Just add water and one of Murray's beautiful heritage birds or even a lovely bit of pork!
Pig Parts 101
Murray brings some pretty interesting pig parts to the farmers' markets. Juniper Smoked Jowl, Hocks, Back Fat...so far no snouts or ears, but you never know!
Please give Murray a holler if you're looking for a hard-to-find pig part and he'll see what he can do. Vist the Contact Us page to send Murray a note or email him directly at: .
How to Brine Your Bird
Brining is something best started the day before; in fact, you might want to make the brine liquid up a day ahead, allowing it to cool fully.
Then, brine the bird for a 12 to 18 hours before cooking. The bird can go directly from the brining liquid to the roasting pan.
Tip: those inexpensive Styrofoam coolers are perfect for brining a large bird. Chances are it won’t fit into your fridge, so – generally speaking, between October and the rest of the winter – a cooler with some ice floating around, left in an unheated shed, garage, or even car will do for 12 – 18 hours.
Just don’t let it warm up.
Into a pot large enough to hold 16 cups (3.78 L) of liquid, add the contents of this bag.
Add 16 cups (3.78 – 4 L) water, or any mixture of mostly water with some beer, cider, or white wine added, equaling 16 cups.
Heat over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the salt and sugar are dissolved; set aside and allow to cool completely. Do this step at least 4 hours before you intend to start brining.
Add the turkey and brine to a covered container (cooler) and allow to brine for 12 – 18 hours.
When done, remove from brine – discard brine – and prepare the bird as per heritage turkey cooking instructions. Do not rinse all the salty, sugary goodness off the bird!
Murray’s Toulouse Sausage & Bacon Holiday Stuffing with Apples, Cranberries & Sage!
The nutmeg and white wine flavour of our Toulouse sausage is perfect at this time of year, but really, you can use your favourite flavour of Murray’s sausage for this recipe. And while you can cook the stuffing right in the bird, we find side dish-style is more food safe, with a better, crunchier texture!
¼ lb (115 g) Murray’s bacon, finely chopped
1 medium red onion, diced
2 stalks celery, trimmed, finely diced
¼ cup (60 mL) dried cranberries
2 apples, cored, diced small
1 cup (250 mL) chicken or veggie stock
½ cup (125 mL) dry white wine
3 cups (750 mL) day old rustic bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 lb (454 g) Murray’s Toulouse sausage meat (about 6 sausages); squeezed from the casing
1 of Murray’s amazing free-run eggs, lightly beaten
¼ tsp (1 mL) cinnamon
1 Tbsp fresh, finely minced sage
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Butter for greasing the casserole dish
Preheat oven to 350F (180C)
Generously butter an 8 x 11-inch (20 x 28 cm) oven proof casserole dish; set aside.
In a large skillet over medium heat, fry bacon for a moment to release some fat. Stir in the onion, celery, and cranberries; fry for about 3 minutes – stirring often – or until onions start to become translucent.
Add apples, stir and fry for another minute or two; add the salt and pepper; stir.
Add the stock and wine; stir and simmer until liquid has been absorbed; transfer to a bowl.
To the bowl, add the bread, sausage, egg, herbs and spices and blend well. A pair of clean, bling-free hands are the best tool for this. Once completely combined, transfer mixture to the buttered casserole dish.
Bake, uncovered for about 30 minutes, then broil for a couple of minutes, just to brown the top.