Turkey Time

I’ve given this handout to turkey customers for years and use it myself all the time.  The brine works great with chickens, too.



The one absolute thing that I have learned in cooking ANY bird, is brine it.   Even the best pastured poultry will be improved by brining.  The secret to the best poultry you have ever eaten is brining.  If you fry, broil, bake, grill, whatever, brine it and it will taste better.   Your turkey breast will not be dry if you brine.  It is basic organic chemistry.   Salt breaks down proteins in meat and tenderizes it.  It also adds moisture to the meat and you will get serious juicyness!

1/4 cup Kosher salt, 1/4 cup sugar, to 1 quart of very cold water.  Some people prefer more salt, but this is a good place to start.  More salt I find is too salty.  Stir until completely dissolved and cover poultry with the mixture. I use a big plastic container. Stainless is fine too.  If all you have is table salt you can half the amount to 1/8 cup.  Kosher is less dense and dissolves better.

Do not brine partially frozen poultry.  It won’t work.  If you want cut up pieces, brine the bird first and then cut it up if possible.  If it is already cut up, brine it for a shorter time.

Timing:  Rule of thumb is one hour per pound up to 8 hours maximum.  Refrigerate the brining bird.  After brining rinse the bird very well (a couple of minutes). You can then put the bird in a bag to cook later, marinate, or cook it immediately.  You are not going to believe the difference!

You can also bard the birds with bacon if you are roasting.  I also have taken fresh sage leaves from my herb garden and placed them between the skin and the breast meat.

I often get the large disposable turkey pans from the store. Place them on a large cookie sheet so they don’t bend under the weight of the turkey. I am not a fan of covering roasting turkeys.  They cook too fast. Most people over cook turkeys.  You can’t go by color, as meat from young birds will be more pink in appearance.  The thermometer is a must.  If you cook to 180 it will be over cooked.

Roasting a 10-14 lb Turkey  Serves 10 to 12
Small turkeys, no more than 14 pounds gross weight,  cook more evenly than large birds.

4 cups kosher salt or 2 cups table salt
1 turkey (12 to 14 pounds gross weight), rinsed thoroughly; giblets, neck, and
tailpiece removed and reserved to make gravy
3 medium onions, chopped coarse
1 1/2 medium carrots, chopped coarse
1 1/2 celery stalks, chopped coarse
6 thyme sprigs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1.Remove turkey from salt water and rinse both cavities and skin under cool running water for several minutes until all traces of salt are gone. Pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Place turkey on meat rack set over rimmed sheet pan.

  1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss one-third of onion, carrot, celery, and thyme with 1 tablespoon of melted butter and place this mixture in body cavity.3. Scatter remaining vegetables and thyme over a shallow roasting pan. Pour 1 cup water over vegetables. Set V-rack in pan. Brush entire breast side of turkey with half of remaining butter, then place turkey, breast side down, on V-rack. Brush entire backside of turkey with remaining butter.
    3. Roast for 45 minutes. Remove pan from oven (close oven door); baste with juices from pan. With wad of paper toweling in each hand, turn turkey leg/thigh side up. If liquid in pan has totally evaporated, add another 1/2 cup water. Return turkey to oven and roast for 15 minutes. Remove turkey from oven again, baste, and again use paper toweling to turn other leg/thigh side up; roast for another 15 minutes. Remove turkey from oven for final time, baste, and turn it breast side up; roast until breast registers about 165 degrees and thigh registers 170 to 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove turkey from pan and let rest until ready to carve. Serve with gravy. (See gravy making ideas with the next recipe).

    Roasting a 18-20 lb Turkey Serves 18 to 20
    Because of the turkeys’ large size, roasting at 350 and 400 degrees F tends to overcook the exterior by the time the interior is done. Roasting these large turkeys at 250 degrees starting with the breast side down then rotating it to breast side up produces the most evenly cooked turkeys. To brown the skin, we increased the oven temperature to 400 degrees for the final hour of roasting. Roast the turkey on a V-rack set in a heavy-duty roasting pan. When more water is needed, just add it.

    1 large turkey (18 to 20 pounds gross weight), rinsed thoroughly,
    giblets, neck, and tailpiece removed and set aside
    1 pound salt (about 1 cup table salt or 2 cups kosher)
    1 bay leaf
    3 medium onions, chopped coarse
    1-1/2 medium carrots, chopped coarse
    1-1/2 celery stalks, chopped coarse
    6 thyme sprigs
    1 tablespoon butter, melted, plus extra for brushing and basting turkey
    3 tablespoons cornstarch

    1. Place turkey in large stockpot or clean bucket. Add 2 gallons water and salt. Refrigerate or set in very cool (40 degrees F or less) spot for 8 hours. (Sometimes I just use the bag the bird came in, using a smaller quantity of the brine. Make sure the bagged bird is in some sort of a pan in case the bag springs a leak. Turn the bird over a couple of times.)
    2. Remove turkey from saltwater and rinse both cavities and skin under cool running water for several minutes until all traces of salt are gone.
    3. Meanwhile, reserving liver, put giblets, neck, tailpiece, bay leaf, and one-third each onions, carrots, celery, and thyme in large saucepan. Add 6 cups water and bring to a simmer, skimming foam from surface as necessary. Bring to boil, then simmer, uncovered, to make a flavorful broth, about 1 hour; add
    reserved liver during last 5 minutes of cooking. Strain broth (setting giblets, neck, and tail aside), cool to room temperature, and refrigerate until ready to use. (You should have about 1 quart of broth.) Remove meat from neck and tail, cut giblets into medium dice, and refrigerate until ready to use.
    4. Heat oven to 250 degrees F. Toss another one-third of the onions, carrots, celery, and thyme with 1 tablespoon butter and place in body cavity.

  2. Scatter remaining vegetables and thyme in roasting pan; pour 1 cup water over vegetables. Set heavy-duty V-rack, adjusted to widest setting, in pan. Brush entire breast side of turkey with butter, then place turkey, breast side down, on V-rack. Brush entire back side of turkey with butter.
    6. Roast 3 hours, basting back side every hour or so and adding small quantities of water if vegetables look dry. Remove pan from oven (close oven door); baste with butter. With a wad of paper towel in each hand, turn breast side up. Continue to roast 1 hour, basting once or twice. With turkey still in oven, increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F; roast until skin has browned and internal temperature of legs and breast registers about 165 degrees, about 1 hour longer. Transfer turkey to platter; let rest 20 minutes.
    7. Meanwhile, strain pan drippings into large saucepan (discard solids) and skim fat. Return roasting pan to stove and place over 2 burners set on medium heat. Add reserved broth to roasting pan, and using wooden spoon, stir to loosen brown bits. When juices start to simmer, strain into saucepan containing pan drippings along with reserved giblets; bring to boil. Mix cornstarch with 3 tablespoons water and gradually stir into pan juices. Bring to boil; simmer until sauce thickens slightly. Carve turkey; serve sauce passed separately.


What do we feed during the winter?

We frequently get asked what we feed our grass fed beef and sheep during the winter.  Folks know that we live in upstate NY,  on a rugged hill farm.  Winter’s are long, hard, and very snowy.  Livestock cannot survive on the pastures that supplied them with lush greens all spring, summer and fall.  The winter fields are often snow-covered, sometimes with upwards of 3 feet of snow.  The animals just cannot be expected to dig through this to find enough nourishment to thrive.

We farm using as many sustainable agriculture principles as we can, such as grass farming, and rotational grazing. Grazing consists of animals feeding in a given paddock for a few days, and then being moved to another plot. We graze all of the land on our home farm and then make hay on neighboring rented land all within a mile of the farm.  Starting in May, we pull out the machinery needed to make hay for the non grazing months, which is typically from about late October till late early May. This includes a a lot of equipment, in addition to several tractors, all made in the 1970’s. We use a discbine, to mow the hay with, and then a tedder, which fluffs  up the hay to dry before raking, and then a hay rake to put the hay into windrows to be baled. If the hay dries down in a timely manner, we then bale it with a round baler that makes about a 700 pound bale. Then we have to go and load the round bales with a front end loader tractor and a heavy duty transport wagon, and then haul them home and stack them under cover. We need at least a 3 day window without any rain to make the best hay.  So, all summer, we watch for those windows, and rush out to start the process of turning fields of green into winter nourishment.  Rarely we get the hay rained on, and then the hay must be tedded and raked again to dry.  Additionally, we look for wrapped high moisture bales, (baleage) which we buy from neighboring dairy farmers to supplement the dry hay that we make. We anticipate using about three hundred round bales to feed all of the cattle and sheep throughout the winter.

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