BY ROSANNA BAUMAN
Caption: Rosanna’s family does not cook stuffing in the turkey, this photo is from one of Rosanna’s friends (who does cook it inside). Both birds pictured below were raised on Rosanna’s farm.
1) Get a good turkey
2) Do not overcook your good turkey
Choosing a turkey is the single most important thing besides time and temperature. I always cringe when I hear people say “Turkey is so tastelessl” and think “Well, you obviously haven’t eaten a Bauman turkeyl” It’s a shame to dread the turkey at the Thanksgiving table, so here’s some tips to fix that:
Local: Finding a local turkey allows you to verify the quality of your bird. Turkeys raised in small batches on family farms are typically raised on pasture, which gives the bird great flavor and tender meat. They’ll be more expensive than those turkeys the grocer gives away, but for the one meal a year that turkey Is the center-piece, it’s worth it.
Fresh: The biggest reason folks purchase an unfrozen turkey is to ensure that it is fresh. Some turkeys sold at Thanksgiving are over 5 months old, but a fresh one (especially if it’s local) is only a few days old. Fresh poultry does have a better taste, but it isn’t easily described or discerned.
If you purchase a fresh turkey, you’ll want to get it from the farmer/grocer as close to Thanksgiving as possible, as they usually have better cold storage facilities. After you have brought the turkey home, you will want to keep it in the bottom shelf of the refrigerator or in an ice chest covered in ice. Just remember to not open the fridge door so that the cool air stays in, or to replenish the ice as it melts.
Heritage: Folks pick an heirloom bird for its great flavor, not its looks. Compared to the typical plump turkey, these lean birds will look slightly starved. This is because they have smaller breasts, so you will get less white meat and more dark meat than is usual from a turkey. Heritage birds may also have little black “ink spots” on the skin. This is pigment from the dark feathers, which we don’t see on the white feathered birds.
Giblets: Please, please, don’t toss that giblet packl We just spent an entire week cleaning. those gizzards until our fingers were too stiff to straighten. If you toss it, I will mourn all the hours of my life that have been wasted cleaning those gizzards. At the very least give them to your pet. There. are no bones, and the organ meats are extremely nutrient-dense. In fact, I suggest you try a little culinary tourism and try them with an open mind. A lot of folks use the giblets for gravy, but we never have, It seems like a good way to waste giblets and ruin good gravy. At our house, it’s a race see who will get a piece of the heart, liver or gizzard. What do we do to make the giblets attractive instead of repulsive? Nothin’ special, actually. Since we don’t cook our stuffing inside the turkey, we let the giblets be, and they usually cook up fine in their little plastic bag. Leaving the giblets in a bag ensures that they stay moist. A moist cooking method is the most important thing, since the giblets are ultra-lean protein and easily dry out. Giblets should be treated like any lean meat and cooked low and slow. A gizzard roasted in this manner will be as tender as any roast, and just as flavorful.
Roasting: When cooking for a crowd, we don’t bother about getting a picture-perfect table turkey. We go for flavor and stress-reduction. For best results, cook the turkey with its breast- down in the roaster. This helps ensure the breast meat doesn’t dry out. If you want a moist table bird, go for an oven bag. Oven bags make transfer to a serving platter easier, and still retain moisture. If you are roasting a heritage or pasture-raised turkey remember that, since they have less fat, they will roast faster. Folks only end up with dry meat from a pastured turkey if It’s been overcooked.
Seasonings For most cooks, the seasonings and basting sauces are the most important part of the turkey recipe. For us, it’s something we try to remember before we stick the turkey in the oven. Honestly, when you have a good quality turkey, the recipe is an afterthought. This fact cannot be over-stated. I don’t know of anyone in my extended family who has a “turkey recipe”. We usually rub the bird with liquid smoke and maybe sprinkle some garlic salt on top. That’s itl Don’t mess with a complicated recipe; it will just detract from your great-tasting turkey!
Stuffing: We could go to all that effort to stuff our turkey, but then we’d worry if it was fully cooked down inside there, so we don’t hassle with it. By baking our stuffing in a pan, it is moister and not as dry as most. At Thanksgiving at my Grandma Bauman’s, the stuffing is called “dressing”. (Maybe because It’s not stuffed?) She makes three 9×13 pans and there are never any leftovers, it’s that good. I don’t figure that’s the case with most folk’s stuffing. I will share her recipe in next week’s column, so if you are searching for a last-minute dressing recipe, check back next week!