Roasted Heritage Turkey

Our local farmers are raising turkey that, unlike conventionally available birds, are not stressed, crowded, or routinely medicated, but instead raised on pasture and humanely slaughtered. Thanksgiving, a day we remember our blessings, is also a good day to support better methods of raising our food.

Local birds (and other meat) can have different qualities than conventionally raised meats. Heritage breeds are often leaner than the mass market birds, and free range birds are less fatty because they have had access to a wider range of foods and space to move.

Recipe: Roasted Heritage Turkey

Recipe courtesy of Meggin Thwing Eastman, who blogs at Happy Valley Locavore.

There’s nothing revolutionary here, but it has yielded excellent, succulent results two years running. I’ve never tried this on a small turkey, so I can’t vouch for how well it would work on a smaller bird. Our turkey this year was 20 pounds, for a crowd of 16 and some good leftovers.

1 14+ lb heritage turkey
1-2 apples, quartered
2 small onions, quartered
6-8 cloves garlic, whole (no need to peel)
Several sprigs of sage
1/4 cup butter, softened
Salt and pepper

If needed, thaw the turkey over 2-3 days in the refrigerator. Remove from the fridge about 2 hours before you plan to cook it, so it can warm up a bit.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and remove all racks except for the very bottom one.

Place the turkey breast side up on a rack in a large roasting pan. Using your hands, generously coat the inside of the turkey with salt and pepper. Stuff the main cavity and the neck cavity with the apples, onions, garlic, and sage. Using cooking twine and/or turkey skewers, close up the cavities and tie the turkey’s legs together. Use skewers to secure the wing tips to the body (to help prevent over cooking of the wings). Rub all exposed turkey skin with the butter, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Roast the turkey at 450 for 30 minutes. The skin should be nicely browned. Then turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees and cover the turkey loosely with aluminum foil (do not tuck the foil all the way down over the pan – just cover most of the breast and legs and leave the sides of the foil loose). Roast for another 2 hours, then check the internal temperature by sticking an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, without touching bone. The turkey is done when the temperature reaches at least 165 degrees. If the turkey is not done yet, roast for another 30 minutes; repeat as needed. (My 20 lb turkey took 3 hours from start to finish.)

When the turkey is done, remove it from the oven. Carefully tilt it up so the juices can run out of the cavity into the pan, then remove the turkey to a platter and let it rest for at least 30 minutes (cover with a towel or two if you like, to keep it warmer). Use the pan juices to make gravy.