Cooking a Pasture-Raised Turkey
Turkeys are often reserved for special occasions, simply because they're large enough to feed a crowd. Around here, we like to cook a turkey every month or so, savouring the leftovers in various ways... including turkey soup. Turkeys raised on pasture are an extra-special treat because of the richness of their flavour, moist and juicy meat, and the added nutrition in their meat / fat / bones from the grass, bugs and sunshine that were part of their daily lives.
They're easy to cook, and you're almost guaranteed to get good results by following a few simple tips.
- Add about 1/2 inch of water to your baking pan.
- Set your turkey in the pan with the breast side up, and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Pasture-raised turkeys are so flavourful that they do not require heavy seasoning... though you may also wish to sprinkle some type of herb (eg sage, thyme, rosemary) over your bird.
- Cook your turkey at 325F - no higher. Sometimes we cook them at 300F, and that also works well.
- Cook the turkey in an open pan. They do not need to be covered. This will ensure crispy, delicious skin. In case the pan starts to go dry (not likely, but possible, especially if not using a stone pan), just add another cup or two of water (hot water preferably).
- Base your cooking time on about 12 - 15 minutes per pound, though this is a rough guide. A fresh turkey will cook faster than a turkey that was frozen. You can tell that a turkey is done when the leg is "loose" when wiggled, and / or when a thermometer reading of the breast meat is 165F. It's important to not overcook a turkey, to ensure that the meat remains moist and tender.
One your turkey is cooked, remove it from the oven and cover it loosely for about 10 minutes before carving it.
Reserve all the pan juices for making a nutrient-rich gravy. If there are more pan juices than you need, save them to add to soups or vegetable dishes or dishes with the leftover turkey. Use every last drop, to capture all the flavour and nutrition!
After your meal, remove the rest of the meat from the bones. Refrigerate the meat for later use. Put the bones into a stock pot, barely cover them with water, and bring them to a gentle simmer to transform into a rich broth. Drink this broth as-is (adding salt to taste), or use it as the base for a delectable turkey soup.
A note about stuffing: it's generally better to cook a "stuffing" outside of the turkey. For one thing, it's safer (in terms of food safety). Plus, your turkey will cook a lot faster if it isn't stuffed. If you want the turkey flavour in your stuffing, keep it on the dry side and drizzle some of the pan juices into it before serving.
The best advice I can give about cooking a turkey is to relax and let it cook! It's not difficult, and chances are very good that it will turn out well if it's cooked at the proper temperature.
Enjoy your turkey feast!