Well-seasoned | Be thankful for locally raised turkeys

November 16, 2013 

  • More information

    This is the recipe that I use every Thanksgiving since reading all about brining in Cook’s Illustrated more than a decade ago. If you need to avoid salt, you need to avoid this recipe. However, it is not too salty if done properly, and the final result is worth the effort.

    Use a sanitized cooler or ice chest with additional ice if needed to keep the turkey between 32 and 40 degrees during the brining process. Not all turkeys need brining. Some frozen turkeys are already injected with a water-salt solution. Kosher turkeys are processed with salt. The birds that need the treatment are the regular frozen turkeys and the free range, minimally processed birds. The turkey should be roasted unstuffed, to speed up the cooking time.

    Oven-Roasted Brined Turkey with Giblet Pan Sauce

    Serves 10-12

    1 turkey, (12-14 pounds), with giblets removed

    2 pounds Kosher salt (or 1 pound regular table salt)

    3 medium onions, chopped rough

    2 medium carrots, chopped rough

    2 stalks celery, chopped rough

    6 sprigs fresh thyme

    1 bay leaf

    1 stick melted butter

    3 tablespoons cornstarch

    one half cup of cold water

    Rinse turkey, and place a container just large enough to hold it comfortably. Rub the salt into the body cavities and skin, all over the bird. Add cold water to cover entirely, stirring the water so the salt dissolves. Set the turkey in a refrigerator, cooler or outdoors if the temperature is 40 for 4 to 6 hours. Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse both cavities and exterior surfaces under cool running water for several minutes until all crystalline traces of the salt are gone.

    Put the giblet parts (reserving the liver for another use or adding it during the last 5 minutes of cooking time) in a large saucepan with one third of each of the chopped vegetables, 2 thyme sprigs and the bay leaf. Add 6 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for about an hour. Strain the broth and set the neck and giblets parts aside until cool then refrigerate until ready to use.

    Heat oven to 400°F. Toss another third of the rough chopped vegetables and 2 sprigs thyme with the melted butter and place in the large body cavity. Tie turkey legs together and tuck the wings under and tie with string.

    Place the remaining third of the vegetables and the remaining 2 sprigs of thyme on the bottom of a large roasting pan. Place the turkey on a sturdy rack and allow to air dry for 20-30 minutes. Brush the surface of the turkey with melted butter and roast, basting every 30 minutes, until the thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 165-170°F, about 3 hours.

    Remove the rack and turkey from the roasting pan and set on large baking tray to catch the juices. Tent the turkey with foil, drape with heavy towels and allow to rest for 30 minutes so the carry over cooking raises the temperature to 180°F.

    Strain the pan drippings into a large saucepan, discarding the solids. Skim the fat. Place the broiler pan on two burners and add 3 cups of stock and whisk up the browned bits (actually caramelized proteins that add flavor to the finished sauce). When the broiler pan is clean and the stock is simmering, strain the stock into the saucepan with the pan drippings. Finely dice the giblets (and cooked liver) if you want to add them to the sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil. Mix the cornstarch with the half cup of cold water and whisk gradually into the saucepan. Bring to a boil until the sauce thickens slightly. Carve the turkey and pass the sauce separately.

The venerable Centre Region Council of Governments may be considering permitting chickens to be raised in several of the surrounding townships, but there is no way that it would ever extend those rights to all poultry.

A recent jaunt to Amish farms in Big Valley to track down birds destined for tables in Centre County proved why we don’t have any turkey growers close to town, where the market for table-ready birds is approximately 50,000 households.

Those birds are noisy!

At Hostetler Farm near Milroy, a flock of about 10 hens strutted around the front yard, intent on rooting out insects from what was left of the green lawn and busily pecking through the gravel near the barn. They couldn’t care less about the dried corn that Rodney Briggs threw in their direction to lure them in for a close-up photo.

“These birds aren’t interested,” said Briggs, the father of Nature’s Pantry owner Michele Briggs and designated hunter-gatherer for the local clearing house of Central Pennsylvania foodstuff. “They want to find their own food.”

The sociable animals scooted across the yard, herding each other and dodging the corn kernels.

Deeper into Big Valley, behind the town of Milroy, another Amish farm had a pen in the front yard filled with turkeys. While Briggs negotiated eggs for the store, I leaned against their fence and whistled to them, drawing them to the sound. I am a bad whistler, but I seemed to be speaking their language because they all came over and honk-squawked back at me, peering through the grate, curious and attentive.

These local turkeys from Amish farms are available for $4 per pound through pre-order at Nature’s Pantry. Place an order with a $20 deposit through Friday with pickup the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

Local turkeys are living the good life in central Pennsylvania, at least for another 10 days. They are enjoying the sunshine and fresh air and consuming foods that they find themselves to convert into tasty meat.

The birds raised by Lyn Garling at Over the Moon Farm in Rebersburg have it even better. Garling has rigged up a playground of sorts, with CDs on a line that blow in the wind for the birds’ entertainment. Her 100 turkeys designated for Thanksgiving all are sold by pre-order and will be distributed at Tait Farm the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, though Garling grows some extra for selling after the holiday as well.

Bill Callahan of Cow-a-Hen Farm in Mifflinburg is raising 100 turkeys to grace Thanksgiving tables in central Pennsylvania this month, and they are all reserved. That number is down from his previous record high of 300 birds. He has been selling Thanksgiving turkeys for 15 years and has the veteran’s perspective.

“I’m pretty tired of the turkeys by Thanksgiving week,” admitted the meat farmer who sells at the Boalsburg market every Tuesday. “They require a lot of handling. We’ll be having goose on Thanksgiving.”

Callahan recently has added guinea hens to his product line and will carry them throughout the winter. The flavor is comparable to pheasant, with darker meat and more flavor than chicken.

There are still 30 local free-range broad-breasted white turkeys available at Village Acres Farm in Mifflintown that are in the 20-pound range and sell for $3 per pound.

Heritage Narragansetts also are available, and they retail for $5 per pound. Typically, heritage birds have darker meat and excellent flavor, worthy of the premium price.

Debra Brubaker from Village Acres will be delivering pre-ordered turkeys to the Friends Meetinghouse on Prospect Avenue on Nov. 26, and there is a $6 processing fee for each bird. It is necessary to pre-order the turkeys at the Village Acres website prior to pick up.

Local turkeys will be sold by the Penn State Poultry Science Club in a fundraiser for the club that takes place at the Poultry Education and Research Center at the end of North University Drive. The dates of the sale are from noon to 6 p.m. Nov. 25 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 26, if any birds are still available. Hen turkeys weighing between 18 and 24 pounds will be sold for $1.50 per pound.

Count your blessings this Thanksgiving. Supporting local farmers that give the birds a good life, raise them without antibiotics, and help maintain diversity in our livestock gives us all another reason to be thankful.

Centre Daily Times is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service