Category Archives: Poultry

How to Roast a Heritage Turkey

WilliamRubelWilliam Rubel (williamrubel.com) gives us the low-down on cooking a heritage turkey to perfection. Living in California, Rubel’s  two  books are ‘The Magic of Fire’, the book on hearth cooking, and most recently, ‘Bread’, a global history.

Whether you roast your heritage turkey in the oven, or spit- or string-roast it in front of a fire, there are some basic facts you ought to know about how to best handle heritage turkeys.

Heritage turkeys are different from the most common turkey of American commerce. It is helpful to know a little about them before cooking them for the first time.

The modern turkey was developed for a large breast — hence its name Broad Breasted White or Broad Breasted Bronze — and it was also selected fast growth on a high protein diet. Broad breasted turkeys reach marketable size after a few months, while heritage turkeys take much longer to reach marketable weight. Broad Breasted birds are often so heavy their own legs can’t property support them, so Broad Breasted birds tend to be sedentary. Variety, age, physical activity, and feed, are all factors that affect the taste and texture of the heritage turkey you buy.

While variety is a factor in the taste and texture of heritage turkeys, as a rule the turkey variety is not on the label. In any case, heritage turkeys are similar enough to make generalizations possible.

Basic qualities of heritage turkeys:

1. Smaller breast. The breast of heritage birds is smaller in proportion to the rest of the bird than is the breast of the Broad Breasted varieties. This means the balance between white and dark meat is more even that it is with commercial turkeys.

Implications for the cook: White meat is “done” before the dark meat is “done,” and so the closer the balance between white and dark meat, the easier it is to roast the entire bird to perfection.

Historically, cookbook authors suggested covering the breast of roasting turkeys with oiled paper until the bird was almost done, at which point the paper was removed. The instruction to put something over the turkey breast is found in Enlish cookbooks dating from the 17th century all the way up through English and American cookbooks to the early 1960’s, at which point the instruction seems to drop out of cookbooks.

If you cover the breast, I recommend sticking with the traditonal oiled paper rather than substituing alluminum foil. Foil doesn’t let any moisture out, and thus steams the breast in a way that paper does not. When you let water molecules escape through a covering of paper, or cloth, the flesh of the bird is chemically changed in a way that is different from what happens through steaming — which is the effect of sealing the breast with alluminium foil. If you want to cover the breast, then cut out a piece of brown paper from a shopping bag, rub it with cooking oil, and tie it in place with cotton string. Remove it about 30 minutes before the turkey is done.

In my own cooking style I do not cover the breast. Instead, I add additional fat to the breast meat by slipping fat, like butter or olive oil, under the skin over the breast. I will discuss a little, below, turkey should not be over-cooked. Cooking to a temperature that is lower than the current custom. If you cook your bird to 140F you will help insure that the meat is not dry. Always start roasting with a bird that is at room temperature.

2. Leaner birds: The fattest part of a mature heritage turkey is the skin that circled the neck.

Implications for the cook: Hot, quick cooking is a better approach to cooking lean birds than is slow cooking unless you add fat to the flesh which can be done by putting butter or olive oil under the skin, or even by larding with salted pork fat.

My advice, however, is to treat the bird more the way you would game birds — pheasant and ducks are both traditionally cooked hot. I roasted my first heritage turkeys — they were small turkeys (6 pounds each) in a bread oven at 630F for 35 minutes. They were perfect. I cooked them to 140F. I suggest roasting in a hot oven — 425F to 450F.

A second suggestion is to put fat under the skin of the turkey. Those of you familiar with my book, The Magic of Fire, know that I often favor slipping a paste of olive oil and pounded garlic and herbs under the skin of poultry. It is easy to slip oil and/or butter under the breast, and a little more difficult to get it over the leg and thigh. Slip your hand under the breast work it around as best you can. Putting fat under the skin makes the turkey self-basting. Because heritage turkeys have a mild flavor, slipping flavor under the skin with oil and butter as a carrier lets you easily produce a bird of memorable flavor.

2. Size: Heritage turkeys are generally smaller than commercial turkey varieties. Expect turkeys in the range of 9 to 15 pounds, although birds that are both smaller than 9 pounds, and larger than 15 pounds are available.

Implications for the cook: Roast the smaller birds hotter than the bigger birds. I would cook a 6-pound bird even as hot as 630F. A 9-pound bird you might cook at 475F — but no less than 450F. I would roast a 15-pound bird at 425F. I have not tested these other sizes in an oven — at home roast birds hanging from a string in front of my fire — so these temperatures are my best guess.

I know that if you ask around enough you are bound to run across people who will tell you the opposite — they will say to roast the birds slowly. What should you do in the face of conflicting advice? Do what you are most comfortable doing. If what you do doesn’t work out well — then do it differntly next time. As long as you keep an eye on what you are cooking you cannot really fail. If you are spit- or string-roasting in front of the fireplace then the timing depends on the heat of your fire. I tend to roast hot. My most recent times are a 10-pound stuffed turkey in about 1 1 /2 hours and a 15-pound unstuffed turkey in roughly 2 hours.

3. Flavor: As a rule, heritage turkeys have a more subtle, cleaner flavor than commercial turkeys. There is often less of what I have come to think of as a “turkey flavor.” Depending on the variety, and the way it was raised, the flavor may offer a hint of the wild side — or offer an almost blank palate for you to work with.

Implications for the cook: Historically, turkeys were served with a sauce, and it was the sauce, plus the meat, that constituted a serving of turkey. A light sauce made from the pan drippings is alway a good idea. Slipping flavors, herbs, garlic, and salt pounded up with olive oil or butter and slipped under the tukey’s skin is also often a good idea.

4. Aging the turkey: Wild turkeys — turkeys that are hunted — are always hung for a few days before being eaten. You can deepen the flavor of your heritage turkey, and make it more tender, by letting it age in your refrigerator. I have done this with small birds to excellent effect. The idea is to take the turkey out of whatever it might have been packaged in, remove any organs packed in the neck or stomach area, rinse it, and then hang the turkey in your refrigerator, uncovered. If you can’t hang it then let it rest on a platter, but turn it once a day so that no part of the turkey is always resting on the platter. Keep the platter dry — so wash off any fluids that might settle in the platter and then dry it before setting the turkey on it. I aged one of my turkeys this year for a week. My own refrigerator is an old one that frosts up. I have not tested aging a turkey in a frost-free refrigerator. Frost-free refrigerators tend to dry out whatever is stored in them, so this is something you would need to experiment with.

Implications for the cook: Smaller turkeys — under ten pounds — can sometimes be purchased for less than larger turkeys because there is less demand for them. In any case, if you are familiar with aging wild birds, like ducks, then age your heritage turkey in the same way because aging definitely adds a dimension to the roast turkey that cannot be added any other way.

5. Brining the turkey: I do not advise brining heritage turkeys. My own brining theory is to apply brine to secondary poultry — birds that have no flavor. Brine introduces water and salt into the flesh of the bird. This dilutes the natures flavors. While it is true that salt is a flavor enhancer, I think brining is a crude way to develop the flavor of a heritage turkey. I will also mention that the standard method by which birds are cooled after having been slaughtered in American slaughterhouses is to dip them in a bath of cold water. The birds may take up as much as 5% water by weight from this soaking. Letting the bird sit, unwrapped in a frost-free refrigerator of a day or two, see “Aging the turkey,” above, might actually improve flavor by removing some of this excess water.

Basic heritage turkey cooking principles

Starting Temperature
Until the last couple decades, it was assumed that meat was always brought to room temperature before roasting. The 1965 edition of the “Joy of Cooking” advises the turkey be room temperature — 70F — before being cooked. I think this is essential advice for all turkeys. If your turkey was frozen, defrost it in the refrigerator. A few hours before you plan to roast the bird, remove it from the refrigerator and let the bird come to room temperature. The deep flesh, not just the outer half-inch (1 cm), needs to be at or near room temperature before you roast it in order to achieve the best results. If the bird is at 34F (1C) in its interior parts when you start roasting it the breast will be dry long before the deep tissues are cooked.

Cooking temperature
Because heritage turkeys tend to have has little fat, I advise cooking them the way one cooks game birds — quickly. Roast in an oven at 425F to 450F. I have actually roasted small turkeys (6 pounds) in a bread oven at 630 degrees for 35 minutes. My most recent times string-roasting turkeys in front of the fireplace are a 10-pound stuffed turkey in about 1 1 /2 hours and a 15-pound unstuffed turkey in roughly 2 hours.

Finish temperature
Stuffing, if any, is cooked before it is put inside the bird. The stuffing, therefore, is only heated inside the bird, not cooked. If you do stuff a bird, for food safety reasons, stuff it just before roasting. While the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) calls for cooking turkeys until the stuffing is 160F and the bird is 180F in the thigh, these  recommended temperatures are so high that you will dry out the turkey. I would roast a heritage turkey to 140F, and no more. As always, let the bird rest for at least ten minutes before carving.

A note on the cooking termperature: The USDA recommendation of 180F in the deepest part of the thigh and 160F in the stuffing is based on the government’s need to provide a general rule that will cover all health and safety eventualities, including the handling of the bird by people who have not observed basic hygenic princples, like washing their hands before handling the food.

As soon as you get your heritage bird home, take it out of its wrapping. If it arrived in the mail, unpack it and immediatly rinse it. Of course, wash your hands before handling the turkey. It is my understanding that the part of the bird that has the most pathogens is the skin. Even with an internal temperature of 140F the skin of the turkey will be above 220F, way over the temperature needed to sterlize the skin. One needs to balance USDA recommendations against what you know about the source of your meat and the way it was handled.

Eating is not risk-free — and I cannot assure you that my recipe is risk free. I can assure you, however, that a heritage turkey cooked to 140F in a fast oven will remain moist and delicious, while cooking the turkey to 180F is problematic in terms of the final culinary results.

Rediscovering Heritage Chicken

Gina Bisco takes us through a primer on the differences of heritage chicken versus commercial meat production. She delves into the differences the age of the bird makes and how to specifically cook heritage fowl for moist and tender meat.

Take a walk with Gina through the intricacies of production to the table in   “Rediscovering Traditional Meats from Historic Chicken Breeds”.

Excerpt:
The chicken meat most of us take for granted today is quite different from what our grandparents experienced. Today commercial chicken meat production is very different from methods and ideas common before the mid-20th century. Those of us who want to conserve old chicken breeds need to understand the traditional chicken meat classes and their excellent cooking qualities.

 

Trading salutes for eggs: Local veteran taking part in new ag program

Prairie Pride Poultry - feeding chickens
Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson Dan Hromas tends to his chickens at Prairie Pride Poultry east of York.

YORK — Dan Hromas reached down and ruffled the rust-colored tail feathers of a chicken.

The Rhode Island Red squatted briefly, then shook and strutted away with a cluck. Hromas smiled and laughed.

“They’re a great dual purpose breed. They’re excellent egg layers, and when they’re done, I can sell them as stewing hens,” the Iraq War veteran said.

After nearly two decades protecting U.S. freedom and interests as a soldier, the former Marine and current member of the Nebraska Army National Guard has found new purpose and resolve through his flock of 600 chickens.

He is among a small but growing group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans now feeding the nation they served as a member of the armed forces.

Hromas’ York-area farm, Prairie Pride Poultry, is the first in Nebraska and second in the United States to be certified by the new national program Homegrown by Heroes, a marketing initiative that recognizes farmer veterans.

***

Prairie Pride Poultry - Dan Hromas
Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson Iraq war veteran Dan Hromas tends to his chickens on land he leases just east of York. Hromas found assistance programs from Nebraska and the Farmer Veteran Coalition to help bring his dream to life.

For Hromas, the birds are both livelihood and therapy.

“Boredom is the most hazardous thing to my health,” said the chicken farmer who returned from a yearlong deployment to Iraq just in time for Christmas 2007 with persistent ringing in his ears and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Before that, Hromas was a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln studying microbiology on an Army ROTC scholarship. That came to an end when he was activated in advance of his National Guard unit on July 31, 2006, as part of President George W. Bush’s surge of American forces.

When he returned to Nebraska, Hromas got a commercial driver’s license but had difficulty sticking with a job. The one he kept for more than a year was driving a truck for the United Farmer’s Co-op in Utica.

“I can’t put up with a lot of s***,” he said.

***

Prairie Pride Poultry - watering chickens
Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson Dan Hromas tends to his chickens.

All soldiers leave the military different than they went in, said Don Sandman, a Vietnam veteran and Veterans’ Service Officer in York County.

“That is just the way it is,” Sandman said. “The military itself is traumatic. You’re in there for one reason and one reason alone. And that is to be prepared to kill mankind.”

Many veterans struggle with hearing problems, depression and the effects of PTSD. The Veterans Administration says 22 of them kill themselves every day.

The military instills a sense of being part of a greater good, part of something bigger than any individual.

That sense of duty and fellowship doesn’t come with punching a clock, said Chet Bennetts of the Farmer Veterans Coalition.

Farming can give veterans a sense of purpose again, he said.

The Farmer Veteran Coalition, which is based in Davis, California, has helped about 2,400 military service members, some still active, get involved in farming nationwide. In Nebraska, there are 35 veterans on the coalition’s radar.

“Being able to work hard and have something to do every day and feel good about it is way better than just punching a clock and getting by,” said Bennetts, who works from Lincoln.

Forty-six percent of U.S. military members hail from rural settings and many will return to them, said Scott Mickelsen, associate dean with the University of Nebraska’s College of Technical Agriculture.

“It can be somewhat soothing for them to work with animals, to work with plants, to work outdoors in a little less stressful situation,” he said.

The work ethic drilled into soldiers transfers well to agriculture, Mickelsen said. The college has developed a program tailored to retired military called Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots, which attracts four to seven veterans a year.

***

Prairie Pride Poultry - chicken house
Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson Inside a small chicken coop a Prairie Pride Poultry chicken lays an egg as a rooster is silhouetted in a window at Dan Hromas’ chicken farm east of York.

Hromas liked working for the United Farmers Co-op, but it was just a job. He started thinking about summer trips to visit his grandparents’ farm in North Dakota, looking for the eggs the chickens that ranged free laid in straw bales.

“It was like an Easter egg hunt every day.”

He missed that and wanted his four kids to have the same experience. Plus, he likes to eat eggs, and he likes the idea of being his own boss.

In October 2012, Hromas took his first step toward becoming a farmer and signed up for a Farm Beginnings Nebraska program hosted by the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society. He networked, took more classes, wrote a business plan, applied for grants and joined the York Chamber of Commerce.

On May 31, 2013, he incorporated his business and three months later got his first 300 birds. He sold his first dozen eggs to a man at the local Eagle’s Club. His first commercial account was with Chances R Restaurant in York, which buys his eggs for Sunday brunch.

Today, his hens produce 3,150 eggs a week. He sells them to Grand Central Foods in York, the Hy-Vee in Grand Island and as of last week the Williamsburg Hy-Vee in Lincoln.

Once a month, he sets up a booth at the Old Cheney Road Farmers Market and last Sunday sold out of 62 dozen eggs in three hours.

His eggs cost a little more than the generic white ones at supermarkets, Hromas said, but people are willing to pay it because they know the eggs are fresh and were laid just down the road. He prefers the term “pasture-raised chickens” to the more ambiguous descriptors “cage free” and “free range.”

His main selling points are local, healthy eggs produced by happy chickens. When he has extra eggs, he donates them to local food banks and soup kitchens.

His chickens sleep and lay eggs in coops but spend their days roaming three acres he rents just northeast of York. He likes the peace of the farm and how it keeps him too busy to dwell on the past.

A person can get frustrated and throw a wrench, Hromas said. It’s not so easy to throw a chicken.

***

Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson
Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson Adrian Hromas, 9, helps his dad collect eggs at their chicken farm on a leased plot of land east of York.

Hromas said he doesn’t like using his status as a veteran for personal gain but decided to use the Homegrown by Heroes label to reach out to fellow veterans, to let them know they’re not alone and help is available.

The program was started by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and recently went national through the work of the Farmer Veteran Coalition with underwriting from the Farm Credit Network, a group of borrower-owned lending institutions.

“I got to thinking if I have that label on the product, people are going to start asking questions,” Hromas said. “That will open the door for me to start talking about the Farmer Veteran Coalition, about agriculture.

“Veterans in general, especially veterans with disabilities, can have a future in agriculture if they want.”

Originally published in the Lincoln Journal Star on Sunday, May 29, 2014. Story by Nicholas Bergin.

Why NFC is Moving to an “€œEvery Other Week”€ Schedule

The Nebraska Food Coop is growing, plain and simple. That’s great news! And that means more opportunities for both customers and producers.

Most shoppers prefer to purchase food more frequently than just monthly. As the local food movement grows, conscientious shoppers prefer more options on a more frequent basis. With NFC’s commitment to an “every other week”€ cycle, more consistent buying habits will follow.

Just think! You now only have to remember that every Sunday is an order day…by 6 pm, of course!

Running a four-week cycle, NFC found that an increasing number of orders often maxed out the delivery truck’s capacity, which caused additional juggling of product in and out of the truck.

By going to an “every other week”€ cycle, the delivery driver doesn’t have to go through needless and time-consuming gyrations to get all of the products to fit and properly sorted into the appropriate pick-up site containers. So logistically, it makes better sense to open up a second cycle in a given month so that products can be properly sorted and stored until the driver reaches the appropriate pick-up/delivery site.

Once we move into the vegetable season, it gets even more complicated. Perishables typically don’t keep so well for a month at a time, especially those delicious cucumbers!

chicken
Think about it…..

Likewise, laying hens don’t have on and off switches. And customers typically don’t like eggs that have a pick date older than two or three weeks.

So by increasing the frequency of deliveries, you are reaping the benefits of fresher produce, eggs, and fewer number of lost products!

Shopping NFC every other week also reduces stress. How so, you may wonder? To determine all of your shopping needs a full month ahead can be stressful. You never know when you need to plan that special meal to impress someone, and you might not have a whole month to plan ahead. By opening up the cycle to every other week, one only has to plan for two weeks instead of four weeks at a time.

More and more of our vegetable producers are not raising produce as a hobby… it is their livelihood. Timely harvesting – for the freshest possible fruits and vegetables -€“ requires frequent cycles. Unlike the grocery store where produce is maintained via ethylene inhibitors for months, NFC farmers know that you want your tomatoes, cantaloupes, zucchini, etc, as fresh from the ground as possible.

Mixed Veggies
Fresh from the farm

Many NFC vegetable producers have invested in greenhouses and hothouses to extend their growing season and meet the increasing demand. This means that NFC producers may have local produce available before area farmers markets ramp up in May. What a boon for NFC customers!

NFC has been blessed with our current delivery driver, Kevin. As tight as the job market is these days, how can NFC ask our driver to commit to driving only one week out of a month? NFC needs to maintain enough job stability so that the products you ordered are assured of being properly delivered in a timely fashion on a consistent basis.

As NFC grows through increased volume for both the coop and our family of producers, we will eventually be able to offer discounts for certain products. But until then, we continue to expand our market of producers in order to meet the new demand for emerging farm-to-customer activities. Two new initiatives that are taking shape are the farm-to-chef and the farm-to-schools opportunities. More information will be forthcoming soon about these programs as they are just getting off the ground.

Look forward to more news about our growing cooperative that you helped us grow with every single local product that you ordered. So thank you, for your continued support of the Nebraska Food Cooperative.

How Much is Too Much for Eggs?

So how do you decide if you are paying too much for eggs? Let’s first take a quick look at the differences between conventional and farm-raised eggs.

Then, once you read the linked true-to-farm reprint So You Want to be a Chicken Farmer? about raising chickens and its follow-on comments, you’ll completely understand about the heartbreaks, sacrifices, and hard work that goes into providing healthy, nutritious, farm-raised eggs.

I’m sure you have heard that conventional hens are raised in enormous confinement houses in tiny battery cages with only about a half square foot of space each and are fed genetically modified grain that contains antibiotics.

There is little-to-no human contact and the lifespan of these hens are just about one year before their egg-laying productivity peak is reached.

Eggs
Fresh from the nest

Conversely, hens raised on a family farm have a much more humane and much longer life. Most, if not all, of the NFC chicken farms operate on a free-ranging or pasture-raised basis.

Farmers get to know their chickens and happy layers produce eggs for up to ten years. Being fed grain that is GMO-free, antibiotic-free, and organic is the standard fare that most chickens enjoy.

Pasture-raised eggs have 50% more folic acid, 70% more B12, higher levels of Omega-3 and Vitamin E. The result? Healthy, nutritious eggs with orange yolks that are more firm with an amazing rich flavor from very happy hens.