One of my favorite holidays is quickly approaching. I love spending time planning the large meal, shopping for ingredients, and getting an early start making dishes the night before. In the past few years, I learned a trick to prepare the main event, the turkey. Do you feel overwhelmed with preparing a 20+ pound bird? Do you find the breast meat dry? Is the gravy perhaps a bit bland? Is the oven prime real estate? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to bring out your Thanksgiving helper, the slow pot.
Several years ago, we started cooking smaller turkeys (8-10 lbs) in a slow pot. Need more bird for the crowd of guests, purchase two smaller birds and borrow another slow pot. These birds have more flavor and are more tender. Best of all, the oven is free for all the other goodies being prepared!
If you want to take your cooking another step, consider purchasing a Heritage turkey. These birds are descended from the wild turkey. Where your local grocer’s turkey is raised in 4-5 months, a Heritage turkey requires 6-8 months to mature. The added time is worth the wait and price. Domestic turkeys tend to be penned up in a cramped space and only eat grain, but most Heritage turkeys forage for food during the day and are supplemented with grain at night. Free ranging and extra time gives these birds a deeper flavor. It makes the gravy richer and provides an added flavor boost to those after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches.
Three Heritage Turkey poults hatched on our farm this spring. Pliney the younger, Pliney the older, and Pompeii were easy to raise and were foraging within three weeks (My mom was visiting the weekend they hatched and named them after the people and town associated with Mt. Vesuvius). Unfortunately, our dog ate the Plineys, but Pompeii has grown quickly and will be our Thanksgiving star.
The preparation is similar to an oven turkey. Be sure to follow all safety guidelines: Use a completely thawed turkey, wash hands and any surfaces that touch the turkey, make sure the internal cooking temp reaches at least 165 degrees, and due to build up of juice in slow pot, stuffing is not recommended. However, cooking the turkey breast side down will immerse the meat in the natural juices, an added treat. Cooking time will vary based on the slow pot settings.
**Note: Slow pot turkeys do not have crispy skin, but there are several slow pot recipes on-line that include directions for an oven finish to create this effect.
**Note: Heritage turkeys can be quite expensive. However, I found many local farmers through Craigslist who offer these birds at reasonable prices.