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By Josiah Lockhart, Farmer at the Lockhart Family Farm, Virginia, and Slow Food leader

Watching the game this Thursday is a family tradition for many this week. In this fourth episode of our Nose-to-Tailgate recipe series we feature as protagonist the traditional Thanksgiving bird – from beak to tail feathers. We love this write up from the Lockhart family (the same farmers who raised the Mulefoot Hog served at our inaugural Nose-to-Tailgate event on November 16 at the Giants Stadium). Let Josiah inspire you for a delicious, clean and fair Thanksgiving dinner!

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Lots of our customers have been asking us the best way to cook their turkeys, because ours are extra juicy. You see, we let ours develop at a slower rate than even other Heritage turkey breeders, and as a result, many of our birds develop marbling and have different cooking and taste profiles than turkeys you may be used to. Most recipes have been in families for years, and as Thanksgiving is cultural and family celebration, it’s important to respect cooking traditions, understanding that everyone cooks their thanksgiving turkey slightly differently.

We thought we would take this opportunity to let you know our recipe and technique which we think allows the natural flavors of our slow grown heritage birds to be at the forefront of the dish. It’s important to understand that none of these are rules, and every bird is different. This is a technique we’ve developed over about 7 years and still change slightly every time we do it.

{{ image(3126, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”: “300”, “height”: “200”}) }}One of the most important steps in cooking a turkey is to make sure it is almost at room temperature (75 F). Many health regulations tell you not to for good reason, but we leave our bird out of the fridge, but covered, over night the day before to get it to the right temperature for Thanksgiving morning. We don’t ever brine our birds. I find it changes the taste a bit, and we’re trying to get the simplest and most natural flavor as possible.

When you’re ready to start, preheat the oven to 425˚F

We start by putting our hand in the back end of the bird (leg side) between the skin and the flesh starting to break it apart. I find pushing with my fingers all together and spreading them out works well. Be sure to work both sides across the breast making room for the next step.

Once the skin is separated from the breasts, take your preferred stuffing and stuff it into the gap, packing it tightly. We’re partial to a simple sage stuffing, but this is where your personal touch can come through. Craig Smith famously filled one of our birds with a Silver Fox Rabbit and Tamworth Pork stuffing which came out amazing.

After the gap between skin and breasts is filled, lightly stab an orange a number of times and place it the main cavity. I’ve been known to put a few cloves in the stab wounds of the orange to give the juice a slightly different taste.

Once stuffed, rub a generous amount of butter, salt, and black pepper all over the skin, trying to completely cover the bird (it’s easy to miss parts of the thighs). Place the bird breast side down in a roasting tray (this will result in a juicier bird), put a few bacon rashers over the skin, and cover the entire tray with aluminum foil. You’re trying to make a parcel, so try to ensure there is no room for steam to escape.

Place in oven at the initial high temperature of 425˚F for 40 min. After that, lower to 325˚F for 3-3.5 hours depending on size (3.5 is perfect for a 14 lb. bird). Afterwards, open up the foil and turn the bird over and raise the temperature to 400˚F for an additional 30 min. If your turkey needs basting (often ours don’t) this is the stage where it will be needed, and should be done frequently.

You will know your bird is done by piercing the thickest part of the leg: the juices should be golden and clear. Take your bird out of the oven and let it rest covered for between 45 min to an hour before carving. This will allow the juices to settle and the taste to develop. As long as it’s covered it will stay warm.

Carve, serve and enjoy. We hope you have a wonderful thanksgiving and enjoy a good, clean, and fair meal whatever you have.

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