(thanks to Justin for that apt description) is what best described the heritage turkey we tried brining and roasting this year. Needless to say, I was somewhat disappointed in the results. I used the brine and aromatics recipe that I used last year for our free range organic broadbreasted white turkey. The flavor was great---there just wasn't much meat.
Before I get too far, let me explain exactly what a heritage turkey is. Turkeys were everywhere when the first British settlers arrived in the early 1600's. (This could be why Ben Franklin wanted our national bird to be the turkey). However, now only five breeds of turkeys exist that existed in the 1600's. These birds are the heritage turkeys. A couple of criteria generally define the marking of these as heritage turkeys---the big one is that they have to mate. This may sound strange, but very few turkeys mate all by themselves....the poultry industry artificially inseminates turkeys and so turkeys have become very poor at mating and consequently reproduction. (For a hilarious read about trying to teach turkeys to mate, check out the chapter on turkey love from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle). Heritage and organic turkeys tend to have less white meat because traditional Butterballs are pumped full of stuff to make more breast meat (thus, making it more difficult for them to even walk, which is why any free range poultry will have less breast meat).
Last year I tried a free range organic turkey and decided to experiment with a heritage this year because I was so pleased with the free range organic turkey. I had to pre-order the turkey and this was the first year the farm had raised and sold heritage turkeys. When we picked up the turkey at the farm, I learned that they were small...my 6 pound turkey was on the large side of what was available. I think the bird was just too small for there to be good meat. If I do go with a heritage bird, I think I may try ordering from a different farmer who has more experience with heritage turkeys and ask some more questions.
I ended up throwing the turkey carcass into a pot and boiling down until I was left was some very flavorful broth that I can't wait to use. I wish I would have taken a picture of the sad looking turkey, in the rush to get food on the table before the kids lost it from hunger the idea to take a picture was lost.
Brine for turkey (makes enough for a 14 - 16 lb turkey):
1 c kosher salt
1/2 c light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 T black peppercorns
1/2 T allspice berries
1/2 T pickled ginger
1 gallon iced water
Bring all the brine ingredients except the ice water to a boil in a large stockpot. Stir to dissolve solids and remove from heat, cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight. On the day of cooking, combine the brine and ice water in a clean 5-gallon bucket (a Home Depot construction bucket works great). Place thawed turkey breast side down in the brine, cover, and set in cool area (refrigerator or outside if it's cold enough) for 6 hours, turning turkey over once halfway through brining.
1 red apple, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 c water
4 sprigs rosemary
6 sage leaves
Preheat oven to 500. Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon, and cup of cold water in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 5 minutes. Remove turkey from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard brine. Add steeped aromatics plus rosemary and sage to the cavity of the turkey. Coat turkey liberally with oil. Roast on lowest rack in oven at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 350, and roast until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. (a 15 lb free range turkey will take about 1 1/2 hours). Let stand 15 minutes before carving.