How to Cook Heritage Turkey and Grass-Fed Beef for the Holidays

If you're dropping the extra cash to buy a heritage turkey or grass-fed roast beef for a holiday meal, it's going to be that much more tragic if the cooking goes awry. We spoke to Deborah Krasner, author of the book Good Meat, a big old tome of recipes and cooking tips for pasture and grass-fed meat, to find out more about how to best prepare meat that doesn't come from an industrial operation. Here's her advice.


HERITAGE TURKEY

How is it different than conventionally raised turkey, looks- and taste-wise?
Heritage turkey doesn't look at all like what you [usually] see in the market. It's kind of like a ballet dancer: flat-chested with enormous thighs. White meat will be limited. It's going to be much more flavorful and also maybe a little more tough.

What are your tips for cooking it?
I'd make an herb salt by chopping some rosemary and thyme and mixing the herbs with coarse sea salt. I'd rub that on the turkey, then let it sit on the rack in the fridge to get the skin dry and have it shrink a bit to get a nice roasted skin on the cooked turkey.

When you put the turkey in the oven, put the feet facing the back wall and the breast facing the door, so you expose the dark meat to the most heat and protect the light meat.

If you can, start with a blast of high heat to brown it, then cook it low and slow to give the meat time to become tender. Use a probe meat thermometer to test for doneness in the thickest part of the meat. [CHOW.com's test kitchen recommends 165 degrees Fahrenheit.] If you find the breast is done before the rest, take out the bird, let it rest, take the breast off, and put the legs back in the oven.

Let the bird rest before carving.


GRASS-FED BEEF
How is it different than conventionally raised beef?
In general, it's leaner and doesn't have a lot of marbling. The role of fat in cooking is it insulates meat from heat, so you have more of a safety net when cooking conventionally raised beef.

What are your tips for cooking it?
Quickly wash the surface of the meat and pat it dry before you cook it. Most of the time you buy grass-fed beef frozen, and when you defrost it, proteins are extruded. They look liquidy and pinkish, like blood. If you don't rinse this liquid off, it can give the meat livery flavors.

Salty marinades can leech out the moisture, so don't use soy sauce. Use wine- or juice-based marinades.

How would you cook a grass-fed roast beef for the holidays?
I'd wash the roast, pat it dry, and rub it all over with the herb salt [described in the turkey section above], then I'd put it on a rack over a plate with a paper towel on it and leave it uncovered for 24 to 48 hours in the fridge. That way, the salt will penetrate the meat more, and air-drying it will cause the surface of the meat to shrink, which helps to dry-age the meat. You'll get a better exterior crust that way. Bring it to room temperature for about a half hour before cooking it, then roast.

Always use a meat thermometer to check for doneness, in the thickest part of the meat, since grass-fed beef cooks differently than conventionally raised meat. [CHOW.com's test kitchen recommends 125 degrees Fahrenheit for a beef roast.]

After cooking, be sure to let it rest 10 to 15 minutes before carving.

Thanks to Bonnie Azab Powell over at The Ethicurean for tipping us off about the book!

Image source: CHOW.com