Thanksgiving is only a couple weeks away and in the United States this means one thing: turkey. Few other foods seem to dominate a holiday like this bird with a mind-boggling demand of 45+ million turkeys each Thanksgiving). Last week we offered a Primalized update—and upgrade—to the traditional pumpkin pie. This week we thought we’d whip up recipes for both the main event—the bird itself—and a lower carb alternative to its usual mashed potato pairing with a delicious and equally creamy accompaniment: mashed parsnips.
Beginning in the 1960s grocery stores started selling a breed of bigger, plumper turkeys known as Broad-Breasted Whites. This turkey is bred for one main reason: it’s cheap to raise, primarily because it’s genetically modified to grow quickly. Turkey producers can maximize their profits and provide what they think consumers want: birds with more white meat. But the thing is, all that white meat makes a turkey cook and taste different. In fact, it is probably Broad-Breasted Whites (not your mother’s cooking skills) that are to blame for decades of dry, flavorless Thanksgiving turkeys. Even worse than dry meat, the genetic modifications to Broad-Breasted Whites leave them unable to fly or reproduce without artificial insemination.
By far, the Broad-Breasted White is the dominant breed of turkey sold in grocery stores. In the 1990s, it almost put other breeds of turkey into extinction. Luckily, organizations and turkey producers dedicated to preserving culinary heritage and to fighting against industrialized food production have been diligently protecting natural breeds of turkeys that have been around since our forefathers. Collectively, these breeds of turkeys with colorful names like Bourbon Red, Standard Bronze and Narragansett are known as Heritage turkeys. In recent years, as consumers have become more interested in where and how their food is grown, Heritage turkeys are enjoying a surge in popularity.
Heritage turkeys are harder to find and more expensive to buy, ranging from $6.00-$12.00/pound, because they are more expensive to raise, taking up to 30 weeks to grow to close to 30 pounds, while a Broad-Breasted White can reach that weight in just 18 weeks. Why splurge on a Heritage turkey? Heritage turkeys have more fat and more dark meat, which helps keep the meat moist while cooking. The meat has a richer, heavier texture and more intense flavor, rich and robust and slightly game—what a “real” turkey is supposed to taste like.
Heritage turkeys can be bought from some local butchers and from Whole Foods Markets. Heritage Foods and Local Harvest ship directly to consumers, but their prices are higher than most retail stores. Buying a Heritage turkey is like casting a vote for humanely, naturally raised animals and for the farmers who are putting a premium on healthy, safe, natural food.
And, yes, a heritage breed turkey is ideal, but we’re never in favor of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. (This is a holiday after all, and no one wants to disappoint Grandma by serving steak.) Other farms who aren’t necessarily raising heritage breeds are adhering to organic feed and humane-raised standards. Look for information on the turkey packaging and opt for the least/cleanest ingredients and best quality within your budget. If you have access to a local farm or farmers market, check with the farms to see what they have available…you may be surprised at how affordable some of them are!
Note: If you’re cooking a pastured/heritage breed turkey, they are leaner and will benefit from a lower cooking temperature like 325 degrees Fahrenheit, while you can get away with 350 or even 375 degrees with conventional turkeys.
Invest in a meat thermometer that has a steel probe so it is always keeping track of the internal temperature of the meat, even when you walk away.
The amount of ingredients for the herb butter may vary based on the size of your turkey. Feel free to scale the recipe up or down as needed.
Turkey carcasses make delicious stocks and soups! If you choose to make turkey stock or bone broth, pick off all meat from the turkey carcasses prior to making stock to prevent the meat from getting rubbery.
We use parsnips as a side, but you can also use other root vegetables or mix different root vegetables together. For variety, try turnips, rutabagas, celery root, potatoes or sweet potatoes!
1 whole turkey, ours was around 12 lbs.
5 Tbsp. butter, melted
1.5 Tbsp. chopped rosemary
1.5 Tbsp. chopped thyme
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
4 lbs. parsnips
½ cup coconut milk (you can also use cream or your favorite milk substitute)
2 Tbsp. butter
salt and pepper, to taste
For the turkey: Remove any innards from the turkey and pat it dry on top of a roasting pan with a rack or a large sheet pan with a cooking rack. If you have time, you can dry brine the turkey by sprinkling the turkey skin all over with salt and pepper and allowing the turkey to rest in the pan uncovered overnight in the fridge. This will result in delicious, crispy skin later on. If you choose not to do this, continue right away to the next step.
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees for pasture-raised/heritage breed birds and 350 for regular turkeys. In a bowl, whisk the butter, rosemary, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper together (if you did a dry brine with the salt and pepper already, omit the salt and pepper from the butter). Rub the herb butter all over the outside of the turkey. If you’d like, you can also add a couple pats of butter under the skin on the breasts of the turkey. If you are using a thermometer probe, place it in the thickest part of the breast and set the desired temperature for 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the turkey in the oven on the lowest oven rack for about one hour, then check the skin. If the skin is beginning to brown too much, you can place a foil tent over the breasts but it shouldn’t be necessary. Pastured birds can take anywhere from 10-15 minutes per pound to cook, while regular turkeys can take 15-20 minutes. The best way to ensure the turkey is cooked properly is to use a meat thermometer. If you do not have a thermometer probe, check the internal temperature of the thickest part of the breast and thigh around the 1.5 hour mark and go from there.
Once the thermometer reaches the desired temperature, remove the turkey from the oven and tent it with foil. Allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes. Carve the turkey and pour any reserved juices on top.
For the parsnips: Peel the parsnips and cut them into rounds. Place them in a pot and fill with 3-4 cups of water, or just enough that the parsnip rounds are covered. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat and cover the pot. Reduce the heat slightly and allow the parsnips to simmer for around 10-15 minutes, or until just tender but not mushy.
Drain the water and pour the parsnips in a food processor along with the coconut milk, butter, salt and pepper. Process until the parsnips reach your desired consistency. Alternatively, you can mash the parsnips using a potato masher. Top the parsnips with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of black pepper.
(Note: Turkey nutrition will vary based on size and dark or light meat. See below for nutrition info for 1/8 of the parsnip recipe):