Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Half Baked Turkey Thoughts: Locally Sourced Thanksgiving?

Maui doesn't have any turkey farms, at least none that I know of, so it's not possible to have a truly locally sourced Thanksgiving meal. We do have some pig farms, like the Ahupua'a Pig Farm in Haiku. But the pork is not commercially available. It's not on store shelves. You have to buy a whole pig, arrange to get it taken to a slaughterhouse, of which there are some on Maui, and then have a place to store the meat. Nor is local chicken available on store shelves, although some people raise broilers, chickens for meat, as opposed to layers, which are hens who lay eggs. Venison, while plentiful, is still not on store shelves, despite Lokahi Sylva's efforts to make it more available.

Nothing like a half baked turkey for Thanksgiving!

This is the second year we've obtained a free range turkey from Mana Foods. It's not organic, but it's not fed sewage sludge or mystery meat. I do notice a difference in texture in the meat, compared to a Butterball turkey. The free range turkey is not as tender, and I account this for 1- either my cooking technique  or 2 - the fact that Butterball injects its turkey with a special solution of brine and flavorful things that make it taste really darn good. Maybe I don't want to know what they inject in the turkey.

DH loves turkey, so not only does he want to have turkey on Thanksgiving, he wants to have turkey before Thanksgiving, after Thanksgiving, and basically all month long. I end up roasting a turkey well before Thanksgiving so he can get in the mood and then last night, we went to the Maui Farmers Union locavore potluck meeting which also had turkey. Then we have a late Thanksgiving dinner with friends. I try to stuff him with as much free range turkey so that he won't eat as much of the conventional stuff on Thanksgiving. I'm not sure the plan's working, but he likes it.

How to make this free range turkey more flavorful?
That's what has me scratching my head. Last year, I stuffed it with the same recipe I have been using for the last few years, a Martha Stewart recipe, which is fabulous for a Butterball turkey, but didn't have much effect on the free range turkey. I'd include a link, but can't find it online.

I talked with a Southern gal last Thanksgiving and she said in the south, they always inject their turkey with butter. Okay, that's what I did this year.  Went to Del's Farm Supply in Kahului, bought a veterinary needle, and melted some butter, and injected about 1.5 oz in eight or nine places in the bird. I didn't bother to do any research, which hindsight being 20/20, would have been helpful. As I write this, I found a site that talks about injecting turkeys with flavorful marinades. The author says to do several small injections rather than a few big ones, like 40 instead of 4. Another site says to inject the turkey 12 hours before cooking. That might have been helpful. And it didn't use butter in the injection liquid. It's also difficult to suck liquid into the needle without getting air... I had to use a lot of pressure to do this, and still got air.

Yup, a veterinary needle from Del's, which can be used
to inject marinade, or butter, into a turkey.

What happened?
I used the ceramic stone ware from a very large crockpot to cook the turkey in. This is called a crockpot liner. I had heard on a cooking show that it's possible to cook in a crockpot liner and they are oven safe, but I wasn't sure if all brands are oven safe, or if it's only up to certain temperatures. So I cooked at a lower temperature, 350˚ instead of starting out at 450˚ for the first hour, since I didn't want to crack the ceramic lining. It was the only pan I had that was big and deep enough for a turkey. I injected the turkey with butter and stuffed it with half a lemon, cut up onion, lemongrass, etc. to infuse the inside with flavor. While the turkey wasn't local, at least everything inside of it was.

Mixture of local items to stuff into the turkey, to add flavor: basil, onions, lemon, lemongrass, Hawaiian chili peppers, big leaf oregano. Loosely based on Martha Stewart's Herb Roasted Turkey.

I didn't allow enough cooking time for the turkey for dinner and I was so stubborn, I just wanted to cook the turkey anyhow.  So, I committed the faux pas of cutting into the turkey before it had quite finished cooking - the thermometer wasn't at 175
˚ in the thickest part of the thigh not hitting the bone - and it was still better than last year's attempt, and still chewier than a Butterball turkey. I had done the other normal turkey things - taking out the giblets and neck, rinsing the turkey, letting it come to room temperature, tying back the wings, using foil to not burn the top of the turkey, adding liquid to the pan... but the turkey didn't have time to sit in its moisture for a half hour after cooking, and I still think that's important. Where I cut into the turkey also got dried out, but I just soaked it in the liquid in the pan.

Turkey being cooked in a crockpot,
finally reached the magic temp of 180˚.

Anyhow, I'm already tired of turkey. I still believe in the free range turkey idea... and next year will try brining the turkey and also injecting it... What the heck? If I keep practicing on DH, I'll at least have my turkey roasting skills current. Honestly, the first turkey I ever roasted was the best... it was a conventional Butterball, but I'd rather eat a non-factory farm turkey.

Update 11/24: The free range turkey was really 'ono (delicious) a couple of days later. Even I was chowing down some breast meat. It was tender and had good flavor. So I don't feel too badly about how it turned out, but I think I'll try injecting it 12 hours prior to cooking next time.

Are there other items on Maui that could be locally sourced for Thanksgiving?

1. Sausage for stuffing - if you got your own pig and made your own sausage, you could do that. Or if you know someone who makes sausage. I only know one person, and he won't sell it... You could buy Portuguese sausage in the store, but the pork I believe is from the mainland. I do know someone who makes and sells venison sausage.
2. Bread - forget local wheat producers here. Get your flour from the mainland.
3. Sweet potatoes. Yes! Plentiful in stores and farmer's markets. The ones in the chain grocery stores may be from the mainland.
Some local sweet potatoes, not the purple Okinawan variety.
This unknown variety is not that sweet, so it's more potato-ey.

4. Potatoes - that's tough. Maybe Kula Farmer's Market has local potatoes. Chef Susan Teton says to substitute taro for potatoes. 
5. Green beans for green bean casserole - those are locally grown
6. Cranberries - forget it... no one grows cranberries here. I suppose one could try using poha berries to make a cranberry sauce, but they wouldn't look the right color - but.. by adding purple panini, (prickly pear) it would definitely turn a rich burgundy color. That's an idea - making purple prickly pear mock "cranberry" sauce.
7. Pumpkin - yes, there are local Hawaiian pumpkins here and kabocha squashes, and all variety of squashes that are grown locally.
8. Pecans - no, but they would grow in Kula.
9. Apples - I haven't seen them locally, but have heard there is a local apple farm in Olinda.
10. Onions - yes, Maui sweet onions are plentiful.
11. Brussels sprouts - haven't seen them grown locally or commercially but they could grow in Kula. Cabbage does grow well on Maui, so does zucchini - but in higher elevations.
12. Mushrooms - Oyster mushrooms are grown on Maui.
13. Eggs - yes, plenty of local eggs are available.
14. Green peppers can be found on Maui. Red peppers are usually imported.
15. Celery - Susan at the Queen Ka'ahumanu Farmers Market says her celery is from Kula, that her family leases farm land and grows it there. Other farm stalls say that the celery is local and comes from Oahu, but I am very skeptical that it's grown on Oahu. Oahu doesn't have good conditions for growing celery - it's not as elevated as parts of Maui. I think it gets sent to Oahu from the mainland and is distributed to the other islands.
16. A lot of farmers markets on Maui have local items, but you have to ask, and sometimes the vendors don't really know. They will say the item is local since it's shipped from Oahu, but it doesn't mean it was grown on Oahu.

You may also like to find out how to make a raw cranberry sauce or more local farm ideas on cooking turkey, using Thanksgiving leftovers.


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