[This post contains images of butchery]
We often get asked why we still insist on having turkey and all the trimmings on Christmas day. Especially given that its summer here and many Australians opt for cold meats and salad, or sea food … not so many have roast turkey (or goose; we may try a goose one year).
I guess there’s no real reason other than its one of our favourite parts of Christmas, and a tradition that we have maintained so far and we hope to continue to improve upon. Especially with our own produce. So I suppose you could say our Christmas dinner preparations back in March, as that was when we bought our young turkey.
This year’s turkey was a Bronze that we bought back in March, around 2-3 months old. Last year we raised a few, but bought later in the year and killed them around 26 weeks. Still a fair size, but that was why we decided that this year we would get our bird earlier. Next years will probably be from the 5 or 6 we have running around the garden now.
So you may wonder why we killed our bird 7 weeks out. Well to be honest he was already a fair size. An had begun to challenge our Tom, and had been visiting the neighbour more frequently (as he was coming off second best). So we had a few issues- it was only a matter of time before one of the turkeys became more aggressive and the other (or both) got hurt. Second his visits to our neighbour’s garden, whilst not upsetting to the neighbour, increased the likelihood of it being lost to dogs (or even our own dogs if it jumped the wrong fence). And thirdly we were a little concerned as to whether he would even fit in the oven.
So Saturday was D-day. So here’s how we did ours.
One tip I give anyone is preparation saves time and stress.
The first thing we did was set up some hot water to scald the bird; as this make plucking far easier. [Something we recently tested when we processed our last few roosters]
We have adapted a keg (fitting a lid) and built a stand; this allows us to fill and open the keg and heat from underneath using gas.
Once the water was on a rolling boil, we took the heat away and went to get the bird.
I must admit whenever I fetch the bird for the chop I question whether they are ‘ready’, by that I mean large enough to kill/eat. Not that we would waste a bird we had killed… guess I always have doubts at this point.
However due to the size(ironic given my previous concerns) and shape of a turkey our usual ‘killing cones’ (used for processing ducks and chickens) were of little use. So for an effective kill and bleed we held the bird by its legs; only turning him upside down at the last minute and immediately cutting the throat.
Once the initial flapping and twitching finished we hung the bird whilst we set up the table. It was at this point that my concerns regarding the bird’s coverage (and weight) were put to rest… as we had to tie the bird up, as my arms were really feeling it!
So when the blood was drained we immediately transferred the bird to the keg to be scalded. Please be careful doing this as when you place the bird in, the water level will rise! So do not fill your container to the top. Also I wouldn’t advise wearing wellies (or gum boots as they are known here in Qld at least). As if hot water gets inside, it cannot go anywhere (i.e. seep away). On that note I do advise wearing closed shoes, as hot water on skin is not good either.
When you submerge your bird (with the exception of the feet that you are holding onto) swirl and/or gently bounce the bird- to agitate it; ensures the hot water makes contact for the skin. You should do this for around 30-45 seconds. Any longer and you risk cooking the bird/skin.
From here transfer to the table and begin plucking- beware the feathers will be hot, but you want to get this done before it cools and the pours contract. As this is what speeds up the plucking process.
From here we begin by removing the head and then the feet, well the lower legs from the knuckle of the knee (scaley bit). You may want to leave the feet (we didn’t) only because many chose to hang their turkey before freezing- this maybe easier with the feet on.
Either way you still need to be aware for when you remove the feet that there is a rather thick tendon at the back of the leg of the turkey which is rather undesirable when cooked. Not that it would hurt or unpleasant, it is just very stringy and preferably not there. So to remove the leg, it is best to begin by locating the knee joint with the knife. Run it along the front and begin to work our way back with the blade, flexing the joint backwards in the process. This will release the joint and avoid you cutting all the way through (and cutting through the tendon). Now you can (hopefully) pull the tendon out. I say hopefully as we did this successfully on the one leg, but not the second.
Once the legs are off (if you were removing them now) we remove the ‘parsons nose’. Some leave this on, or remove as part of the anus. We prefer to do it at this stage. By cutting behind the parsons nose and bringing the blade up and away from the anus, through the joint of the bone- avoiding any contamination of the meat.
To gut the bird you need to make a careful incision below the rib cage, being careful not to pierce any internal organs. Once you have an opening prize the skin (and fat) back, following the bone line toward the anus. Then carefully cutting around, so that when the guts are removed it may be cut way in one. Unfortunately this is where I stopped taking photos, as the cavity of the bird was rather tightly packed and I needed to gut the bird (as I have smaller hands). To effectively remove as much of the guts in one go (and limit and breaking and contaminating the carcus) use the top of your fingers/hand and run it along the underside of the birds ribcage. This will guide you, reaching as far in as possible, until you feel your hand drop back down (touching the internal organs), then scoop back toward the cavity. I will point out that sharp nails or jewellery are not desirable for this part of the process.
Once the guts are on the outside of the bird, carefully cut the anus away and remove it and the adjoining intestines away from the bird. Now you may pick out any useful parts (i.e. heart, liver, kidneys etc). It is likely that the lungs (if not a few other parts- testis in males, oesophagus ) will still remain inside. To remove the lungs follow the ribs with your fingers to scoop out.
Then when your happy rinse out the carcass. It is at this point you may choose to hang your bird for at least 12- 24 hours in a cold room (or cool place). We rested ours in the fridge.
Our turkey was then weighed and wrapped ready for the freezer, to be thawed (in the fridge) a few days before Christmas.
In case you were wondering my concerns regarding the birds weight were unwarranted- dressed out (i.e. in shop bought condition) 4.43kg (9lb 12.25oz)… more than enough for two!