The Perfect Bird

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Story by Dave Eckert

With the holidays here, I thought it was time to address the subject home cooks either love or dread-roasting the perfect turkey for Thanksgiving and turning out the ideal roast, whatever your preference of meat, for Christmas. I turned to some experts around town who know a thing or two: a rancher, a meat processor, and two local chefs.

I’ll start with Kenny Barham of Barham Family Farms. Barham treats his animals the “right way,” resulting in superior freshness and flavor. “We believe in giving our animals a low stress, natural environment,” Barham shared. That gives customers both peace of mind and a terrific product. As for the actual cooking, Barham weighed in on roasting a turkey. He says the key for him is brining the bird. “I like to brine the turkey with a combination of salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, lemon, and herbs. That both gives the turkey a nice base of flavor and helps keep it moist,” Barham said.

For Christmas, Barham says he prefers a bone-in ribeye that he brings to room temperature before rubbing with Kosher salt, garlic, and pepper prior to the roast. Sounds good to me Kenny. What time should I come over?

From Barham’s Kearney ranch, let’s hop across The Northland to Trimble, Missouri and Paradise Meat Locker. There, you will find Louis Fantasma and some of the best products in the metro. “Know your butcher!” Fantasma said first and foremost. “You should always start with a quality product from a local farmer who treats his animals properly. Small butcher shops are where you will find those products,” Fantasma stated.

Fantasma says the better the cut, the less you have to manipulate it. For his Christmas Day prime rib, Fantasma uses just salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary and olive oil. And, for the Thanksgiving turkey, Fantasma says he too is all about the brine, but also about the quality of the bird. “You can’t beat Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch in Lindsborg, Kansas, which produces all Heritage birds: turkeys, chickens, ducks, and geese,” Fantasma said. I’ve not tried Good Shepherd’s products, but I know where I can find them. Yep, at Fantasma’s Paradise Meat Locker.

The “brine the bird” theme carried over as I moved from the ranch and processing plant into the kitchen. Clark Grant, Owner and Executive Chef of Hogshead Kansas City on The Country Club Plaza says brining their turkey is something consumers often don’t do, but always should. “A simple brine of five percent salinity with a touch of sugar is all that really matters. Additional aromatics can be added based on taste. Just use this ratio to create the amount of brine you need to fully submerge your poultry in a cooler. I recommend using about 30-percent of your water mass/volume as ice to make sure the poultry stays below 40-degrees,” Grant stated.

An example of a recipe with five percent salinity would be something like this:

  • 25 grams kosher salt (about 1 oz)
  • 500 grams water (about 17 oz)
  • 15 grams sugar (about 4 tsp)

Grant says the temperature at which you roast your bird is also important, specifically roasting it first at a lower temperature, but finishing it at a higher temperature to brown and crisp up the skin. “This can be done under the broiler with a watchful eye or just a higher temperature. I prefer the broiler. Rub the outside of the roast whether it be chicken, turkey, beef, or lamb with a fat of some kind, butter or oil, and put it back in the oven at the higher temperature until a uniform golden brown color is achieved,” Grant recommends.

Lastly, who better to turn to than a chef who’s helping craft the culinary skills of a future generation, Chef Justin Hoffman of Shawnee Mission School District’s Broadmoor Bistro. “When I think about roasted turkey, I think about the skin. Brine your turkey overnight, air dry the skin, and baste with butter in order to achieve a juicy inside and golden, crispy, delicious skin,” Hoffman shared.

Hoffman recommends “seasoning fearlessly”. “For prime rib, my personal favorite for Christmas, I like to season it with salt and pepper and crust with herbs and let air dry over night before I cook it,” Hoffman offered.

So, there you have it, advice from the pros to help make your Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas roast perfect. Happy Holidays.

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