Prepping the Thanksgiving Bird

Today, Kate and I drove up to Petaluma to pick up our pastured turkey. Petaluma is a small farming community about as far north of San Francisco as we are east. It's a pretty drive to get there, along Highway 37 between the Napa Valley and the San Francisco Bay. We saw a flock of American White Pelicans flying in 'v' formation above the marshes, which was glorious.

I ordered our turkey from Tara Firma Farms last week. It's a really neat place. They pasture all their meat animals on a gorgeous hilly vista. I first heard about them when I was searching for a local source of grass-fed beef. This farm actually has a CSA for meat - you can get a monthly delivery. We visited them last Mother's Day and spent a wonderful day walking around the farm, getting to know how the place works. It takes a tremendous amount of dedication, commitment, and LAND to run a farm like this. We were struck by the fact that this beautiful farm had very little odor. The animals all live in their natural element, roaming around, and even the pigs don't have much of a smell.

By California law, they are able to kill their chickens and turkeys on site, in an outdoor abattoir, open to the elements. The pigs and cows go to a local abattoir close by, which reduces the amount they need to travel, therefore stressing the animal less. This local abattoir reserves one day a week for pastured meat. It's a great system.

We so enjoyed watching the piglets. But there was one tiny guy, you can see him on the bottom right of this photo, was clearly the runt. It made me think of Wilbur in 'Charlotte's Web.' I left hoping that there was some little girl named Fern to take care of it.

Our turkey, all 18 pounds of it, was killed yesterday on the farm. I talked to the lady at the counter, and she said she had watched this process for the first time. She said it was very, very quiet; the birds don't fuss at all once they are head-down in the funnel. I think I should probably watch this in person at some point. If I'm going to be a responsible meat-eater, it seems like an important thing to do.

Anyway! We brought home the bird, and then I had to follow through with my plan of spatchcocking and dry brining it. Oh my, that thing looked awfully big on my cutting board. I confess to feeling very dubious.

First I pulled out the innards and put 'em in a pot with water, salt and pepper, and a bay leaf. I'll let that simmer all day, and that will be the broth we use for making the gravy. Then, I had to spend some time removing a few stray feathers. They were really stuck in there! This is about as close to a freshly killed animal as I've ever been, and it was a learning experience. I just kept thinking about Ma Ingalls and how many chickens she had to pluck in her lifetime. Usually, when I'm afraid of doing something homestead-y, I think of the pioneer women, who were totally badass in every way. They give me courage!

God Bless The Kitchn, my favorite go-to site for stuff like this: They had step-by-step instructions for a South American spatchcock, which separates the white meat from the dark meat. (Regular spatchcocking is just butterflying the bird. I wanted to cook the meats separately.) I sharpened my knife, got out my brand-new poultry shears, and got to work.

It turned out to be pretty simple, actually!

Then I mixed up my dry brine. Sea salt, pepper, and fresh herbs from the garden, chopped up.

I rubbed this under the loosened skin of the whole bird, and of course all along the outside, after patting it dry. I piled the two parts up on a platter and stuck it in the fridge. It'll stay in there, uncovered (air circulation!), until Thursday. The turkey looks like some sort of cut up alligator head or parts of a prehistoric beast. It's a pretty impressive pile of meat, that's for sure.