Cooking Pastured Poultry: Discussion & Tips From Your Farmer

At Mint Creek, all the different species of our farm’s meats are either pasture-raised and/or 100% grass-fed, and as such, it is all generally much leaner than conventional meat (because the animals are healthy and running around, they do not accumulate as much excess fat). Mint Creek Farm meats are also generally smaller, as well, because the size and weight of animals on pasture tends to be at least a little less than conventional grain fed animals whose meat you might find in the grocery store. The texture of grass-fed and pasture-raised meats tends to be a bit chewier/tougher. However, we instruct our butchers “age” our meats in their USDA inspected walk-in coolers to help tenderize them before flash-freezing (for different lengths of time depending on the species/variety/type). Aging time helps concentrate the meat's delicious flavor, as well as tenderizing it. For pastured poultry, aging time is comparatively short, and is generally "wet aging" for just 1 to 4 days at the longest, whereas grassfed beef needs "dry aging" for at least two weeks to become optimally tender. The rest of this article focusses on general considerations for the preparation of pastured poultry cuts specifically. 

 

 

COOKING RECOMMENDATIONS PER POULTRY SECTION:

Leg & wing of poultry sections (same as drumsticks/drumettes) in chickens, turkeys, and ducks are best “braised” (which means slow-cooked in liquid), “confited” (which is the same as braise but it means you submerge the meat in fat specifically rather than some other braising liquid), or “smoked” (which means slow-cooked in smoke without much liquid and usually with wood chips & other seasoning elements). Fryer chicken wings & legs have more cooking options than turkey and duck as these chickens are usually tender enough to be fried, grilled, or roasted--so they don’t have to be braised but can be very good that way, too. But generally turkey and duck legs or wings turn out a little tough to be fried, grilled, or roasted so I wouldn’t generally recommend it for anything but chicken.

An additional but optional step to braising, confiting, and smoking of meats which is generally quite beneficial to the dishes’ end flavor/richness is to sear the meat before slow cooking it in liquid or smoke. “Searing” means to brown the edges of the meat at moderate to high heat (but it's not necessary to cook it all the way through because it’s about to be slow cooked for hours). So you would brown the edges of the drumstick/leg/wing in a hot pan probably with cooking fat or oil and afterwards you'd either put it in smoker or you would submerge the drumstick/leg in braising liquid. Then I recommend cooking these sections of poultry for at least 2.5 hours up to 8 hours (depending on which cooking device and recipe you use).  

Note on “braising liquid.” So braising means cooking in liquid, but what kind of liquid? The options are truly endless. Braising liquid can be booze based, oil based, vegetable based, water based, broth based, etc.! Depends on what you like/want to end up with, but I personally usually mix water or broth with garlic/herbs/veggies to submerge the meat (and its fatty juices from searing it in cooking fat first). I also often use wine or beer as a base (but I water it down) for the braising liquid. Watered down tomato sauce, or paste, or any similar kind of vegetable puree works really well as a braising liquid, too!

Thigh or breast sections of poultry can be prepared somewhat similarly to each other in all species (chicken, duck, turkey). Both breast and thigh are lean and tender--there are lots of options including frying, grilling, baking/roasting, smoking, confiting, or braising! What I mean is that breast and thigh of poultry work with pretty much any cooking technique, so follow your inclinations and enjoy!  There are two exceptions: braising ducks and stewing hens. If you are working with a braising duck (“mature” duck), it may be too tough for anything but braising, confiting, or smoking.  If you are working with a stewing hen, it is definitely too tough for anything but braising. Furthermore, stewing hens must be slow cooked in liquid for 6-8 hours or longer and are ideal for broths, soups, and stews only.

Backs/necks of poultry are used generally for making poultry broth, soup, or stew. Chicken feet and turkey gizzards are also good for making broth. These cuts are generally cooked in water in a pot or crockpot, etc. for many hours perhaps with herbs, spices, onions, garlic, carrots, and/or celery or other veggies until the meat falls off the bone. The bones and veggies are strained out and the meat can be strained out as well, to disgard or for use as pulled meat (which requires significant seasoning because some of the flavor goes out of the meat into the broth). An alternate option for poultry backs specifically is to roast them and pull off the meat sooner (after an hour or even a little less time). It can then be used as heartier, more flavorful and slightly fatty pulled meat .

Poultry organs tend to be a lot more tender than livestock organs. All of the livers from our farm are already “peeled” before they are packaged, which makes for easier preparation in your kitchen. The poultry livers are sought after because poultry have milder flavor and are excellent fried whole with onions, or to make mousse or pate with. Poultry hearts are excellent cut in halves or quarters and seared then covered in gravy with mashed potatoes or in a pot pie.