The Joy of Cooking a Pasture-Raised Bird

The difference between a Thanksgiving turkey raised outdoors on pasture and one raised inside in confinement is significant. As a result of getting exercise to forage for part of their diet and consuming green grass, turkeys raised on pasture tend to have smaller breasts and rich, flavorful dark meat.  Nutritionally, as a result of eating so much grass, these turkeys have been shown to have significantly more Vitamin E, Folic Acid, Vitamin B12, and a higher Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio.  It’s also worth noting that they don’t contain Arsenic - many industrial scale producers commonly add Arsenic to poultry feed (it is permitted by the USDA at 0.5ppm or less), which in small amounts improves growth rates… but it also happens to be a toxin and the primary ingredient in most rat poisons!).

So what to do with your pasture-raised bird?  We suggest a dry brine (start today if you’re cooking Thursday!).  We find that a typical “wet brine” can make the meat squishy and watery, whereas a dry brine concentrates flavors and makes for a crispy golden skin.

Using about 1 tablespoon of salt per 4 lbs of bird, plus black pepper and your favorite fresh herbs (sage, rosemary and/or thyme work well), rub the bird all over, including underneath the skin as deep as possible above the breasts (be careful not to tear the skin!).  Place the bird on a open rack in your refrigerator, allowing water to drip off of the bird to a tray below.  Allow to rest for 24-48+ hours.

Place a few onions and apples, cut in half, inside the bird’s cavity.  Heat oven to 450 and roast for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and cover breasts with foil.  Reduce temp to 350 degrees, and cook for several hours (general rule of thumb for a pasture-raised bird is 8-10 min per lb).  You should begin to check after about 2 hours – you’re looking for a temp range around 140-160, depending on your preferences (note that we are lower than the USDA’s recommended 180 degrees, so please do so at your own risk!).

Beware: as a result of lower fat content and lower moisture from dry brining, we have found that pasture-raised birds tend to cook significantly faster than their industrial brethren.  There is nothing worse than choking down chalky, dry white meat and having to pull out the ketchup when the gravy runs out!  Remember, you can always return the bird to the oven if it’s underdone, if it’s overdone, well, you’re going to need to call Doc Brown for advice at that point. 

 

Painting Credit: Chase Audette

Painting Credit: Chase Audette

The Health and Environmental Benefits of Grass-fed Beef

This post is courtesy of Diana Rodgers, RD: registered dietitian, author, producer, and friend of Walden!

If you’re a fan of Walden, then you appreciate how properly raised meat tastes. Maybe films like “Cowspiracy” or the recent WHO statement on red meat and cancer concern you. As a “real food dietitian” living on one of the farms that supplies Walden, I’m going to explain how these are not issues with pasture-based herbivores.

 Americans are facing soaring rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer—partly because the food we’re eating isn’t giving us the nutrition we need. Our carbohydrate-heavy intake and reliance on highly processed, ultra-palatable, industrially produced food is making us sick, while at the same time leaving us malnourished. According to the CDC, the top US nutrition deficiencies are Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Iron, Vitamin D, and Vitamin B6.

Red meat is the most common bioavailable source of many of these nutrients. Even the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website lists beef as the #1 source for iron. It’s a more complete and absorbable form of protein compared to plant proteins. Beef is also a fantastic source of B12, a nutrient that vegans must supplement in order to stay healthy.

I heard red meat causes cancer!

The studies behind these claims are observational. They show a correlation between meat intake and cancer, but ONLY correlations. Not cause.

 These studies are relying on self-reported information from food frequency forms. Yet, many people lie or, at the very least, forget what they ate. It’s easy to remember things like “I ate red meat 3 times last week” but forget the sodas, chips, cake and cookies. Perhaps we “forget” how much we drink and smoke and inflate how much we exercise. Additionally, vegetarians tend to have a much healthier lifestyle overall compared to those eating a standard American diet. Comparing an “average omnivore” to a vegetarian without adjusting for other lifestyle factors like exercise, smoking, and fast food intake is called “Healthy User Bias” and has been studied here.

In fact, this study looked at people who shop at health food stores (therefore attempting to adjust for lifestyle factors) and compare vegetarians to omnivores and found no difference in mortality.

But we can sustainably engineer protein in labs…

The argument that plant-based proteins engineered in labs is better for our health and the planet doesn’t hold much weight. I’ve already addressed the health reasons for eating meat above, so I’ll now address the sustainability argument.

Alternative proteins like “tofurkey”, often seen as “sustainable” options engineered in labs, are ignoring the incredible amount of input required per calorie of protein. You can’t simply make protein out of thin air. Acres and acres of grains like soy, wheat and corn are required for this process, not to mention the amount of fossil fuels and water. These crops use incredible amounts of herbicides and pesticides, which not only require engineering of their own, but also degrade the land on which they are used.

Let’s compare this to grass-fed beef from a local farm. The cows eat grass (free), yes they drink water, but they also produce manure (read: fertilizer), which improves the soil (bonus) to provide nutrient-dense, bio-available protein. If you were to do a complete life-cycle analysis on this process, and compare one pound of lab-produced protein to one pound of locally produced, holistically managed, grass-fed beef, the clear winner would be the beef.

 

About the author:

Diana Rodgers, RD is a “real food” registered dietitian living with her family on a working organic farm near Boston, Massachusetts. She is the author of The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook, produces the Sustainable Dish Podcast, and runs an active nutrition practice helping people improve their health with nutrient-dense food. She’s the consulting dietitian to Robb Wolf and can be found at www.sustainabledish.com

Everyone Agrees To Reduce Antibiotics...Except These Guys

It's rare to see McDonald's or Perdue as examples of responsible production. While we're not in the business of praising the "lesser evil", Sanderson Farms' recent marketing gimmick has put these companies ahead of the curve.

It's no secret that unclear food terms are often used as marketing tools. Taglines like "All natural", "fresh" (and now even "grass-fed") are largely unregulated, but are often used to mask conventional products.

Yet, terms such as "no antibiotics" are clear and overwhelmingly seen as positive. Even companies like McDonald's and Perdue--typically the face of negative big ag--have made efforts to curtail antibiotic use. Unlike the other 4 of the top 5 American poultry producers, Sanderson Farms has doubled down their marketing to insist antibiotics are fine.

Lampkin Butts, president of Sanderson, defended antibiotic use as critical to his version of sustainablility: "using less of everything". This is a grossly shallow definition, especially when applied to critical resources to life such as feed, water, shelter, and electricity.

Sustainability means using more time and more space. It means doing things at a natural speed and accounting for waste. In farming, it means using the necessary amount of food and water to sustain life. If Sanderson Farms sees sustainability as meaning "less" then why not start with less antibiotics?

Read the feature article here: Poultry Producer Sanderson Farms Stands Its Ground: It's Proud To Use Antibiotics