As I hone my slaughtering and butchery skills this fall with farm animals, I always look forward to the next opportunity to roast one of them for friends, family and community. Roasting turkey, duck, goose, chicken makes a great family meal any time of the year.
Stuffing birds has become less and less common due to fears of under-cooked meat tainting the stuffing and making people sick. Now more people opt for making dressing separately in a casserole dish or something similar.
Some people bind their stuffing with eggs and some prefer it loose. Until recently I had never known stuffing or dressing for a roasted bird that was made with mashed potato as a binder. This was a curiosity to me as I’d never tried it let alone heard of anyone doing this. The first time stuffing mixed with mashed potatoes came into my awareness was upon cooking with Virginia General at Family Traditions and in preparing a shared turkey meal. The next time this style of stuffing was discussed was over a lovely meal I was invited to share with a Six Nations Mohawk family, who explained it’s just the way their grandmas made it. Upon trying this new to me discovery of mashed potato-stuffing, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how delicious it is.
As there are many ways to make stuffing or dressing, there are many ways to roast a bird. If you live on a farm or hunt your own birds be sure to let the meat rest until rigor mortis has worn off. If you cook the meat at this time it will be tough and not suited to roasting.
Roasting A Bird
There are two main ways I prefer to roast. One being to brine my meat first by letting the meat sit in a flavored saline solution. After it sits in the brine overnight, I let it sit outside the brine to let the salt distribute itself through the meat. The other, more common method is to simply rub the whole bird (in the cavity as well) with oil, salt and pepper.
Cook at a high heat first (425F) for about 15-20 minutes. Then reduce the heat (375F or 350F) and continue cooking until the desired doneness. Use an instant read thermometer to cook to your desired temperature.
Having a roasting rack in the bottom of the pan helps air circulate around the bird to cook more evenly but is not always necessary for smaller birds.
An important step often forgotten is to let the meat rest before slicing. Resting accomplishes two things. First, to let the meat relax so that when you cut it all the juices don’t run out. Also there will always be carry-over cooking. Some people will tell you to rest the meat as long as half of the time it spent cooking. Not everyone has that time, but it is important to remember
If you choose to not stuff your bird with a bread stuffing mixture, try throwing in woody herbs like rosemary or thyme, sliced lemon and some whole garlic cloves. As the bird cooks, the flavors of whatever you stuff in the cavity will infuse into the meat.