The Norfolk Bronze Turkey – The Gold Standard of Turkeys

Rob Morton crouching with his flock of Norfolk Bronze turkeys at the Morton Family Farm on a sunny day
Rob Morton with his flock of Norfolk Bronze turkeys

‘The leaves are well and truly golden now’, Mr Morton remarks to himself as we make our way over to a large crescent-shaped structure. The sun is just peeking over the horizon and, like Mr Morton, always dutifully on time. Although unlike the sun’s reduced winter schedule, Morton knows that he is getting ready for one of his busiest seasons – Christmas. As the sun begins to shine atop the crescent structure, it reveals a brilliant turquoise colour. We are now close enough to hear the clicking sounds of over a thousand little chirping hens. ‘I thought turkeys gobbled?’ I said revealing my ignorance. ‘Only the toms make the iconic gobbling sound’ said Mr Morton. He named the structure his ‘turkey hotel’, a nod to the great pride and care he puts into raising his birds, and a fitting name as no better accommodation could be dreamed up by even the pickiest of poult. Lush green fields surround the hotel providing a free range for ample scratching and pecking – the favoured activity of a curious hen. Scattered trees further comfort the birds by simulating an environment familiar to their woodland ancestry.

I was in the heart of North Norfolk standing with Rob Morton – the owner of Morton’s Family Farm and at the beginning of a fascinating journey into the surprising world of Norfolk Bronze Turkeys…

Close up of Norfolk Bronze turkeys revealing the shimmering green plumage
A close up of Norfolk Bronze turkeys

The Norfolk Bronze turkey

Named for its unusual shimmering green plumage, the Norfolk Bronze are arguably the finest examples of turkey in the world and the proud centrepiece of Morton’s Farm. Bronzes began as their Norfolk Black cousins but were selectively bred from only the tastiest and most succulent of examples – eventually diverging into something new. But selecting the breed is just the beginning of producing great gobblers – the journey from egg to the plate is long and if you wish to produce something that tantalises tastebuds, it’s a journey which requires great care and dedication on the part of the farmer.

Norfolk bronze turkey hatchlings climbing straw at the turkey hotel
Norfolk Bronze hatchlings climbing straw at the turkey hotel

As free as a bird…

The Norfolk Bronze hatchings begin their lives under the protection of the turkey hotel canopy where they are kept warm and are free to roam around over a bed of straw. Naked oats are provided which help them to gain layers of good quality fat. Once the turkeys are old enough, they are allowed to venture out into the warm summer Norfolk countryside.

Free-range, in a legal sense, is not what you might think. Whereas some supermarket turkeys are labelled as such, it goes against the spirit of the term. Turkeys labelled as free-range can often be crammed into terrible conditions with up to nine birds per square meter. Having access to outside is not the same as having the ability to go outside as often conditions are so cramped that hens never make it to the exit. Morton’s farm takes the care of its animals seriously. Whereas rearing less birds and providing greater care won’t make as much profit, the turkeys are healthier and happier which means that what ends up on your plate is something which the farmer can be proud of.

Mature Norfolk Bronze turkeys roaming free-range at Mortons Family Farm
Mature Norfolk Bronze turkeys roaming free-range at Mortons Family Farm

Slow and steady wins the taste

Supermarket turkeys are grown in as little as 12 weeks with some never seeing the light of day. As well as having an impact on the turkey’s stress levels, factory-farming produces an inferior product which has gained turkey meat a few unfavourable stereotypes. Common complaints of turkey are that it’s too dry or flavourless. These attributes are not synonymous with the turkey itself or a result of your cooking skills but rather a symptom of being fast grown and improperly cared for. 

Turkey farming requires a greater level of care over other birds. Morton’s Norfolk bronze turkeys are grown over 25 weeks. This allows for fat to develop between the muscle fibres – producing a firmer texture and basting the meat as it cooks. It has been known for a long time that compounds from an animals feed end up in its fat. This means that the flavour of the animal is heavily influenced by what it eats. Morton’s turkeys are encouraged to go outside from an early age where they subsidise their diet with natural forage. In turn, their diet is much lower in protein and produces a slow forming sweeter fat with a pleasant aroma.

Raw Norfolk Bronze turkey on an oven tray
Norfolk Bronze Turkey available in Morton’s online shop

Hand plucked and game-hung

In the old days, birds were hand-plucked and game-hung until ‘high’ – meaning a gamey flavour had developed. Whereas this practice is still popular amongst the hunting community, new techniques have developed to make for a safer and more delicious bird.

Mortons still hand-pluck their Norfolk Bronze turkeys. This process takes an order of magnitude more time than ‘wet-plucking’ (pre-scalding the birds in hot water) but ensures that the outer skin layers and textures are well preserved. This is why hand-plucked turkeys crisp up nicely on the outside when roasted. Mortons still also game-hang their birds but do so in a cool and bacteria-free environment – perfect for enzymes to do their work in breaking down the cellular walls in the meat. This process tenderizes and adds depth to the flavour.

Raw Norfolk Bronze turkey crown in a tray
Norfolk Bronze Turkey Crown available in Morton’s online shop

How does Norfolk Bronze’s taste compare with supermarket-bought turkey?

The Bronze has a delicate flavour. Being game-hung further ads depth, producing a subtle gamey taste. Unlike supermarket turkey, the meat is distinctive. We all know what chicken tastes like but describing turkey is difficult for one who has not tried slow-farmed. The comparison is night and day – once you’ve tried bronze, you won’t go back!

Order your free-range turkey today and get it delivered in time for Christmas.

A roasted Norfolk Bronze turkey with trimmings
Oven-roasted Norfolk Bronze turkey with trimmings

How to cook a Norfolk Bronze turkey?

Not all turkeys are created equal and how to cook a turkey depends on a few factors. Game-hung turkeys, like Morton’s Norfolk Bronze, require less time to cook as the cells are partially broken down. The extra fat layers and marbling also reduce cooking time as fat heats quicker than muscle fibres. Our instructions provide details on the best way to cook a game-hung turkey and more specifically the best way to cook a Norfolk Bronze game-hung turkey.

How to defrost a Norfolk Bronze Turkey

If your Norfolk Bronze is frozen, ensure that your turkey is fully thawed before cooking. The safest way for a turkey to defrost is in the refrigerator and takes approximately 10 hours per kg or 5 hours per pound.

Preparing your Norfolk Bronze Turkey

Unlike supermarket turkeys which require steps to reduce dryness and add flavour, a Norfolk Bronze is very different. You want to let the centrepiece of your Christmas dinner speak for itself and allow for its unique flavour to come through by cooking it as simply as possible. That means no need for brining or basting!

Important: Remove the giblet bag from the turkey cavity!

Start by giving your Norfolk Bronze a few hours out of the fridge to reach room temperature. This allows for more accuracy in timing your roast. Place your turkey in a roasting tin large enough to accommodate your bird with about 430ml or 3/4 pint of water.

It’s best to let your turkey cook alone – this means leaving stuffing and other sides to cook separately. Simply cover your turkey in its tray tightly with foil and you are ready to place it in your preheated oven!

Norfolk Bronze Turkey cooking temperatures

Preheat your oven to 200°C/400f/gas mark 6. Give your oven plenty of time to reach temperature. The turkey should cook at this temperature for 40 minutes before reducing the temperature to 180°C/356f/gas mark 4.

How long do I cook my Norfolk Bronze turkey?

Allow 40 minutes per kg or about 18 minutes per pound of turkey meat (with the first 40 minutes being cooked at the higher temperature). Note that you may wish to weigh your turkey with the giblet bag removed to be extra accurate. If you want your skin to be nice and crispy, remove the foil during the final 30 minutes of cooking.

Internal turkey temperatures

Around 40 minutes before your turkey is cooked, place a thermometer in the thickest part. If the temperature is 74°C/165f then it is cooked. If you do not have a thermometer, pierce the thickest part. If the juices run clear then the turkey is cooked. If the juices are red or pink, the turkey still requires more cooking time.

Resting your Norfolk Bronze turkey

It is very important to let your turkey rest for at least 30 minutes after cooking. This allows for an even moisture distribution and the muscle fibres to detract and firm up. 

Making the perfect gravy to go with your Norfolk Bronze turkey

We highly recommend using the giblets from your Norfolk Bronze turkey for your gravy. The flavour is second to none and when you are working with such high-quality fresh ingredients, it’s a terrible waste not to use them.

Ingredients:

  • Bag of giblets from your Norfolk Bronze
  • 2 onions
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 large carrot
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of flour
  1. Start by making a stock. This part can be prepared whilst your turkey is still in the oven. Put some vegetable oil in a large saucepan over a medium-high temperature and allow to heat up. When hot, add your giblets and allow to brown on all sides (about 2-3 minutes).
  2. Now add two chopped onions, two chopped celery stalks and a large carrot. Stir frequently and allow to brown for a further 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add a teaspoon of peppercorns (about 10), a couple of bay leaves and pour in 2000ml or about 3 1/2 pints of water.
  4. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer for around 1 hour or until the volume has reduced to half.
  5. Pour your stock through a colander and set to one side.
  6. Once your turkey is cooked, pour the juices from your turkey pan into a measuring jug and allow time for the fat to separate.
  7. Use a soup spoon or ladle to take two tablespoons of fat from your jug and pour it into your turkey roasting pan.
  8. Add two tablespoons of flour to the turkey pan and use a wooden spoon to mix and scrape up all of the nice browned turkey bits from the bottom. Once you have made good progress, put your turkey pan over medium heat and keep mixing until you form a roux.
  9. Use a ladle to slowly add your stock to your turkey pan and mix constantly so that it doesn’t stick or burn. Keep adding stock one ladle at a time and mixing – adding too much stock at once can cause lumps to form.
  10. Once your stock has been added, turn off the heat and pour your gravy through a colander into a saucepan. You can now skim the rest of the oil from your turkey juices (use this to cook your roast potatoes) and pour the juices into your gravy mixture. Mix well and this is now ready to heat up when its time to eat!

What to do with your Norfolk Bronze turkey leftovers

Don’t forget that your turkey is special, wasting the leftovers would be a crime! The turkey meat can be used to make a Christmas leftover pie, turkey and stuffing sandwich with mayo and Christmas cheeses, salads and more! Even the turkey carcass makes for a great chicken noodle soup alternative!

For more great ideas on how to use your turkey’s leftovers, visit our friends over at Christie’s Lifestyle.

A sliced Norfolk Bronze turkey served in a beautiful Christmas setting with all the trimmings
Serving suggestion – oven roasted Norfolk Bronze at Christmas

Norfolk Bronze Nutritional information

Chicken is known to be a lean protein but turkey has about half the fat content at around 7g per 100g. With protein, turkey wins again, clocking in at 29g per 100g – 2g more than chicken! And, unless you get supermarket turkey which can contain added salt, turkey is very low in sodium. This miracle meat has other hidden benefits too…

Turkey is packed with:

• Potassium, an important electrolyte that helps to reduce blood pressure, protect against strokes, kidney stones and osteoporosis

• Selenium, which helps protect your body from damage caused by oxidative stress and plays a critical role in thyroid function and metabolism. What’s more, selenium may help to boost your immune system and slow age-related mental decline.

• B vitamins including Vitamin B3 (niacin) which helps your body process fatty acids and sugars into energy.

This is why turkey is considered one of the healthiest meats!

A shimmering Norfolk Bronze turkey hen in front of hay bales
A young Norfolk Bronze turkey hen

A brief British history of the turkey

The turkey originates from the Americas but was likely first domesticated by native Mexicans. There is conflicting information about when turkeys first arrived on British shores but it was likely between 1519-1526. The original birds brought over were very different from the varieties we know today. Early turkeys differ from their modern domestic counterparts in a few ways. Their breasts are smaller and more muscular as they originally served to power the wings during flight. Whereas a young poult can still fly a short distance, adult domesticated turkeys cannot. Wild turkeys tend to be leaner and more aggressive – a trait swiftly bred out after a few generations. 

It was Edward VII who created the tradition of eating turkey at Christmas although due to a lack of refrigeration, it was reserved for the very rich and only gained wider appeal in the 1950s. The Norfolk Black turkey, which would eventually be bred into the Norfolk Bronze Turkey, gets its name from the turkey farming industry which took off in East Anglia. The Norfolk Black was so popular that it was eventually exported back to the Americas in the 1600s.

A young Norfolk Bronze turkey hen standing atop hay bales
A young Norfolk Bronze turkey hen climbing

Five fun facts about turkeys

1. In the 1930s a turkey would cost the average of a week’s wages to buy – it was considered a luxury food – thank goodness for modern refrigeration! 

2. In the 1700s a quarter of a million turkeys each year were walked from Norfolk to London to sell at market in flocks of around 1000 birds – a journey that would start in August and not be finished until November! The turkeys had small leather boots fashioned to protect their feet during the arduous journey.

3. The ‘snood’ is a growth of skin just above the turkey’s beak. Whereas this might appear strange to a human, to a turkey hen, the long snood of a ‘tom’ (a male turkey) is something quite desirable! This is likely due to the fact that studies show that the length of the snood directly compares to the health of the animal.

4. Turkeys have excellent hearing abilities. They lack a pinna (a flap of skin which focuses the sound) but can still hear more distant sounds than a human.

5. Wild turkeys can run at 25mph, that’s a lot faster than most humans – good job we are higher up on the food chain!