Last updated on November 23rd, 2014
AFTER hearing myriad cooks sing myriad hosannas for brined turkeys, I decided I had to brine one for myself. My first attempt was not without incident. But all’s well that ends well, right? And in the end, I discovered that I really, really, love a brined turkey.
Naturally, before I could mix up a batch of brine, I had to conduct a little research on recipes and methods. Here’s what I learned:
Brining — or marinating in a salty solution — breaks down the muscle fibers in poultry meat. This chemical reaction permits a bird to absorb a great deal of moisture. When roasted, the meat is tender, juicy, and amazingly-delicious.
Not all turkeys are worth brining. Common supermarket birds like Butterball and Shady Brook Farms (to name just two) are typically already injected with a saline solution. Brining can render these subjects so salty that they become inedible.
On the other hand, organic birds can definitely benefit from a marinade.
Of course my lousy local supermarket doesn’t offer organic turkeys. Consequently I had to special-order one from my favorite farm store. Would you like to know how much this little birdie set me back?
There are probably as many brining recipes and methods as there are cooks. In general, you use 3/4 cup each of kosher salt and sugar per gallon of liquid. The sugar helps to offset the saltiness. Otherwise, you can add all kinds of supplemental flavorings.
Because I love both apple cider and maple syrup, I made up the following recipe for my 13 lb investment:
Bring the works to boil.
Because the brine must be no warmer than 40°F., you may have to place it in the fridge for several hours before it becomes usable. Otherwise, bacteria can build up while the turkey soaks.
While my brine is chilling in the fridge, let’s discuss “brining bags.” These, from what I’ve read, are very much in vogue these days. I planned to use one. But guess what? My lousy local supermarket doesn’t sell brining bags!
Of course, in order to fill the bag with the marinade, you have to stand it upright, with the turkey inside. Thus I retrieved my one and only stockpot.
Next, I placed my $40 treasure (which, incidentally, I did not rinse first, because the USDA says rinsing is a no-no) in the lined stockpot…
Because the next step was a two-handed affair, and because I wanted to protect my camera from any splashing liquid, I set my camera down.
And what a splash there was. For when I lifted the filled bag, it immediately ripped. An ocean of apple cider, maple syrup, and precious, precious bourbon poured all over the counter and onto the floor.
But I discovered these three things:
1) My turkey fit quite comfortably in the stock pot.
2) I still had enough brining solution left over to cover the bird.
3) I didn’t need that frickin’ bag after all.
Thus, nothing was truly lost. But something extremely valuable was gained: Experience!
Was this game worth the candle?
Yes! And get this — after roasting the bird, I let it cool to room temperature. Then I placed it back in the covered roasting pan, and let it chill in the fridge overnight. The following morning, I reheated the turkey. Then I placed the turkey on a decorated platter, and took pictures of the “finished product” in front of the parlor fireplace (pictures here). In other words, I did everything that would encourage the bird to dry out.
But even after chilling and reheating, the turkey was outrageously tender, moist, and succulent. I’m not exaggerating, folks — it was the most delicious turkey I’ve ever tasted.
When it comes to turkeys (and probably chickens, too), I’m convinced that brining is the way to go.
And how about you? Are you planning to brine your Thanksgiving or Christmas bird? Talk to me in the comments field below. And if you have any brining tips to share, by all means pass ’em along!
Tomorrow’s post: Decorating the Turkey Platter.
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