Are you ready for the World Series of Cooking?
By far the best bird I’ve ever had has been a brined bird. Brining is essentially a marinade, high in salt, with sugar, spices, and herbs.
Brining hydrates the cells of the muscle. The salt content of the brine is higher than the muscle cells, and this saline contrast forces the salt into the cell by osmosis. (Osmosis is when one solvent moves from a low concentration, like turkey meat, to a high concentration, like salty brine.) The salt draws the water and flavorings in with it, resulting in a moist, flavorful bird. The salt also denatures the protein of the muscle, which essentially re-configures the protein to hold more water.
You can brine any meat, but it is especially useful on cuts that tend to be dry. (I use it on pork a lot, which is bred with a little fat these days.) The beauty of the brined bird it that it is very hard to over-roast it. Even if you are well known for your dry bird, you will be hard-pressed to mess this on up.
- 2 cups kosher salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 5-6 bay leaves
- 2 TB. cup dried thyme
- 1/4 cup peppercorns
- 1 TB. juniper berries
- 1 TB. allspice
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 3 stalks celery, chopped
- 2 -3 gallons water, divided
- 1-2 quarts ice
- 1 (10-15 lb.) turkey, defrosted
1. Combine salt, sugar, herbs and spices, onion and celery in a large saucepan. Add enough water to cover, then bring to a boil over high heat. At the boil, reduce heat and stir occasionally until sugar and salt are dissolved. Transfer to a large stock pot or bucket that will fit the bird, and fit in your fridge. Add 1-2 quarts ice to cool brine.
2. Remove giblets from turkey and rinse inside and out. Place into brine and cover with water, making sure bird is submerged. You may need to weight him down with a heavy plate topped with some canned goods. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
3. Preheat oven to 450˚F. Bend the wings backwards and tuck the wing tips behind the turkey’s back (like he’s being cuffed). Legs can be tied together with kitchen twine, but leaving them open will cook the bird faster, and make the legs crispier. Place a roasting rack inside a roasting pan, and set the bird on the rack, breasts facing up. Fill the bottom of the pan with 1-inch of water, which will prevent smoke from fat drippings.
4. Put the pan in the oven, and reduce the heat to 350˚F. Baste every 10-15 minutes throughout roasting time. Cook for 20 minutes for every pound. When you think it’s done, insert an instant read thermometer into the thigh muscle. The meat should be 180-185˚F.
You’ll find Stuffing and Gravy recipes in the Recipe File.