Brine makes the bird better
I was sick for many holiday festivities this year. My family started playing leap frog with illness just after Thanksgiving. School and work were missed, but my husband and sons seemed to recover fairly quickly. Then came my turn.
We had plans to surprise my mom with tickets to the Niles Canyon Train of Lights (outside of Fremont, Calif.) the Sunday before Christmas. Instead, I spent that morning in a local urgent care facility and was diagnosed with multiple upper respiratory infections. There would be no train at Christmas this year, nor much of anything else.
I spent much of the next several days in bed, and finally emerged on Dec. 26. I was so grateful to be up and about. One of my first stops was the grocery store, where I discovered turkeys on sale at 50% off.
Feeling inspired and eager to cook after all the time I was laid up, I grabbed a 14-pounder and set it in my cart. I decided on the drive home that I would try brining it.
I’d heard about this technique before; you submerge whatever it is you’re cooking in a salty water bath for several hours or days before you cook it. The brine swells the muscle tissue and increases the moisture-holding capacity of the meat. I was always afraid that this would result in a salty-tasting bird and had never attempted it. At some point this holiday season, I’d bought a brining bag, and now felt like the time to try it.
There are lots of brining recipes online. I found a basic one and adapted it to this:
■ Bring 1 gallon of water to a boil.
■ Add 1 cup of sea salt and herbs and spices of your choice (I used dried sage, thyme, and rosemary; onion powder; and pepper). Make sure the salt is completely dissolved.
■ Allow brine to come to room temperature.
■ Add ½ gallon of cold apple juice and ½ gallon of ice water to brine, mixing well.
From there, I filled the brining bag (these will accommodate up to a 20-pound turkey) ½ full. After removing the neck and giblets, I placed the rinsed turkey inside the bag and added the remainder of brine. Making sure the brine covered the entire turkey, I pressed as much air out of the bag as possible and sealed it. The turkey went into the refrigerator and was left there undisturbed for 24 hours.
(Note: to avoid chemical contamination when brining, it is important to use a food-grade bags or container. The bag was easy to store until I was ready to use it and worked best for me).
The next day, I dumped the brine and roasted the unstuffed turkey at 330 degrees for about three hours.
Best turkey I ever made, and quite possibly, the best one I’ve ever had.
The meat was succulent, tender and juicy without the hint of saltiness that I’d expected. The meat cooked evenly, which usually proves a challenge; by the time the dark meat is done, the white meat is dry. Not the case here.
This will be my go-to recipe from here on out. I’ll experiment with seasonings and different types of salt to fine tune, and encourage you to give brining a try.
My best to you and yours as we embark on 2014. May it be happy and healthy for all of us.
Amy Roby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.