Brining a turkey
On the Table
Some people love to cook, others do it out of necessity. I’m the former, and I don’t mind taking a few extra steps here and there to give my Thanksgiving meals a real homemade feel and flavor. Face it, people appreciate the effort and will go as far as lying about your food’s flavor to show gratitude for going the extra yard in the kitchen. One effort that’s worth it is brining your bird.
Let’s be clear about one thing: I grew up eating dry turkey and never gave it a second thought. I’m not talking about a little dry, either. I’m talking dust-in-your-mouth dry, but the great thing about turkey is it still tastes good, even with Sahara Desert dryness.
Moist turkey is difficult to produce, since most birds have a recommendation to be cooked to 165 degrees. Once a turkey gets past 150 degrees, any water left in the turkey cells is forced out. This creates quite the quagmire. When you measure the temperature of your bird from the center and it hits 145 degrees, that means the outer layer of your bird will be around 180 degrees or hotter. Just like my mom’s turkey, the interior was much more juicy and the outer parts were extremely dry.
Brining was quite the rage during the past decade, as adding the salty water really does increase moisture in a baked bird. There are plenty of websites that will confirm what I know from experience: If you make a 6 percent saline solution and soak the bird for at least six hours, you will taste more moisture in your bird. Basically, that equates to about 1/2 a cup of kosher salt, or 1/4 cup of table salt per quart of water. Any more salt will not increase moisture, but will add more of a salty flavor to the outer layers of the bird.
It’s important not to use an enhanced turkey that has been injected with a saline solution, such as Butterball or Jenny-O’s. I like to buy the most inexpensive whole bird I can find, and give it a nice, salty bath before cooking. Every time I’ve used a brine solution, I’ve noticed a distinct moisture difference.
The most important thing is the salt to-water-ratio. You can brine a bird in just salt and water, but adding some other flavors will make subtle differences in the most exterior areas of the bird.
This brine is a little much, but a French cook gave it to me and I know it works from experience.
Ingredients: 1 cup kosher salt, 1/2 cup brown sugar, a gallon of veggie stock, 1 tablespoon of black peppercorns, 1/2 tablespoon of allspice berries and 1/2 tablespoon of candied ginger. Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cool, then refrigerate until chilled.
Add one gallon of iced water to the brine mix in a container large enough to also hold a turkey. Place bird breast-side down and let soak for at least six hours, turning once.
After brining, pat the bird dry and cook according to your favorite technique.
Back in 2013, while working on a proposed box set of archival recordings, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge came across a group of songs that had been recorded in the late 1980s but never released.
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