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Lets be honest … the average turkey, even when prepared by the most experienced home cook, can be very dry and even a tad bland. Traditionally we salvage the dry turkey by disguising the problem with gravy!
Over the years, I have followed numerous cooking suggestions in an attempt to create a flavorful, moist Thanksgiving main course. I have deep-fried, wood-smoked, stuffed, buffed and dry-rubbed. I have roasted the bird “sitting”, breast up, breast down, on the right side, on the left side and have used endless combinations of these positions.
This year I ask you to end this madness — consider it behind you and just brine!
Thanksgiving of 2008, I jumped on the turkey-brining bandwagon. If a leisurely dip in a simple salt water solution could offer my supermarket turkey new life, I was game. Even though this process required some thoughtful planning, very little hands-on time was necessary. The payoff – white meat that was moist and tasty and my gravy was needed only on the mashed potatoes!
STEP 1 – Make the Brine
Makes 2 gallons
3 cups kosher salt, coarse
1 cup brown sugar (you can use white sugar)
2 teaspoons pepper (I used black peppercorns and smahed them with my cast iron skillet)
4 bay leaves
4 stems of fresh sage
4 stems of fresh thyme
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 gallon boiling water (1 gallon = 16 cups)
1 gallon ice cold water
Stir the salt, sugar, pepper, bay leaves, sage, thyme, garlic and onions together in a large stock pot. Add 1 gallon (16 cups) of water and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to steep for 30 minutes. Add the remaining gallon of ice cold water. If your pot does not hold 2 gallons it will be necessary to allow the brine to cool completely and add the additional ice cold water directly into the brining bag. (I was able to add some of the ice cold water to my pot to help it cool faster, then poured the remaining cold water into the brining bag.)
STEP 2 – Submerge the Bird
1 10 – 15 pound turkey
1 Brining Bag
Place the thawed turkey in a brining bag. I purchased a large 24 inch square brining bag. Make sure you use a food-grade bag. (DO NOT use garbage or other plastic bags that are not specifically intended for food use.) Put the bagged turkey in a clean cooler. Pour the brine over the turkey (in the bag) making sure the breasts are fully submerged. Zip/seal the bag closed. Surround the sealed bag with ice. The cooler needs to be in a cool place such as your garage, deck etc. Keep the brine below 40 degrees. I find that brining for at least 12 hours produces great results. After the brining process, discard the brine.
Note: For a larger turkey you may wish to make additional brine. Be careful to do so using the proportions in the recipe. You want to maintain the integrity of the brining solution.
STEP 3 – Prepare to Roast
Remove the turkey from the brine about 1 hour before you are ready to roast it. Place it on a sheet pan, let it drain and pat it dry inside and out. Dry skin equals crispy skin!
12 tablespoons of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 rounded tablespoon thyme leaves, minced
1 rounded tablespoon sage leaves, minced
1 rounded tablespoon Italian flat leaf parsley, minced
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Insert your hand under the skin on the breast of the turkey and lift the skin from the meat. Rub the herb butter on top of the meat and place the skin back down. Rub the outside of the turkey with some of this herb butter. (You can use olive oil.) Truss the bird for roasting.
TRUSS THE TURKEY:
STEP 4 – Roasting the Turkey
There are many theories on what is the best roasting technique. Some take the even temperature approach, others crank the heat high at the beginning, then finish at a lower temperature. For a good basic roast, I suggest starting at 400 degrees F for an hour, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F for the remainder of the cooking time. (Allow approximately 15 minutes per pound of turkey.) Make sure that you add liquid to the roasting pan and occasionally check to make sure this liquid has not completely evaporated. Roast the turkey until the breast registers 160 to 165 degrees F and the thickest part of the thigh reaches 175 degrees F. To keep the skin from burning, tent the bird with foil. Allow the turkey to rest 20 minutes before carving.