Monday, January 04, 2010

Super Bowl is Coming...Brine a Turkey For It!

Happy New Year y'all! Today we are blessed with a post from Guest Blogger NoHandle.

He is an accomplished cook and often ready to try new things, like this turkey cooking method. I also know that his Mom has reserved her copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking for him, so you know that he has respect for good cooking. Since Superbowl will be here before you know it and since this recipe will work for a smaller turkey or, I suspect, a turkey breast, consider it for those Superbowl sandwiches or platters. You'll have to imagine a lovely turkey with dark brown skin, juicy meat and a hint of spices, because there is no photo this time.

With no further ado, here's NoHandle!:

Brine a turkey?! I had never done that before. So, what does that mean, and why would I do it now? Therein lies the story.

My daugher-in-law Jenifer insisted on a "natural" turkey for our Thanksgiving feast. We were happy to comply, as we too appreciate healthy eating. "But you have to brine it because it is so lean," she said. Well, the good news was that I had recently seen Alton Brown do some brining on "Good Eats" so the concept wasn't completely foreign, but it was an untried technique for me. To paraphrase Alton, brining is a method for introducing spices and moisture into an otherwise dry meat. As the name implies, there is some salt involved as well. It acts as a vehicle to shuttle moisture and flavor between a fluid bath (the brine) and the meat (turkey in this instance, although he speaks highly of it for lean pork, such as pork loin, as well). There seemed to be no advantage in starting small and working up to a 22 pound bird (the size we had to feed a dozen or so), so I figuratively jumped into the deep end and started swimming.

Jennifer had a recipe from somewhere on-line, and I had one from Alton's show, found at, and they weren't that different, so I was ready. This is the merged one that I used.

NoHandle's Brined Turkey

1 Cup kosher salt
.5 Cup light brown sugar (or dark brown)
1 Gallon apple cider
1 Tablespoon black peppercorns (slightly crushed; I used a garlic press)
1.5 Tablespoons allspice berries (slightly crushed; garlic press again)
4 Ounces fresh ginger, sliced thin (I peeled mine first)
1 orange, sliced (peel and all)
1 Gallon heavily iced water

Combine the stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, orange slices, and ginger in a large pot over medium-high heat. Except for having about 2 gallons of liquid, the amounts of the ingredients are not critical. I wouldn't change the salt or sugar, but otherwise substitute freely. One version called for vegetable stock instead of the cider. Stir occasionally and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Combine the brine, water and ice in a very large plastic zip-lock bag. (Note: They are called Ziploc Big Bags. It also says heavy duty and XL 4 bags on the box. The size is 2 ft. x 1.7 ft. I think you can get them at Target (if you have Targets out there) and probably Walmart. I even found parchment paper at our "super" Walmart. You may be able to get away with Reynolds roasting bags, but I'm not sure if it can handle that much liquid.)

Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. Ensure the bird is fully immersed, cover and set in a cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through the brining. If you use an insulated container, there will still be a bit of ice remaining at the end of the brining.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove bird from the brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine. (It won't hurt the pipes or city waste water.) Place bird in a roasting pan, and pat dry with paper towels. Roast on lowest rack setting for about 25 minutes per pound, until the disposable thermometer pops up. Keep a close watch after about 1 hour for browning and tent with aluminum foil when is starts to brown. At the 20 minute-per-pound mark, check for early completion. Once complete, rest for about 15 minutes at room temperature to make carving easier, and to let juices re-absorb. Serve immediately.

Most of the challenge is physical; preparing the ingredients is not at all difficult or critical. I didn't have a stock pot big enough for a turkey of the size we had. I had jokingly suggested that "natural" turkeys might not even come that large, but they did.

Alton Brown had used a water cooler like the ones that hold Gatorade at football games, but I didn't have one of those either. What I had was an old Coleman ice chest, which was a bit large, but would suffice. The other tool required was a very large zip-lock bag (you can get them in four-packs). It needed to be large enough to hold both the turkey and the couple of gallons of brining liquid.

The turkey was placed neck-end down in the bag for the first half of the brining, then turned over, neck-end up for the final few hours. The difficulty was in keeping the bag to a small enough volume that the turkey would be as completely covered in the brine as possible. It was necessary to put a couple of phone books between the long sides of the ice chest and the bag. It is important that the whole package not get too warm, although the salinity prevents any bacterial growth or other spoilage, so a few cups of ice from the kitchen ice maker was added to keep it cool. The large bag has cutouts that form handles, which makes getting it into and out of the ice chest easier, if not easy. This movement must be accomplished at the beginning, in the middle when the turkey is rotated end for end, and at the end when it is removed for roasting.

If you have a problem estimating when the turkey will ready to serve, this process adds considerable time, and you want to schedule the turning in the middle for a reasonable hour, like first thing Thursday morning. That gives you several hours to do the rest of your prep work and get the oven pre-heated.

As a side note, we don't do stuffing, as such, but rather dressing. It is the same recipe, prepared the day before, just wrapped in foil and put in the oven about 30 minutes before the bird is expected to finish, or the time when you expect to serve dinner. It is difficult to get stuffing properly heated while not overcooking the turkey. They are both done sooner too.

I will note that the skin browned earlier than expected, so I tented the bird with foil when I noticed that. It also finished earlier, by nearly an hour. The result was also a darker brown than usual, but the taste was not at all burnt. So how was the taste? With all that salt and sugar, you might expect a salty bird. This was not the case. There was a certain sweetness, and the spices were noticeable, but not overwhelming, deep into the meat. I really liked the ginger notes, but then I like ginger. It was quite juicy, as you would expect from a non-frozen turkey, perhaps a bit more than before, but only a bit.

Would I do this again, or recommend it to others? Yes, but with reservations. I would probably not do this every time I roasted a turkey, natural or not, and I would like to try this technique on pork loin roasts, which can be dry and need extra flavors. I would also take a picture of my next effort, in case I need to explain, and illustrate, it again. Sorry guys, no mouth watering picture this time.

1 comment :

  1. Well done on your first guest post NoHandle!