Sunday, November 18, 2007

turkey brine

Turkey guide: Make the perfect meal

03:46 PM CST on Saturday, November 17, 2007
By KIM PIERCE / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

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It's turkey time. You either just bought the bird, or you're on the way to the store. But what will you do after that? It depends on the turkey. Is it a plain, fresh bird? A Butterball or Honeysuckle? Did you buy an injected turkey?
And does it really make any difference when you get ready to cook these different birds?

Yes, says Anne Legg, an area cooking teacher who has run both Sur La Table's and Central Market Plano's cooking schools. Here's what she says you need to know to make the most of the turkey destined for your table.

For naked birds, brining is best

A plain, inexpensive turkey that has had no water or juices added will turn out juicier if you brine it, Ms. Legg says.

Shirley Corriher explains why in Cookwise (Morrow, $30): "Brining is a way to increase the amount of liquid inside the meat cells," she writes.

"When meat is soaked in a salt or sugar solution, some of the liquid will go through the cell walls into the cells."

Brining also lets you control the amount of salt you add, Ms. Legg says, which can be important to some guests.

Ms. Legg gets right down to business using a clean, mop-size pail to brine. But you can also use an oversize plastic zip-top bag � in fact, anything that will hold the turkey and the brining liquid and fit into the refrigerator.

Whole Foods Market sells a disposable, 2-gallon brining bag made just for turkey from Turkey Perfect, as well as a ready-to-use herb brining mix. Ziploc makes Big Bags that are large enough to hold a turkey; we found them with the closet organizers at Wal-Mart.

Ms. Legg suggests brining overnight. She keeps it simple with a solution of salt, sugar and water.

"Occasionally, I'll use thyme, sage, fresh herbs," she says. "I'll bruise them and toss them in whole [into the brining liquid]."

Brining the bird: Remove the giblets from the cavity, if there are any; reserve and refrigerate for other use. Dissolve 1/2 cup salt and 1/4 cup sugar in every gallon of water you plan to use. Place the bird in the brining solution to cover in a container.

If you use a plastic zip-top bag, make sure to press the air out. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, drain and discard the liquid. Then place the turkey, uncovered, on a rack in the refrigerator and allow to air dry before final preparation for the oven.

Juicy birds in a hurry

If you've managed to pick up a Butterball, Honeysuckle or similar turkey, no brining is necessary.

"Basically, most commercial birds, packed in tight plastic overwraps, are injected or brined," Ms. Legg says, " 'with up to 30 percent water added,' as most of the labels will state. This liquid is a mixture of water, salt, flavorings and preservatives.

"The effect is similar to brining a bird at home," she says, "in that it adds juiciness to the meat, especially the breast, which tends to be dry." The roasting method for both types of birds is the same.

Buy an instant-read thermometer

If you buy a commercial bird, throw away or disregard the pop-up timer, Ms. Legg insists, because it pops out when the bone reaches 180 F, she says, which overcooks the breast meat.

"I cook to 160 F," she says, using an instant-read thermometer. It's about a $12 investment, she adds, and they are widely available.

An easy method for roasting a turkey

Here's Ms. Legg's method for perfect turkey every time. (Remember to remove the giblets from the cavity of the commercially packaged turkey.)

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Place the rack low enough for the bird to fit without touching the top or sides of the oven. Once the turkey has air-dried, massage it all over with room-temperature butter. Cut up 2 onions and place them in the cavity with some fresh herbs, such as thyme and sage. Tie the legs together, tuck the wings under, and place on a rack in a pan in the oven. Roast approximately 15 minutes per pound.

Although some cooks baste the turkey as it cooks, Ms. Legg does not. "I don't mess with it," she says. "The only thing I'll do is tent it loosely with foil if the skin is starting to brown too much."

Test for doneness with an instant-read thermometer. Stick it deep into the breast, but don't touch the bone.

When it reads 160 F, remove the bird from the oven. Present it on a platter at the table. Then, Ms. Legg says, take it back to the kitchen to carve. If you don't present it at the table, allow it to rest 30 minutes after you take it out of the oven before carving.

The breast meat will be perfect, Ms. Legg says, but the thigh meat may be more medium-rare. If that's the case, she suggests microwaving that meat about 5 minutes while you slice the breast. "By the time you're done, you can carve the dark meat as well."

Variation: The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (America's Test Kitchen, $34.95) suggests this: Preheat oven to 425 F.

Start with placing the bird breast-side-down on the rack. After an hour, reduce heat to 325 F, remove the turkey and carefully turn it over, so it's breast-side up: "Tip the juices from the cavity of the turkey into the pan. With a clean kitchen towel or potholder in each hand, firmly grasp the turkey at each end and flip it over, placing it breast-side up on the rack."

Return to the oven to finish roasting 1 to 2 1/2 hours longer (depending on size). It's done when the thigh meat registers 175 F on an instant-read thermometer. Make sure the thermometer doesn't touch the bone.

Injected for deep frying

And what if you have an injected turkey?

"Injection is really useful for a fried bird to keep it from popping and foaming," Ms. Legg says. Injecting, like brining, makes for a juicy turkey. But because the liquid is injected deep into the tissues, it adds less water to the skin, which reduces splattering when the bird is lowered into the hot oil.

Ms. Legg doesn't recommend injected turkey for other cooking methods, such as roasting or grilling, because the holes you make for injecting will allow the juices to leak out.

Tired of chewy, dry turkey every Thanksgiving? There's an easy solution, according to Tori Ritchie -- immerse the bird in some brine, which will keep it moist and juicy.

And this year the "hot" turkey ingredient is apple cider. Tori has incorporated it into her brine; she says the cider makes the turkey brown beautifully and taste almost sweet.

You can make your brine (a simple mixture of water, salt and cider) a couple days before Thanksgiving if you wish. You can also buy a pre-made brine mixture that you just add to water. Once your turkey has brined the appropriate amount of time, you just pull it from the mixture and dry it off. Tori then rubs a mixture of butter and herbs over the bird to add yet another layer of flavor and richness. If you don't want to mess with the brining process, you can jump straight to this step.

If you do brine the turkey in cider, you'll need to tent the bird with foil after the first 30 minutes of cooking to keep it from getting too browned. Allow the turkey to rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Some other turkey thoughts: Tori believes fresh turkeys are far superior to frozen. You should plan on preparing 1 1/2 lbs of turkey per person if you want leftovers. Remove your bird from the fridge 1 to 1 1/2 hours before roasting to bring it to room temperature.

And, finally, Tori never stuffs her bird; she believes this allows the turkey to roast more evenly and eliminates any worries about contaminating the stuffing.

Happy roasting!

Cider-Brined Turkey

Tori says: "Soaking the turkey in a saltwater brine produces tender, juicy meat, but the pan drippings may be a bit salty for making gravy. You can still prepare a delicious gravy by using our turkey gravy base. To add rich flavor, simmer the turkey neck, tail and giblets in the stock you plan to use for the gravy, then add pan drippings to the finished gravy to taste."

1 jar turkey brine -- apple and spices, prepared with cider and water according to package instructions
1 fresh turkey, about 16 lb., neck, heart and gizzard removed (reserved, if desired)
8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tsp. chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as rosemary, oregano, parsley and sage
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Prepare the turkey brine and brine the turkey according to the package instructions.

Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse well under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Trim off and discard the excess fat. Let the turkey stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

In a bowl, using a wooden spoon, beat together the butter, herbs and pepper until well blended. Spread the butter mixture evenly on the outside of the turkey. Truss the turkey as desired using kitchen twine.

Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a large roasting pan and roast for 30 minutes. Loosely tent the turkey with foil, then reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F and continue roasting, basting every 30 minutes with the pan juices.

After about 2 1/2 hours of total roasting time, begin testing for doneness by inserting an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and thigh, away from the bone. The breast should register 165 degrees F and the thigh, 175 degrees F. Total roasting time should be 3 to 3 3/4 hours.

Transfer the turkey to a carving board, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving. Serves 12.

Make-Ahead Tips: Prepare the brine mixture (but do not add the turkey) up to 2 days in advance. Cover and store in the refrigerator.
Thanksgiving is one of the most traditionally ambitious, not to mention stressful, meals of the year. If you have family and friends who like to get in the kitchen and truly help, don't change a thing ― nothing can replace that laughter amid the madness. But if you find yourself doing most of the cooking (at the last minute), or you just like to do things your way, then I offer this advice:

You have one week left, make it work for you!

Below you will find five dishes that can easily be made ahead. Start cooking today and by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, you can actually enjoy the holiday with your family.

Story continues below ↓


Sausage, cornbread and Madeira fig dressing
Mix the ingredients for this stuffing together, fill the dish that you will be serving the stuffing in and freeze prior to baking. Take this dish out of the freezer when you put the turkey in the oven, and it will be ready to bake about one hour before serving. Recipe: Bianca's sausage, cornbread and Madeira fig dressing

Mashed potatoes
Rather than boiling the potatoes in water and then mashing them and adding milk and butter, you save yourself time by actually boiling your potatoes in milk. Once you've mashed the potatoes, you can literally leave them in the pot for two to three days (be sure to cover it in plastic wrap and the pot lid) and then quickly reheat them on Thanksgiving. You can also freeze them. I swear they will be creamy and delicious, assuming you've made them that way to begin with. Recipe: Bianca's mashed potatoes

If you make your own pies, assemble them completely and freeze them raw. They can go directly to the oven from the freezer. Frozen or not, I recommend baking the pies the day before, as multiple pies will hog the oven, and the turkey will already be doing that. Pies keep well at room temperature overnight, and you can pop them into the oven during dinner so they are nice and warm for dessert. Recipe: Bianca's pumpkin pie

More Thanksgiving ideas
The perfect red wine for your feast
Is white wine your thing? Try these Thanksgiving picks
The ulimate dinner from TODAY's celebrity chefs
TODAY's complete holiday guide

Cranberry relish
This can be made three to four days ahead, and usually tastes better for it. Recipe: Bianca's cranberry relish

Turkey brine
Have you ever brined your turkey? A brine is water, orange, lemon, kosher salt, sugar, garlic, fennel, pepper, sage, thyme, cardamom and bay leaf, all boiled together and cooled for a distinctive turkey marinade. Whipping this together takes only 14 minutes and will change your entire turkey experience. Consider this: Your turkey is going to be in your refrigerator approximately two days in advance anyway. All you need to do is have it sit in brine instead of in a bag. Brining does not change the day's roasting preparation at all. Make the brine three to four days before Thanksgiving, keeping it cold until you put the turkey in it. Recipe
Thanksgiving in Vermont means so many things to different people. Classic traditions are refined with new ideas, and modern traditions shape the season as well. One of our favorite new traditions is a local farmers market held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Since returning to Vermont in 1995, we have gone there to gather our produce and cheeses for the feast and thank the farmers for another growing season.

My wife, Libby, and I moved to Cabot in 2001 and have fallen in love with the community and its people. It is a great place to raise a family. We are fortunate to live next door to the Bothfelds and their multi-generational farm. They are truly stewards of their land and wonderful neighbors. Their fancy maple syrup is harvested with taps and buckets, gathered by hand every day through the season. They also raise turkeys, one of which is the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving dinner.

While I love the classic stuff-and-roast method for the bird, my preference is a more advanced technique. With a little knife work and advance planning, I serve maple brined turkey with sausage stuffing, cooked in a charcoal kettle grill (otherwise known as the Weber). The advantages to preparing the turkey in this manner:

The turkey is moister and more evenly cooked.

The cooking time is much shorter.

By cooking the turkey outside, oven space is freed up for all the other dishes.

The carcass is removed prior and a rich stock can be made the day before, to be used for the gravy.

The leftover turkey is ready to slice and serve for sandwiches, etc., while taking up much less space in the refrigerator than the traditional bird.

The bread-based dressing is cooked separately, safer for everyone.

Recipe for Maple Brined Turkey

Key equipment:

Plastic container large enough to hold one turkey and liquid that will fit in the refrigerator

Large kettle grill for indirect cooking


Smoking chips (if desired)

Bamboo skewers


1 15- to 18-pound Vermont-raised turkey

1 cup kosher salt

2 cups Grade B maple syrup

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 gallon water

2 pounds ground sausage of your choice


Two Days Prior:

Remove and reserve turkey neck and giblets.

Using a sharp, stiff boning knife, cut the turkey skin along the backbone (DO NOT CUT ON THE BREAST SIDE).

Carefully peel the skin from the carcass on each side down to the breast meat.

Separate the breast meat from the carcass, leaving the meat intact as much as possible.

Disconnect the leg joint from the carcass. You should now have the bird laid out flat on the cutting board with only the breast bone attached to the skin.

Separate the breast bone from the skin, being careful not to pierce the skin with the tip of the knife.

Carefully remove the thigh bones, leaving the meat attached to the skin as much as possible. You now have a semi-boneless turkey for brining, and bones, neck and giblets for stock.

Combine the salt, syrup, cayenne pepper and water, stirring until all the salt has dissolved, creating the brine.

Place the turkey in a large plastic container, pour the brine over the top of the turkey, gently plunging the meat to ensure it is fully submerged. If necessary add more water to cover. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

One Day Prior:

Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse in fresh water and place on a large clean space, skin side down. Gently dry the flesh as much as possible.

Divide the ground sausage into equal portions; one for the tapered end of the breast and one for the wide end.

Having the bamboo skewers ready, carefully reshape the turkey into its original shape and stitch together the skin with as many bamboo skewers as necessary, to hold the sausage in place.

Tie the drumsticks together with twine.

Place the turkey, breast side up, on a cooling rack with a sheet pan underneath.

Pat the whole turkey dry and put into the refrigerator UNCOVERED until it is time to cook.

Five Hours Before Dinner:

Using the indirect charcoal method start 15 briquettes on two sides of the grill and allow it to preheat.

Place turkey, breast side up, in the center of the clean grill.

Cover and cook slowly, adding coals only to maintain an even temperature in the grill.

Cook for approximately three hours or until the internal temperature has reached 160 degrees.

Carefully remove the turkey from the grill (a good two-person job, with four spatulas or other tools to get underneath).

Allow the turkey to rest in a warm place with a loose foil tent for at least 45 minutes before carving.

Chef David Hale is director of career services at New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier.


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