Monday 29 December 2014

Brining A Turkey

As promised, here I'm sharing a stellar technique for the next time you roast a whole turkey for a special occasion. The secret? Brining. Soaking your turkey in a brine for several hours before roasting does a number of things. But first, what is a brine? A brine is simply salted water. Though in this case, we will add sugar, black pepper and woody herbs for a little added flavour penetration. When I call brine salted water, I don't mean a little seasoning. There is a heavy amount of salt in a brine. This technique can be used on any other meat and even fish, but doesn't that make it taste really salty? Properly brined meat shouldn't taste salty. It will provide a level of seasoning, but the technique is more practical than necessarily for flavour.

Turkey can be notorious for being dry, especially the breast meat. When a turkey roasts in the oven, moisture is slowly lost during the cooking process. This is true for just about everything you bake or roast. A turkey generally loses 30% of its moisture by the time it's ready to eat. Brining helps to lock in about half of the moisture you'd normally lose resulting in juicy, tender, fall-off-the-bone poultry.

When the turkey is done brining, rinse it thoroughly with cold water. This will clean away any excess salt on the surface area of the bird. Then pat with paper towels until it is very dry. You won't need to add any additional salt to the turkey afterward. It is also recommended not to stuff a brined turkey because the salt content could alter the flavour of your stuffing. Though, you can cook the stuffing separately, which is the safest method any way. 

For extra flavour and moisture, rub some herbed butter between the skin and the breast meat. This post will include photos and all you need to know for all of these steps. Let's get started!

First you'll need to get a turkey. You can brine a turkey of any size but these measurements are suited best for a 14-lb bird. 


14-lb whole turkey, fresh or thawed
24 pints (48 cups) of cold water
2 1/2 lbs (8 3/4 cups) kosher salt
1 1/2 lbs (3 cups and 3 tbsps) granulated sugar
2/3 cup ground black pepper
2 bunches fresh thyme sprigs
3 or 4 sprigs fresh rosemary   

In a very large stock pot, combine the water with the salt. Stir until the salt is completely dissolved. This will take a few minutes, but adding the salt in stages will make it easier. Then stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Then add the pepper, thyme and rosemary and give it a final stir just to combine. 

Submerge the turkey in the brine and cover. Ladle some of the brine in the cavity of the bird before submerging it (to ensure you do not trap an air bubble within it). The turkey's natural reaction will be to float so you may need to use something to weight it down. Keep the stock pot covered and allow the turkey to brine for exactly six hours.

Remove the turkey from the brine and discard the liquid. Raw turkey has been sitting in it and it is not safe to use for anything else. You may notice that the turkey will be slightly heavier than before it was brined. Rinse the turkey very thoroughly under cold water. Wash both the outside and the inside of the cavity. Then pat very dry, inside and out, with paper towel.

Take some room temperature unsalted butter and add some chopped fresh rosemary, thyme and parsley to it. You can add other things like chili flakes, sage or any kind of spices you wish (but salt is no longer necessary). Mash the herbs into the butter until well combined. 

Using clean hands, gently wedge your fingers between the skin of the turkey and the breast meat and work them up to loosen the skin slightly. Be gentle as not to tear the skin anywhere. Once the skin is loosened, you'll have just enough space to rub some of the herb butter between the skin and the meat. While it roasts the herb butter will add flavour and moisture. 


Use some of the remaining butter to rub all over the skin of the turkey. 

Although we want to avoid stuffing the bird, you don't want to let the empty cavity go to waste. You can add any aromatic ingredients to the cavity as you wish. The ingredients will perfume the turkey from the inside out as it roasts. You can be creative as you like, but I recommend some garlic, lemon, rosemary, sage and thyme. These are added for flavour but not to be eaten.

Then season the outside of the turkey however you like. Remember, no extra salt is required at all. Some fresh ground black pepper would be stellar though. How you season/spice your turkey is up to you but in our family we generally use poultry seasoning, dried or ground sage, dried thyme, dried rosemary and paprika. Use your spices to season all over the exterior of the bird. Add some of the herbs and spices to the cavity as well. For presentation, fold the wings of the bird behind the shoulders like you would a chicken. Then place in a large roasting pan over a lifter, breast side up. Dot with more of the remaining herb butter. You may also use any extra flap of skin at the tail to tie the legs together, but it's not necessary.


Place a lid (or tent made from aluminum foil) over the turkey and place in a preheated oven at 325 F/160 C for about 20 minutes per pound or until an a meat thermometer reads an internal temperature of 180 F/82 C in the thickest part of the thigh. Every hour or so remove the turkey from the oven and use a baster to suck up some of the run off juices and moisten the top breasts and legs of the turkey. Since a brined turkey retains so much extra moisture, don't be alarmed if you don't see much juice to baste with in the first hour or two. 

Remove the lid or foil tent from the bird for the last half hour of cooking. This will let the skin crisp up at the end. Then remove from the heat and allow it to rest for at least fifteen minutes before carving into it.

If you've never tried brining a turkey before roasting it, you simply must give it a try. This was our first experience with it and we don't know if we'll prepare it any other way again. It was so delicious. Such improved flavour and juiciness. You can pick up any of the bones and the meat will slide right off, even the white meat! It's like nothing you've experienced before.

Stay tuned because in my next post I'm going to share my recipe for a fantastic Italian inspired turkey stuffing. If you're looking to try something new it is absolutely delicious! It was a huge hit at Christmas and I can't wait to share it with you. You don't want to miss it either.

Until then!


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