Friday 30 December 2016

Christmas 2016: Dry Brine for Roast Turkey

Christmas Day was this past Sunday. As usual I spent it with my aunt, uncle, cousin and her husband. Her husband's twin brother joined us this year as well as my uncle's brother and his wife. It was a great occasion and we all had lots of fun and ate our fill of great food. I mentioned in an earlier post that we tried a dry brine on our Thanksgiving turkey but the recipe needed a little tweaking. We made a few adjustments and WOW! This was one of our best turkeys ever. We've already done a wet brine method on the blog before. A wet brine is when the turkey (or any piece of meat you use) is immersed in a salty solution for a period of time. A dry brine is when the meat is rubbed with a mixture of salt, sugar and other spices and left for a period of time. This curing method produces a juicier, more tender and flavourful turkey. Given turkey's bad reputation for easily turning dry, I always recommend brining your turkey before roasting it.

So which is better: the dry brine or the wet brine? Either works great. You're likely to get a marginally crispier skin with the dry brine and a marginally juicier meat with the wet brine. A pro I can say about the wet brine is that its liquid state allows you to add a wider variety of flavours. A pro I can say about the dry brine is that it's less messy and cumbersome. If you ever have the opportunity to cook a turkey in a smoker, dry is definitely the best option. So a few things to consider there. Overall the end results of either method are similar.  

In this method we actually used more sugar than salt, unlike our wet brine version. I was hesitant at first because I wasn't feeling the thought of candied turkey, but this was delicious. It doesn't have an oversweetened flavour at all. It was fantastic. We used brown sugar as well to enrich the flavour. Be sure to give this a try on your next turkey.


1 13-15 lb turkey
3 cups brown sugar *
1.5 cups kosher salt *
2 tbsp dried sage *
2 tbsp dried thyme *

2 tbsp dried savoury *
1/2 tsp ground allspice *
4 tbsp butter, room temperature
Herbs/spices of your choosing for turkey
Lemon, garlic, fresh herbs of your choosing for the cavity

Rinse the turkey thoroughly in cold water and pat dry, paying attention to every nook, cranny and the inside of the cavity. Then place in a roasting pan with at least 2" sides. Combine all of the ingredients with a * and generously rub the turkey inside, outside and all over. Try to get an even coating as possible. You could even try this in a plastic bag. Cover and refrigerate or keep in a cooler for 24 hours. 

Afterward your turkey should look something like the picture below. An extracted pool of liquid will appear on the bottom.    

Rinse the turkey very thoroughly in cold water. The turkey has already been well seasoned in the curing process. You need to rinse all that excess salt and sugar off. No corner cutting here. When your turkey is squeaky clean, dry it off with paper towel. 

The next step is to fold the wings behind the shoulders like so. This will allow it to sit flat as it roasts in the oven. 

Then season with any herbs and spices you like, omitting salt and sugar. We used ground black pepper, poultry seasoning, ground thyme, ground sage, ground oregano, paprika and cayenne. We made a bread and sausage stuffing with the turkey but we cook it separately. Stuffing a brined turkey is not recommended as it will come out overseasoned. We filled the cavity with fresh lemon, garlic, parsley, rosemary, thyme and sage. Use whatever you like. Dot the turkey with 4 tbsp of butter in a dozen places or so. Disclaimer: This pic was shot a little premature and only shows 2. 

Cover the turkey and roast at 450 F/230 C for 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 325 F/163 C. The initial high heat will help to sear the outside of the bird. The rest of the cooking time depends on the weight of your turkey. At 325 F the rule of thumb is 20 minutes per lb. After the first 90 minutes of roasting, baste the turkey and continue to do so every 45-60 minutes until it's done to disperse the juices. Leave the turkey uncovered for the last hour of cooking. 

We usually cheat and use premade gravy from a wholesome source. If you want to make your own gravy with this turkey recipe you certainly can. Just carefully skim most of the fat out of the drippings (leaving about 4 tbsp behind for flavour). Place the roasting pan on the stove over medium-high heat and whisk in 1/4 cup of flour in stages until completely incorporated. Cook for about 30 seconds then add 2-3 cups of chicken (or turkey) stock and 1/4 cup of white wine (optional). Whisk constantly until the gravy thickens to the desired consistency. While whisking, scrape up all the little brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving with the turkey.  

As you can see, we ended up with a fabulous turkey with crispy, golden skin and meat so moist and tender it falls off the bone. Good luck keeping it intact while removing it from your roasting pan. Every time we have brined a turkey it has partially fallen apart while lifting it because it's so tender. No complaints.  

Here's a shot of the complete Christmas dinner this year. Roasted turkey, bread and sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes with peas, steamed broccoli, turkey gravy and homemade cranberry sauce. You better believe I finished it all. lol

Brining makes the best turkeys! We agreed that this was one of our best turkeys yet. One of the best parts about roast turkey dinners are the leftovers afterward! Nothing beats a good ol' leftover turkey sandwich but I like to get creative now and then. Here is a spicy ramen I made with the turkey, wood ear mushroom, spinach and a poached egg. It was delicious! A nice spin on turkey soup. Which reminds me, don't forget to save your turkey bones for homemade stock!

Be sure to give this dry brine a try for your next turkey dinner. I hope you enjoyed this and are feeling inspired. It makes such a difference.

I hope everybody had a wonderful holiday season and happy new year!


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