The title of today's post is enough to make some people a little nervous. Brining. It sounds so complicated! But I promise you it isn't, and it will produce a deliciously juicy turkey that will knock the socks off of anyone blessed enough to be at your Holiday table. I brined a turkey for the first time last year for a "Thanksmas" get together with some friends (a bunch of us got together to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, we're just fun enough to give it a name) and I volunteered to bring the turkey. I've been watching Alton Brown brine a turkey for years on Food Network, and his style of cooking the bird was fascinating. He starts his turkey at 500 degrees to brown the breast, then he puts a tin foil shield on the breast meat and turns the heat down to continue cooking. I researched brines all over the Internet, and I couldn't find one that suited my tastes. SO I took things I liked from a bunch of different brines, and developed my own. I followed AB's turkey cooking tips, and I kid you not... We enjoyed some of the best turkey ever! The skin (don't lie, you know it's delicious) was crispy and brown and the turkey meat was juicy and flavorful.
If you want to try something new with your turkey this year, and you want to avoid a dried out bird, you may want to try a brine. I'm going to give you my recipe for a brine, as well as the things I stuffed my bird with. I choose not to put stuffing in my bird because by the time the stuffing is cooked enough to kill the bacteria from the uncooked turkey juices dripping all over it, your bird will be overcooked and that's no bueno. I'm also going to give you Alton Brown's cooking directions, because it produced a beautiful turkey for me. You can cook your bird any way you want though. I'm also going to mention that you want your bird to be thawed before brining, just FYI.
Haley's Turkey Brine, cooking directions from Alton Brown
1/2c brown sugar
1 gallon water
6 bay leaves
1t mustard seed
1t fennel seed
2t minced onion (I used dried)
1/2 thinly sliced onion
6 smashed garlic cloves
1 rosemary branch (or 1t dried)
1 thyme bundle (or 2t dried)
1 gallon heavily iced water
Aromatics for Inside the Turkey
1 sliced apple
1/2 sliced onion
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 leek, chopped
1 head garlic, cut in half lengthwise
1T dried rosemary
2t dried sage
Combine all brine ingredients minus the iced water in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.
Early on the day or the night before you'd like to eat:
Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.
Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.
Combine the aromatics and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey's cavity. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.
Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.
So that's how you do it! The only change I'll be making to the turkey cooking process is to add a little bit of liquid (water or stock) in the bottom of my roasting pan. If I remember correctly, last year there wasn't a ton of liquid for gravy, and that's a huge bummer!
Do you have any fail-proof methods when it comes to turkey? Do you brine? I'd love to hear about it. Until the next post, stay warm and enjoy Thanksgiving wherever you are.