With Thanksgiving just four days away from this writing, it is time to think about brining your bird. Purchase a fresh turkey for the best results. If your choice is a frozen bird, you will need 24-48 hours for the bird to defrost then another 18-24 hours for brining.
Wet brining a turkey, submerging the raw bird in liquids, aromatics and spices will result in the juiciest, most flavorful turkey meat. A bird that has soaked in brine is not only rich in flavor but also moist. This means a special treat on the Thanksgiving table. And much more flavorful leftovers that will reheat while staying moist and delicious.
There are two techniques for brining a turkey. One is submerging the bird in a large pot or cooler, or, make it easy and use heavy-duty cooking bags. Using bags will require less brining solution, and the bird will fit more easily into the refrigerator. Whichever method you choose to brine, be sure to remove the giblet bag and neck bones from the cavity first. Fully rinse and pat dry the bird. (Turkey Handling, Safety & Storage)
A favorite brine requires fresh, no sugar added apple cider. The acidic cider will help to break down toughness and create a fresh fall flavor. Oranges, onions, bay leaves, a nice and juniper add layers of flavor.
If you submerge the turkey in a large pot or cooler, that bird will float. The easy answer is to take two bread bags, fill half-way with ice, and tie them together to create a “saddle” to place over the turkey body and weigh the bird down. You may want to have extra bags so that as the ice melts you can replace the bags.
If you live in an area where temperatures are cooler, a cooler with the turkey can be placed on the back porch or deck.
But you want to have plenty of ice on hand to keep that water very, very cold. The bags of ice should help with this. Keeping the turkey fully submerged will also help keep bacteria from forming.
3 cups apple cider
2 gallons cold water
3 whole orange peels
2 tablespoons whole allspice
3 sprigs of sage
3 sprigs of thyme
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary leaves
6 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons juniper berries
3 tablespoons star anise
4-6 wedges of sweet onion
1½ cups kosher salt
2 cups brown sugar
4 tablespoons black peppercorns
6 whole bay leaves
Combine apple cider and dry ingredients in a large pot with ½ a gallon of water and bring to a boil for about 5 minutes. This step is important. By thoroughly heating the brine you release the flavors in the herbs, spices, and aromatics. Once done boiling, let the solution sit until it cools a bit, adding the remaining 1½ gallons of cold water to completely cool.
Place your 15-20-pound uncooked turkey in a large plastic bag, cooler or large pot and slowly submerge your turkey in the cold brining solution. The bird must be fully submerged in the brine solution.
Let your turkey rest in the brine for 18-20 hours.
After brining, remove the turkey and thoroughly rinse, pat dry with a clean towel or paper towels. The secret to the crispest most flavorful skin is to make sure the turkey is 100% dry before preparing for the oven. Then gently rub in a small portion of butter and kosher or sea salt over the skin. You want this to be done with a light touch. The goal is to use salt and butter to crisp the skin.
Caution: Do not let a raw turkey sit on the counter long enough to become room temperature. The raw bird must always be very cold to the touch. A raw turkey must be kept between 35 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Roasting the Thanksgiving Turkey
While the bird sits in the refrigerator drying from its soak, prepare aromatics to “stuff” the cavity with. My favorites mimic the brine – wedges of orange and lemon. Add sprigs of rosemary and thyme and basil.
Place the turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan. Working from the neck cavity, gently separate the skin from the meat. Beneath the skin, massage the meat with a mixture of butter, lemon, and crushed or powdered sage. Add an artistic touch by placing sage leaves and sprigs of rosemary beneath the skin.
Wrap your turkey well in a sheet of parchment paper and aluminum foil. Add a double layer of foil over the wings and drumsticks to keep them from overcooking. Slit the aluminum foil at the bottom to allow drippings to drop into the pan.
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