Thanksgiving makes me giddy. A month before the big day, I sit down with my recipes and plan the most decadent meal.
What’s the item I strive ever year to improve? My turkey.
Each year, I try to make a more flavorful and moist bird than the last. Here is my tried and true recipe.
A few years ago, I was watching the food channel and saw one of the chefs talking about brining a bird. The main philosophy here is that you actually seal the outside with a concoction of sugar, salt and water, sealing in the moisture.
When you decide to brine a turkey, make sure you have a large enough pot to fully submerge your bird. One year I didn’t have room for a large pot in my refrigerator so I actually put the turkey in a garbage bag, filled the bag with brine, put the entire bag in the roasting pot, and tied it to the top shelf of my fridge so the fowl was fully submerged.
You should keep the carcass in the brine for about 24 hours.
A Simple Brine Recipe:
- 4 quarts water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 ½ cups kosher salt
Mix the ingredients together until dissolved.
Although these staples are the key ingredients to making effective brine, for a tastier recipe, I usually add several cloves of crushed garlic, whole peppercorns, a few chopped onions, and seasonings like rosemary, sage, and thyme. Adjust your brine according to your personal tastes.
Before adding to the brine, rinse your bird off in cold water and remove the innards. You can set these aside for later preparation (in a tasty gravy, for example) or throw them away.
Pat the body dry. Put the bird in the pot and pour the mixture over top of it, ensuring that the whole body is submerged.
When you remove the turkey from the brine before cooking, throw away the solution. It’s tempting to avoid wasting it, but it will be very salty.
Rinse off your bird again in cold water. Don’t worry – you won’t wash away the flavor. Pat it dry.
Are you working with pieces instead of a whole turkey? Check out the video above where Rod Grey brines chicken pieces with a Foodsaver.
Another technique exists for this process that removes the water from the process; it is called dry brining.
I always cover the entire carcass in a garlic butter mixture first. I melt about a cup of butter and add garlic, pepper, thyme, basil, and rosemary. Rub inside and out with this flavorful concoction.
Since I cook my turkey slowly at a lower temperature, I do not fill it with stuffing. Low and slow cooking often doesn’t reach high enough temperatures to kill harmful bacteria, so the juices that have dripped into your delicious dressing may not be cooked all the way through.
Instead I usually chop up an onion, a few cloves of garlic, and a few carrots, and stuff the center with fresh rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, and parsley. This creates an amazing aroma.
Tie the legs of your bird tightly together with kitchen string or twine, and place it in your roaster. I usually put a half-cup of water in the bottom of the pan so it moistens the bird throughout roasting, and add more as needed.
Roasting is a matter of personal taste. My method involves putting my turkey in an extremely hot oven at about 500°F for about ten minutes to sear the outside of the bird. I leave it uncovered at this time, so the skin turns a light brown color.
After about 10-15 minutes I turn the heat down to about 200°F and cover the turkey tightly with aluminum foil. If you are roasting a smaller turkey or a another form of fowl, one of the better counter-top convention ovens such as the Breville Smart Oven would do a fantastic job with this method (and would speed up the cook time as well).
Since the skin is seared and the brine keeps the moisture in, I don’t have to baste the fowl frequently throughout the day. Not only does this give me time to concentrate on other dishes, but I can also keep the tinfoil wrapped tightly around the turkey, preventing moisture from escaping each time I would open the oven to baste.
This method takes a little longer to cook, but you will be left with a moist and flavorful bird. Since I first started slow cooking and brining, I’ve never been left with a dry turkey.
When the meat is done (180°F in the thigh or dark meat and 165°F in the white meat or breast) pull it out of the oven. Let it sit for about 20 minutes in the foil, preferably on a cutting board with a channel around the edge to catch any juices that leak out. This will give the meat time to reabsorb the moisture.
Any moisture that has escaped is very flavorful because of the brine mixture, the buttery garlic rub, and the fresh herbs inside the bird. To make delectable gravy, simply add a little flour and cook until it is at the thickness that you desire.
Last but not least – enjoy!
And if you’re wondering what to do with those leftovers, use up the meat in our budget-friendly turkey and white bean chili!
Photo credit: Shutterstock.
About Lynne Jaques
Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!