Ok, call me crazy but I could handle a Thanksgiving with no turkey.
(I know you may now be a little scared and think that I am a touch insane or just not well in the head. I promise I’m ok, and yes do end up eating turkey every year on this holiday…) I would be absolutely fine if the protein at the meal was, say, roasted filet or a nice seared piece of salmon. But, alas, I succumb to the pressure of this all-American feast and endure the laborious prep of this mild-flavored turkey, Tom. (oh, btw, we’ll be referring to the turkey by his name, Tom, for the remainder of this entry.)
And rather than read about how I would prepare another dish to present as the main course for this feast, I’ll just jump right in to Part I of my Turkey Day Tidbits Helpful Hints Sheets.
YOU MUST BRINE YOUR TURKEY. It doesn’t matter if you are buying the cheapest frozen bird or the most incredible organic, free-range fresh bird you must brine it. Absolutely. Luckily for me, my family has been brining our turkey for about 15 years now. We started long before the brining frenzy began, so even though we do indeed serve turkey every year (ba humbug) my family has been preparing it in a manner that enhances the mild flavor of the turkey by adding aromatics (orange zest, peppercorns, garlic, rosemary, etc.) and moisture to the turkey through use of #1-a brine and #2-compound butter, which we’ll talk about in just a sec.
How does a brine work?? Fantastic question! So, here’s where my food science nerdiness really comes out. In order to understand a brine we must first discuss what it is. A brine in it’s basic recipe/equation is ¼ cup kosher salt to 4 cups water. From there you can add other aromatics, similar to how you make a marinade. Back to the NaCl and H20, or salt and water. Turkey Tom naturally has sodium and water in him, just like humans. The purpose of this brining liquid is to have a higher amount of salt and water outside the bird (in the brining liquid) than inside the flesh, then through the process of osmosis salt molecules and water molecules will travel back and forth b/w the bird and the liquid to create an equilibrium. The salt molecules inside the flesh of the turkey will leach onto the water molecules and help the Tom stay much more moist than without the brine. (careful, though, you can brine too long and throw off the osmosis equilibrium and end up wit a salty bird…..and be sure to rinse Tom off before roasting!)
TURKEY BRINE (for about an 8 lb. turkey, adjust accordingly)
- ¾ cup kosher salt
- 4 cups boiling water
- 6 cups ice water
- 2 cups cold apple cider
- 2 oranges, zested
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 12 peppercorns
- 1 T. dried rosemary
- 1 T. dried sage
- 1 T. dried thyme
Add the ¾ cup kosher salt and 4 cups water to a small saucepan and heat until the salt dissolves. Pour the hot liquid into a large bowl, or pot, and add all the ice water (if you have room, otherwise just let the hot salt-water cool to room temperature and then proceed). Pour the cooled salt water into a large (I mean big, huge, monstrous) bag, add the remaining ingredients and then add the turkey. Place your turkey into a large bowl or a bucket (incase it drips) and turn the bag every few hours. For a turkey 8-12 lbs. let it brine 5-6 hours. Any larger than that and you can let it brine overnight.
When ready to roast, remove from the brine and rinse thoroughly with water. Pat dry and you’re ready for your compound butter!
MASSAGE TOM WITH BUTTER
My last piece of essential advice about preparing Tom for his box of doom (aka-the oven) is to prepare a compound butter to rub between the skin and the flesh of the breast. I never understood why people only put seasoning and butter on the outside of the bird, not many people eat the skin! So using a compound butter on the breast meat not only gives flavor to the actual meat itself but it also prevents that delicate white meat from drying out. Also known as the “no more basting tip!!!” Many people think basting is the way to prevent the breast meat from drying out but it has been found to add zero moisture to the meat. The only thing basting does is pick up fat and sugars from the liquid on the bottom of the pan and pour them over the skin, making the skin golden brown and crispy (hey, you-here’s another tip- butter on the outside of the bird does the same thing. AND since you won’t be opening up the oven every 20 minutes to baste you’ll reduce the cooking time. Heck yeah!).
So, here is a guide to what I add to my compound butter for Thanksgiving, however you could use it any time of the year if you are roasting a whole bird of any sort!
COMPOUND BUTTER (this is a good amount for a 15lb.+ bird)
-2 sticks unsalted butter, super soft
-sprig of rosemary, chopped
-5 fresh sage leaves, chopped
-4 sprigs of thyme, chopped
-1 orange and 1 lemon, zested
-5 cloves garlic, minced
-2 shallots, minced
-about 1 T. salt and 1-2 t. pepper
Mix all these ingredients together and, using a spoon, scoop some up and place under the skin on either side of the breast bone (on the breast meat). Use the skin to “scrape off “the spoon and give Tom a nice little massage to work that butter into the skin. Reserve a bit of the butter to rub on the outside of Tom.
Now that Tom has been bathed in a brine and massaged with some compound butter he’s ready to roll! Place him in a roasting pan on top of a roasting rack (yes, you do really need to use a roasting rack) and begin by cooking him at 400, breast side up, for about 20-30 minutes until nice and golden. Reduce the heat to 350 and if you like, you can now flip him over to help the juices run into the breast meat or you can cover him with some foil if the breast is browning quickly. An instant read thermometer is also a must have for turkey day, as that is how you will be able to tell when the turkey is done! The leg and thigh (dark meat) needs to reach about 165/170F, which will eventually reach 175/180F, before you remove from the oven and the breast meat needs to reach about 160F, which will eventually reach 165F. Be careful not to touch the bone w/ the thermometer as you will get a faulty read and be sure to take the temperature in multiple spots!
(here’s a good temperature video-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfPesBm3bDQ).
Good luck, and as always feel free to tweet me- @drizzlekitchen or email me- [email protected] if you have any questions! Come back tomorrow for part II of Turkey Day Tidbits!