Friday, December 18, 2009

Thanksgiving: TURKEY!

Finally, my final post from Thanksgiving. Sorry it took so long. But hey, it's not like anyone out there is rushing to make a turkey.

So this year I decided to try my hand at brining the turkey. It's basically the process of soaking a turkey (or poultry) in liquid + salt (+ spices) to flavor the meat and prevent it from drying out during cooking. And if you know me you know I like my meat juicy..

mmmmmm, turkey...


The thing is, most turkeys out there already have liquid/salt from the packaging process. So I chose a fresh turkey (which had less salt) vs. a frozen one so I could actually brine it.

I started the brining process 24 hours before Thanksgiving. Overall I'd say it was pretty successful. Difficult to brine a whole 18 pound turkey though! Ideally you'll have a giant plastic container for it, but who has that?! You'll see my ghetto-fab contraption soon.

But the brine- WOW! The turkey was seriously juicy (even the breast) and you could get a small hint of the spices in the actual meat. Awesome. Cooks Illustrated ALWAYS talks about how you should brine certain types of meat but I've never tried it before. I definitely have to try it again with chicken, which also has a tendency to dry out. So it's two thumbs up for the brine recipe.

Now what about the cooking method?? Well, this is the first time I've cooked a turkey not using one of those oven bags. It was really good, but I think next year I may try a slightly different method. The basting was a pain in the butt and I think the skin on the legs got too crispy. I'll have my comments at the end of the post.

So, you ready for some pictures?!?

24 hours before the turkey goes in the oven start the brining process.

To do this you heat up the salt + spices in some water (to dissolve the salt and extract some of the spices flavors). Here we have salt + bay leaves + coriander seeds + black peppercorns + fennel seeds + mustard seeds (I didn't add juniper berries because where the hell am I supposed to find those?!)

Then get your brining bag ready. If you wanna brine a turkey- you NEED to buy on of these. I got this from Safeway.

At first I tried to put the turkey in the bag (in my dutch oven) but it wasn't big enough to hold this 18 pound giant! Notice the bag though- it's HUGE!

So what to do?!?

I sat there staring at everything I had in my kitchen. But I had nothing. I'm no married Assyrian woman; I don't own cooking equipment big enough for small children to bathe in (much like the women in my family have...).

Then I thought to myself: I'm COOKING my turkey in a roasting pan, so why can't I BRINE the turkey in it too?

So I placed the turkey in the brining bag in my roasting pan and added the cooled salt/spice mixture, along with 24+ cups of water, onions, garlic, thyme and a bottle of Riesling (yea for $3 bottles of wines from Trader Joes)

The entire thing then went in my fridge.

Pros to my contraption:
* It relatively easily fits in the fridge b/c the turkey sits horizontally instead of vertically (as it would in a bucket)

Cons to my contraption:
* The turkey was CLOSE to being completely submerged in liquid, but not completely there. (Which is why I put cans/bags on the side of the turkey- I was trying to "push up" the liquid so it could cover the whole bird)
* The bag is a bit unwieldy, and if the bag isn't properly closed can result in bringing liquid all over your counter. (Don't ask me why I know this...)

Just flip the turkey once before going to bed and that's it. Deliciously moist and flavorful turkey, without TOO much energy on your part.

The next day (aka Thanksgiving), prepare the turkey.

Give it a good rinse to get rid of any excess salt, etc. (Don't worry about "washing away" the flavor. It's not a marinade that sits ON your meat, its a brine that get's INTO your meat.)

Dry the turkey with some paper towels, making sure to dry the inside as well. Then let it dry/warm up for a few hours on the counter. This part always feels so wrong...

Are you ready to prepare the turkey for the oven?? Get ready for lots and lots and lots of butter.

1. Melt butter in a pot and add a bottle of white wine (I used Riesling again). That's a lotta buttah.

2. Soak a piece of cheesecloth in the butter/wine mixture. Yes, sounds crazy, but it's a pretty neat idea. You'll see...

3. While that's soaking, prepare the turkey with MORE BUTTER (and salt/pepper)!

4. Drape the butter and wine soaked cheese cloth over the turkey breast. Honestly, I think it would have been best to cover the whole turkey with the cloth. Could have prevented the over-browning of the turkey legs.

5. Then devote every 30 minutes of your life for the next 4++ hours to basting. Luckily I had a strong guy to help me get the turkey out of the oven each time I had to baste the damn thing.

So what are we basting with?? The leftover butter and wine mixture. YUM!!

Although- sometimes I wonder if the sugars in the wine were one reason for the over-browning of the skin. If so, it may be best to use a less sweet wine, or something else entirely. OK, back to the turkey!

6. After a few hours it's time to get rid of the cheesecloth.

7. But as Dan said before we put the turkey in the oven: "It's soaking in butter and wine?!? I could EAT that cheesecloth!"

At this point the cheesecloth has protected the breast from browning. But there's still a lot of cooking time left and as you can see, the legs look a little sunburned. Like I said, it might be a good idea to cover the whole bird with the cheesecloth next time...

8. Continue to baste the turkey every 30 minutes and cook until it's done. The turkey should be 180 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh. And yes, that's quite important!! We took it out a bit earlier and while the breast was done, certain parts of the turkey didn't seem cooked all the way through.

Dan had to be the man and carve the turkey. Thanks Dan!

Things I did not mention:
* I did follow the recipe and put veggies in the bottom of the roasting pan. They say to discard them but they're delicious. Overcooked, but delicious.
* Nothing was left unused with this turkey recipe. The drippings were used (after separating the fat) in a gravy.
* You don't HAVE to brine your turkey to use this recipe. It's just recommended.
* I did not stuff the turkey with stuffing. So I placed some of the onions/celery/carrots in the cavity of the bird.

Well, that's it. Like I said, I think the recipe came out quite good. But I may attempt another baking method next year. Likely something from Alton Brown as I've read his turkey recipes are quite good. Or maybe something crazy like this bacon-wrapped turkey


Recipes, as is, from Martha Stewart

Turkey Brine

Makes enough brine for one 18- to 20-pound turkey

* 7 quarts (28 cups) water
* 1 1/2 cups coarse salt
* 6 bay leaves
* 2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
* 1 tablespoon dried juniper berries
* 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
* 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
* 1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
* 1 fresh whole turkey (18 to 20 pounds), patted dry, neck and giblets reserved for stock, liver reserved for stuffing
* 1 bottle dry Riesling
* 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
* 6 garlic cloves, crushed
* 1 bunch fresh thyme


1. Bring 1 quart water, the salt, bay leaves, and spices to a simmer, stirring until salt has dissolved. Let cool for 5 minutes.
2. Line a 5-gallon container with a large brining or oven-roasting bag. Place turkey in bag. Add salt mixture, remaining 6 quarts (24 cups) water, and the other ingredients. Tie bag; if turkey is not submerged, weight it with a plate. Refrigerate for 24 hours, flipping turkey once.

Turkey Recipe
modified a bit (I added more veggies and got rid of parsnips. Not a fan...)

* Brined turkey
* 2+ carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
* 2+ celery stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces
* 2 onions, cut into 6 wedges
* 1+ white turnips, quartered
* 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), melted, plus 4 tablespoons, at room temperature
* 1 bottle dry white wine
* 2 teaspoons coarse salt
* 2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper

1. Remove turkey from brine. Discard brine. Pat turkey dry inside and out with paper towels. Place carrots, parsnips, celery, onion, and white turnips in bottom of a roasting pan. Place turkey, breast side up, on a rack set in a roasting pan. Fold wing tips under turkey. Let stand at room temperature for up to 2 hours.
2. Place rack on lowest level in oven. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Combine melted butter and white wine in a bowl. Fold a large piece of cheesecloth into quarters and cut into a 17-inch, 4-layer square. Immerse cheesecloth in the butter and wine; let soak.
3. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper inside turkey. Fill large cavity loosely with as much stuffing as it will hold comfortably; do not pack tightly. (Cook remaining stuffing in a buttered baking dish at 375 degrees.) Tie legs together loosely with kitchen string (a bow will be easy to untie later). Fold neck flap under and secure with toothpicks. Rub turkey with the softened butter and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and pepper.
4. Lift cheesecloth out of liquid and squeeze it slightly, leaving it very damp. Spread it evenly over the breast and about halfway down the sides of the turkey; it can cover some of the leg area. Place turkey, legs first, in oven. Cook for 30 minutes. Using a pastry brush, baste cheesecloth and exposed parts of turkey with butter and wine. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to cook for 2 1/2 more hours, basting every 30 minutes and watching pan juices; if the pan gets too full, spoon out juices, reserving them for gravy.
5. After the third hour of cooking, carefully remove and discard cheesecloth. Turn roasting pan so that the breast is facing the back of the oven. Baste turkey with pan juices. If there are not enough juices, continue to use the butter and wine. The skin get fragile as it browns, so baste carefully. Cook 1 more hour, basting after 30 minutes.
6. After the fourth hour of cooking, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. Do not poke into a bone. The temperature should reach 180 degrees (stuffing should be between 140 degrees and 160 degrees) and the turkey should be golden brown. The breast does not need to be checked for temperature. If legs are not yet fully cooked, baste turkey, return to oven, and cook another 20 to 30 minutes.
7. Transfer turkey to a platter, reserving pan juices. Let turkey stand 30 minutes before carving.


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