Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Brined Turkey

It's time to get the last minute shopping done for Thanksgiving. If you're planning on brining a turkey, here's a nice brine mixture that tastes every bit as good as some of the expensive mixtures on the shelves. The technique of brining is soaking a cut of meat in a salt water bath to add flavor and tenderness. The salt in the brine allows liquid to enter each cell in the meat, making the meat juicier than a regular marinade. Adding herbs and spices makes the meat more flavorful. Brining can be used with turkey, chicken, pork, or even shrimp. After brining, the meat is then grilled or roasted. The amount of time for brining is relative to the size of the cut. Shrimp need only 45 minutes, while pork chops or chicken breasts can use up to 4 hours. A pork tenderloin will benefit from up to 12 hours of brining, and a whole turkey can use up to 24 hours in the brine.

Making your own brine mixture is easy, and quite a bit less expensive than purchasing a premium brand. I bought my ingredients today ... and the total came to $5.59, with enough for three batches. I had to buy more kosher salt, along with juniper berries and fresh herbs, but I already had some of the more common spices, like bay leaves and peppercorns, on my shelf. I saved more money by buying a poultry blend of fresh herbs that included both rosemary and thyme. How much money did I save? The premium brands I looked at cost $18 for enough bring mix for 1 turkey, so my three batches worth of brining mix means I saved $48.41. I'm always happy when I can save, plus I know my ingredients have no additives.

1 cup Kosher coarse salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 apple, sliced
1 Tbs juniper berries (optional, but can substitute 1 tsp whole coriander)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
   (or 1 Tbs dried rosemary, crushed)
1 Tbs whole peppercorns
   (or 1 tsp ground black pepper)
1 Tbs lemon peel (the yellow peel from one lemon)
1 star anise, crushed (or 1 tsp anise seed)
1 tsp minced garlic
2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp thyme leaves)
1/2 onion, chopped
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1 gallon water

1 gallon cold water


Begin thawing the turkey (if frozen) 2 or 3 days before you plan to cook it by keeping it in the refrigerator. While the turkey thaws, mix all of the brining ingredients, together with just 1 gallon of water, in a large stockpot and bring to a boil on the stove top. Stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to use.

The night before you plan to cook, remove the innards from the turkey and rinse the turkey with cold water. Place the turkey in a large bucket. Mix the cold brining mixture with the additional gallon of cold water and pour over the turkey. If you don't have a bucket large enough to hold a turkey, you can purchase food quality brining bags and place the turkey and brine in the bag, then place the bag in a large enough container to hold them. If you don't have room in your refrigerator for your container, consider using a cooler. After placing the turkey in the brining bag in the cooler, surround the turkey with ice to keep it cool while it brines. Let the turkey sit in the brine overnight, or up to 24 hours. If the brine doesn't fully cover the bird, turn the bird midway through the brining time.

On the day you cook, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Remove the turkey from the brine, and discard the brine. Rinse the turkey, inside and out, and place in a roasting pan to cook. I like to put an onion, some sage, and a couple of sliced apples in the turkey cavity while it roasts. Roast the turkey for 1/2 hour, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. Cook until the breast reaches 160 degrees, about 2-1/2 hours for a 14 to 16 pound bird.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Stealthy Cooking Tip:  Make sure to use Kosher salt, as it doesn't have any additives. Also, to save further on your spice buying, check out the "ethnic foods" aisle for your spices. You'll find bags of anise seed and rosemary for about 1/4 the cost of the cute little bottles in the "spice" aisle.

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