I suppose that at this point in time, I can no longer deny that Thanksgiving is a mere five days away. I'm sure everyone else has been making lists and checking them twice. I have been doing more productive things like "running" to Michaels for a few pieces of scrapbook paper (though I do not scrapbook) and leaving a jillion years later with three (count them--3) full bags of stuff. And I am not crafty. And I do not usually go to Michael's. I do not believe I have been there even once in the last year. Clearly, now I know why. It's like a sparkly-loving alien invaded my body. What have you done, oh wily extra-terrestrial with my normal craft-hating, somewhat will-powered does-not-shop-on-Saturday-afternoon-especially-the-weekend-before-Thanksgiving self. Becasue, seriously, body-leching aliens aside, it's a jungle out there. My original errand (the one that got me out of the safety of my house) was to stop off at the post office (the closest one to us is at the mall). There were no parking spots. You had to wait for one or get really really lucky. It was like Christmas Eve. Who are these lunatics and how did I become one of them? Oh yes, my body was taken over. Now I remember.
Anyway, why was I out and about on such a clearly dangerous day. Because I wanted my sisters to have some herbs so they could brine their turkeys. Why was this so very important? Because brining makes turkeys better. It is essential if you get a free-range bird because they haven't already shot the bird up with a salt solution. But it's not a bad idea no matter what kind of turkey you get because it flavors it nicely.
What the heck does it mean to brine? It means you soak the bird in a salt/water solution that you've probably flavored with other herbs? And why would you do this? You know, you're asking a lot of questions--especially those in the science catergory, which for the record, is not my strongest suit. I mean, really, who do you think you are? My kids? Next you will asking me where babies come from. Oh sorry--I mean, for a brief explanation (as well as the inspiration for my brining recipe), have a look at slash food. Basically, the brine alters the protiens in the turkey, trapping the flavors and juices inside instead of allowing them to evaporate in cooking.
1. Brine for 1 hour per pound of bird. So if you've got a 14 pound turkey, brine for 14 hours. This means (just in case your math skills are faltering under the pressure) that you'll need to start this the day before.
2. The most important stuff is the salt, sugar, and water, but the herbs are nice too. They give it flavor in addition to juiciness.
3. If you don't have fresh herbs, dry work too and are much cheaper.
4. Submerge the bird in the water. Weight it with something if you must. I use a big stockpot, but a cooler would work too.
5. Put it in the refrigerator or a cooler that is the same temperature as a refrigerator (below 40 degrees). This is so you don't end up allowing "harmful bacteria" to grow in your bird. "Harmful bacteria" is what the internet generally refers to when speaking of turkey safety. Vague threats bother me, but not as much as the possibility of actually consuming too much harmful bacteria on a day of celebration, so I do what they say. I put my brine in a huge stockpot and then put it in the fridge overnight.
6. Before you cook your bird, rinse it off thoroughly. Not to be bossy or anything, but if you skip this, you will have a very very very salty bird and you will be sad. Even if you like salt. Even if you're the person who always reaches for the salt before tasting your food and then dumps it on. Still, you must rinse your bird. Or you will be sad. Am I making myself clear?
5. If you want a perfectly crispy skin, pat it dry after you rinse it and let it sit for a bit to dry off further. I do not care about skin because I think it's gross (sorry skin foodies), so I skip this. (It's still hardly soggy, for the record.)
7. Even though your bird has been brined in herbs, you'll probably still want to cook it with herbs as well. It's good for the turkey, but even better for the gravy. More on this tomorrow.
2 C salt
2 C sugar
2 gallons water
3 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic, cracked
1/2 Tbsn pepper or 1 Tbsp cracked peppercorns
3 springs rosemary
a cluster of sage (10-15 leaves)
5 sprigs thyme
Combine the salt and sugar in the water and let the salt and sugar dissolve. Warm water makes this faster, but let the water cool again before adding the bird. Add your bird. Add the herbs and stir/slop them about a bit. Put the huge stockpot in the fridge overnight (1 hour per pound of bird). Alternately, you can use a cooler kept below 40 degrees. And don't forget to rinse the turkey in the morning before you cook it.
Other additions to consider if you think mine sound lame: Citrus fruit, cinnamon, cloves, Italian herbs such as basil and oregano. Add what you like. I hate to say this because who needs a food blogger if it's true, but it's hard to mess it up. It's a great time to be experimental because any old combination of classic herbs will make it good.
Tomorrow we'll have tips for cooking, tips for gravy, and my argument for free-range birds.