Brine it! Seriously. If you've eaten moist, flavorful chicken or turkey from a restaurant, then you've probably had brined poultry before. And when you got home and tried to re-create that yummy roasted taste and ended up with bland rubbery chicken or turkey so dry it could double for cat litter, its because you missed a step.
We've been brining our Thanksgiving turkeys for several years now, after reading about the process in Cooks Illustrated magazine. (I've mentioned them before right? Seriously..if you love to cook and don't care for ads, they're the magazine for you).
Here's the plan for this year:
1 fresh turkey, thawed. Mine clocks in at just under 20 pounds.
1.5 cups of table salt (if you use Kosher, go with 2.25 cups to keep the same percentage of sodium)
3 gallons cold water
2 clean large white kitchen trash bags
1 electric cooler
"Trash Bags?" you ask. "Are you nuts?" Well, let's just say that they don't make ziploc bags that big. If you have a regular water-tight cooler, then you can skip the trash bags. Just sanitize it really good before and after. Ours plugs in and has a cooling fan inside, so I can't just fill it with water. Hence the trash bags.
- Dissolve salt in the water in a large stew pot. Stir it until the water is clear, with no salt visible in the bottom of the pot.
- Open Turkey package. Remove giblets, neck, and cracker jack prize.
- Place one trash bag inside another trash bag, and place both into the cooler, opening sides up. Put turkey into the trash bag.
- Find a friend. Over 3 foot tall preferably.
- Ask your friend to hold the turkey-trash bags open while you pour the dissolved salt-water into the center bag (the outer bag is just a backup in case of leaks).
- Squeeze out as much air as possible from the inner bag that's full of salt-water turkey, and tie it shut.
- Tie the outer bag shut. Close lid of cooler and plug it in. (If you have a regular cooler, pack it with ice and make sure it stays cold while the turkey's in there).
- Wait 6 to 12 hours. I'm doing mine overnight tonight.
- Carefully remove the turkey from the brine, rinse in the sink (this is the trickiest part, IMO, those suckers are heavy and slippery), place it in the rack in your roasting pan (you have a rack in your roaster, yes? If not, the stores are still open....). Dry the turkey off with paper towels. Throw that yucky raw turkey salt water down the drain.
- At this point you will want to let the turkey rest at room temperature for maybe 30 minutes before cooking. If it's not time to pop it in the oven, then put it in your fridge, uncovered. The air will help dry the skin out so that it crisps up nicely when roasted.
- Follow your normal roasting directions. For me, that involves adding thyme, carrots, onions, and celery into the bottom of the pan (to help flavor the drippings for the eventual gravy), adding a little salt and plenty of black pepper to the bird. We frequently "stuff" the turkey with a couple of onions and apples, for extra flavoring from the inside. Brush the whole turkey with melted butter. Roast back side up at 425 for about an hour. Flip the turkey breast side up, turn oven to 325, and continue roasting until the thighs reach 175 (probably about 3-3.5 hours total on my bird).
So, go! Get that turkey brining. And don't forget to thank me tomorrow night!