Wednesday, December 2, 2009
The Bird Is the Word
Well, Thanksgiving came and went at my house, blowing into town like those weird fall Nor'easters and disappearing just as quickly. I was overwhelmed with good wishes from readers and friends, all of which I took to heart and I think played a major role in making my first Thanksgiving behind the stove a rousing success. As I mentioned previously, my nerves were centered primarily around all activities involving the turkey. Adding an extra layer of fear to my day was my decision to try brining for the first time. I'm not sure what made 2009 the year of the brined turkey (although I think Alton Brown's mighty endorsement may have played a considerable role), but I couldn't go anywhere without a testimonial about how brining is an absolute must for a juicy and flavorful turkey. So, I decided to heed the advice of the more experienced masses and embarked on the surprisingly difficult journey of finding a 5-plus gallon bucket in New York City. Normally I scour the city looking for urban-ized accessories (i.e. small), of which I found plenty in place of the real-world bucket required for this endeavor.
But eventually the Home Depot came to my rescue with a traffic cone hued paint bucket that would house our turkey overnight. After removing the neck and gizzards that were stuffed inside and giving him a nice shower (inside and out) with cold water, our nearly 19 pound bird was ready for his salty soak. Since I was a newbie I took it easy on the brine, stealing a few simple tips from different recipes. I first lined the bucket with two heavy duty garbage bags, which made clean-up a cinch. Then, with the bucket halfway filled with cold water I tossed in 2 cups of kosher salt and gave the mixture a stir until all of the salt was dissolved. A cup of dark brown sugar, five bay leaves and a handful of peppercorns went in next, followed by the turkey and enough additional water to cover. Making sure it was fully submerged we clamped the lid on and hoisted the bucket onto its new spot in the fridge where it would brine for about 18 hours. The next day, bright and early we removed the turkey from its brine, careful to empty any juices that had collected in the cavity. We gave him a good pat dry (again, inside and out) and left him uncovered on a roasting pan in the fridge for an hour so the cold would help remove any remaining moisture on his skin. If there's one thing that was emphasized in all my research it's that a wet turkey will not crisp up, no matter how hard you try, so it's better to take a few extra minutes to ensure that your turkey has no extra moisture, especially on its skin (that's him chillin' down below).
Once the turkey was nice and dry I rubbed it generously with butter and canola oil (if it were a chicken I'd do all butter, but because of the long cook time and high temperature needed for a turkey it could all burn), then seasoned the bird lightly with salt and pepper. I preheated the oven to 500 degrees, sprinkled the entire bird with chopped rosemary, sage and thyme for a nice herb-y crust and filled the roasting pan with about a cup of chicken stock and another cup of apple cider, in order to create a rich base for my apple cider gravy. After tossing the neck into the pan I popped the turkey into the oven for 45 minutes, then lowered the temperature to 375. This shocks the skin, allowing it to immediately crisp and brown. I checked in on it periodically to make sure the breasts weren't browning too quickly, while also being careful not to open the oven door too often, which allows the heat to escape and causes the oven temperature to drop. Much to my surprise it only took 2 hours and 15 minutes for the thickest part of the turkey to register between 165 and 170 degrees and for all of the juices to run clear. I took it out to rest for 30-45 minutes and in the meantime managed to get the rest of the meal done, with a tremendous amount of help from my mom, a bona fide kitchen rock star. Once the turkey was sliced and plated we all dug in with enthusiasm. I couldn't believe how delicious the meat tasted. I'm generally a bigger fan of the Thanksgiving sides than I am of the meat, but this time all of the meat was juicy and tender. The brine had really worked it's way through to the meat, so every bit tasted as if it'd been seasoned with salt, instead of just the outer bits. Once I tasted it I knew that I was immediately sold on brining. After all, it took very little hands on time considering how much flavor it imparted to the meat. All in all I must say that it was quite the successful feat, and I'd like to encourage anyone that will be roasting a turkey this Christmas or in the coming future to try brining. Your turkey will not only be instantly tenderized, but infinitely flavorful. And of course as always if you do try it, I'd love to hear how it went and what you did. Did anyone else out there brine? Later on this week I'll make sure to post my full recipes!