Brining Turkey

Brine-Roasted Chicken

Brining a chicken and other meats has many advantages, fantastic flavor and juicy results being the most important.  See below for the scientific stuff. Essentially, because some of the brine is absorbed into the meat, the flavors of the brine go with it and create a tender meal with flavor in every bite.  Chicken with the bone in, including a whole chicken or pieces can be started up to twenty-four hours ahead. Boneless cuts and smaller cuts of pork, like chops, are best brined for eight hours or less.  I like to buy  Mary’s Chicken  with the head and feet attached. I cut them off (you can have the butcher do this) as well as remove the spine creating a “spatchcock” chicken like the one in the picture.  I roast these parts with the rest of the bird and when they are cooked and cooled, I freeze them with my collection of bones for stock. They add a caramel flavor and color to the stock. Delicious!  All that needs to be done for dinner is putting the chicken in the oven on a bed of vegetables and perhaps cooking a starch of some sort. It’s that simple!

Brining a chicken and other meats has many advantages, fantastic flavor and juicy results being the most important.

See below for the scientific stuff. Essentially, because some of the brine is absorbed into the meat, the flavors of the brine go with it and create a tender meal with flavor in every bite.

Chicken with the bone in, including a whole chicken or pieces can be started up to twenty-four hours ahead. Boneless cuts and smaller cuts of pork, like chops, are best brined for eight hours or less.

I like to buy Mary’s Chicken with the head and feet attached. I cut them off (you can have the butcher do this) as well as remove the spine creating a “spatchcock” chicken like the one in the picture.

I roast these parts with the rest of the bird and when they are cooked and cooled, I freeze them with my collection of bones for stock. They add a caramel flavor and color to the stock. Delicious!

All that needs to be done for dinner is putting the chicken in the oven on a bed of vegetables and perhaps cooking a starch of some sort. It’s that simple!

Start one day ahead. Serves 4 to 6

The Brine:

  • 7 cups of water

  • 1 cup dry white wine (optional)

  • 6 Tbls sea salt or kosher salt

  • 3 Tbls organic sugar

  • 3 Tbls of your favorite spice blend that does not contain salt or yellow curry powder

The Chicken:

  • 3-pound chicken, cut into two halves

  • Assorted root vegetables

  • 1 Tbls extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 Tbls of the above spice mixture

  • 1 cup chicken stock or white wine

  • 1 Tbls. balsamic vinegar (optional)

Brining the chicken:

  1. The day before you plan to cook, combine all the brine ingredients with two tablespoons of the spice mixture reserving the rest for the next day.

  2. In a small pot over medium heat and with 1 cup of water, stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved.

  3. Add this mixture to the remaining brine in a large glass or stainless bowl or pot and cool completely. Put the chicken in the pot and top with a plate, if necessary, to keep the chicken submerged. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Cooking the chicken:

  1. Heat the oven to 450ºF and remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Drain the brine.

  2. Peel onions if using, keeping as much of the root end intact as possible. Cut into 1-inch wedges, cutting through the root end so the layers stay connected.

  3. Cut other root vegetables into medium chunks and place in a rimmed roasting pan or sheet pan.

  4. Pat the bird dry with paper towels and place it skin up, on the vegetables. Lightly rub with olive oil and sprinkle with the reserved spice mix mixed with one-half teaspoon of salt.

  5. Roast, stirring the vegetables occasionally until the chicken reaches 165˚F at the deepest part of the chicken’s thigh, about 40 minutes.

  6. Remove the bird and vegetables to a cutting board or platter.

  7. Deglaze the pan while scraping the bits and simmer until reduced by one third. Drizzle the sauce over the bird.

The science behind brining:

  • Meat absorbs some of the liquid: When a piece of meat is soaked in a brine solution, that solution is slowly drawn into the meat, and even though some of it is inevitably lost during cooking, it still makes a big difference. Since the meat starts out with more liquid within, it ends up juicier and more moist when cooked.

  • Muscle fibers are dissolved: Highly concentrated salt solutions will cause proteins to precipitate (essentially forcing them to aggregate with each other and clump together). On the other hand, a low-concentration salt solution has the opposite effect and actually can increase protein solubility and allow more proteins to dissolve. So brine actually helps dissolve some of the muscle fibers, which helps to reduce the toughness of meat.

  • Muscle fibers and meat proteins denature: A salt solution can denature proteins, essentially unfolding and unravelling them. As they unfold, water works its way in between these proteins so there is more water in between the meat proteins as the meat cooks. This results in a more tender cooked meat.

Brine Roasted Turkey & Giblet Gravy

My favorite way to prepare a turkey for Thanksgiving is to brine it. Wether you use a free range, heritage, or standard bird, brining imparts yummy flavor and adds moisture. It also pulls out the sweetness without masking the natural turkey flavor. You can be creative with the brine flavorings by adding rosemary, cinnamon stick, bay, oranges or other flavors that you love. Photo: Lora Mae Photography

My favorite way to prepare a turkey for Thanksgiving is to brine it. Wether you use a free range, heritage, or standard bird, brining imparts yummy flavor and adds moisture. It also pulls out the sweetness without masking the natural turkey flavor. You can be creative with the brine flavorings by adding rosemary, cinnamon stick, bay, oranges or other flavors that you love. Photo: Lora Mae Photography

Ingredients:

  • One turkey, 10 to 13 pounds, *thawed. For a 14 to 15 pound bird, double the brine

  • 3 quarts (12 cups) water

  • 1 1/4 cup kosher salt or sea salt

  • 2 1/4 cups honey or 1 cup honey and 1 1/4 cup organic sugar

  • 4 to 6 lemons

  • 30 garlic cloves, smashed slightly with the side of a knife

  • 30 allspice

  • 30 black peppercorns

  • 2 bunches sage, optional

  • 1 large onion, peeled and halved

  • 1 (7-lb) bag of ice, optional, see below

  • Olive oil for rubbing the bird

To thaw the turkey:

  • Place the turkey in a large pan or bowl to catch the drips and thaw it in the refrigerator allowing 24 hours for every 5 pounds.

  • To thaw quickly, place unopened turkey, breast down, in a clean sink or very large container filled with cold tap water. Allow 30 minutes per pound to thaw. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep surface of turkey cold.

  • When thawed, keep in refrigerator for up to 4 days until ready to cook.

To Brine the Turkey:

  • Brine the bird for 60 minutes per pound, about 12 hours, turning once to make sure you’ve brined both sides of the turkey.

  1. Combine six cups of the water, 1 bunch of sage, and the remaining brine ingredients in a deep sauce pan and bring to a simmer, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved and gently for 10 minutes.

  2. Remove from the heat and add the remaining (cold) water. Stir and cool completely.

  3. Remove the giblets and neck and reserve for gravy or another use and rinse the turkey. Pat dry with paper towel.

          Two choices for brining the bird:

  1. Pour the brine into a nonreactive container just large enough to hold the bird and the liquid Making sure it fits in the fridge. The bird should be submerged as much as possible. You can also turn it half way through the brining process.

  2. Use a medium plastic picnic cooler that just fits the turkey. Place the turkey into a good quality plastic garbage bag and then place the bag into a second plastic bag for double protection. Place the bird into the cooler and slowly pour the cold brine into the interior bag. Gather the bags tightly around the bird. Seal the first and then the second bag by tying it into a tight knot. Cover the bag with ice. Check often to make sure the turkey is cold and surrounded with ice. Refresh ice when needed. Turn the bird once throughout the process to brine evenly.

Preparing to Roast the Turkey:

  1. Plan on 10 to 15 minutes per pound roasting time. Calculate using both 10 and 15 minutes multiplied by the weight of your turkey to gage timing and start to check the bird for doneness at the earlier time.

  2. One hour before roasting, remove the turkey from the brine. Rinse, discarding the brine and dry thoroughly with paper towel.

  3. Turn the wing tips back to hold the neck in place, tucking them under the back.

  4. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a large shallow roasting pan and cover loosely with a paper towel. Set aside to bring to room temperature.

  5. Preheat oven to 350°F

  6. Stuff the cavity with the second bunch of sage, halved lemons and the onion.

  7. Pat the bird to dry completely and massage the bird thoroughly with the olive oil. Do not sprinkle with salt or pepper. The bird has been flavored with the brine and the salt and pepper will blemish the skin.

  8. Insert an oven safe meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, being sure that the pointed end of the thermometer does not touch the bone.

  9. Add the turkey neck and chicken feet (see turkey stock below) to the pan to brown for the stock.

  10. Put the turkey in the oven and reduce temperature to 325˚F

  11. Roast turkey, basting with the stock every half hour or so. While basting, check the neck and feet. Once golden brown remove them and make the stock below.

  12. Once the breast is browned to your liking, cover loosely with foil to prevent over browning.

  13. Continue to roast until the thermometer registers 175°F in the thigh, or 160°F in the breast.

  14. Remove the turkey to a platter and tent with foil to rest for 20 to 30 minutes. This will help the juices absorb back into the turkey and keep it moist.

To make the turkey stock; this can be done 2 days ahead:

  • 1 turkey neck

  • Giblets, soak the liver in milk while preparing turkey. Rinse and add to stock.

  • 6 chicken feet if you have them

  • 1 onion, chopped coarsely

  • 2 each carrots and celery, chopped coarsely

  • 2 Tbls. olive oil or melted butter

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1 tsp. whole peppercorns

  • 6 cups water

  1. In a pot large enough to hold the stock ingredients, melt the butter or oil over medium heat.

  2. Add the vegetables and cook, stirring often until golden brown.

  3. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer on low for 15 minutes.

  4. Remove the liver and set aside.

  5. Continue to simmer for a total of one hour. Skim the scum that rises to the surface.

  6. Remove the remaining giblets and set aside.

  7. Strain the stock, pressing the vegetables to extract the juices and toss the vegetables. Measure the stock; you should have four cups of stock. If you have more, simmer to reduce to four cups. Set aside until turkey is done.

To Finish the Turkey and Make the Gravy:

  • Cooked giblets, cleaned of veins, muscle, etc. and minced

  • 4 Tbls. turkey drippings

  • ¼ cup all-purpose or gluten free white flour

  • 4 cups stock

  • 1 Tbls. dried porcini mushroom powder (optional)

  • 1 Tbls. Madeira or dry sherry (optional)

  • Salt & white or black pepper

  1. In the roasting pan, remove all but about four tablespoons of fat and place the roasting pan on the stove over medium heat.

  2. When the drippings are sizzling, add the flour and stir until it is a golden brown.

  3. Add the stock in a steady stream, whisking. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer.

  4. Scrape up all of the roasting bits that are stuck to the roasting pan.

  5. Add the mushroom powder and Madeira or sherry if using.

  6. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, whisking occasionally.

  7. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Enjoy the fruits of your labor!