Thanksgiving week is here and that means you have to answer only one question. To brine or not to brine? After all, the menu is planned, guests have been invited and I have frequented Williams-Sonoma more than some seasonal employees. When Turkey Day rolls around, I’ll be ready to host my family for the first time at my home. (This is not my first rodeo, I normally cook Thanksgiving at Grandma’s.)
The only pressing question left is if I should use a wet or dry brine this year. What is a brine? A brine is a how you lock in moisture while adding deep, complex flavor to your meats with a simple solution containing salt, water, and other spices. Never ask yourself if you should or shouldn’t brine. That is not an option.
No one wants a Griswold turkey
Sounds like a lot of work, does it not? I have eaten turkey that was like the Griswold’s Christmas turkey — essentially a much drier form of turkey jerky. No one wants to eat a Griswold turkey. No one. That’s where your brine comes in. How do you brine? That’s pretty easy. Look for a fresh or frozen turkey that haven’t been injected with “flavorings” or a “salt water solution” and pick your brine.
To brine, or not to brine, that is the question
I have switched between dry and wet brines for the last decade. A wet brine is messier but very satisfactory — it’s like giving your turkey an aromatic bath. Except this bath involves boiling the brine mixture on my stove top, cooling it, adding more water to dilute it, and then pouring it over my turkey in a heavy duty bag for 24-48 hours for a good soak in the refrigerator. Once it’s done, pull the turkey out, rinse, dry inside and out, and then liberally coat in olive oil and fines herbes before shoving it the oven to roast.
- 1 cup kosher salt
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon Tellicherry black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
- 1½ teaspoons allspice berries
- 1½ teaspoons chopped candied ginger
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon fennel seed
- 1 tablespoon rosemary
- 1 tablespoon (not ground) sage
- 1 gallon of water
- Put all ingredients into a six quart pot and bring to a boil.
- Stir until ingredients are dissolved.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Add to 1 gallon of icy cold water and use this mixture to brine your turkey.
- Never pour hot liquid over turkey. Make sure it is cold before using.
Next is the dry brine, which is what I’m doing this year. What is a dry brine? A dry brine is when you rub your turkey down with a mixture of salt, sugar, and spices, then let it sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours before cooking. Close your eyes, imagine you’re at the spa, and a nice person is coming in with salt scrub and is going to exfoliate your top two layers of skin off. Don’t you feel all nice and baby soft? This is not the goal when you dry brine your turkey. After all, the skin is what makes you smack the hands of people who are trying to peel its golden crispiness off of your bird before you get it to the table.
I have a dry brine recipe, but it’s not my own. I use the “Judy Bird” recipe found over at Food52. Sweet, simple and flavorful. I also adjust this recipe for chicken. However, I do not flip, nor do I baste. I stick my turkey in the oven and let it do its thing. Opening the oven can cause the oven temperature can drop 150° or more if the oven door is left open just thirty seconds! The oven can then take several minutes to come back up to full temperature, and when you’re on a schedule, telling your hungry guests the turkey will be another hour is not an option.
That’s my take on turkey. Talk to me about bird. Do you brine? Are you a baster? What works for you on Thanksgiving?