One of the best ways to make sure your turkey is juicy and tender is to brine it. Brining is a process that greatly improves the flavor and moisture content of lean meats such as chicken, turkey and pork.
Here’s how it works: When meats are marinated in a solution of sugar, salt and water, the proteins unwind and form a hollow tube. Water travels into the tubes and becomes trapped, adding moisture to meats. When herbs and spices are added to the brine, the flavors are trapped in the meat. This technique is called flavor brining and greatly enhances the texture, flavor and juiciness of meats.
During the cooking process, meat can lose as much as 30 percent of its water. Properly brined and cooked meat can reduce the water loss by as much as one half.
Will brining make the meat taste salty?
Unless you brine for too long, your meats will not be salty. The salt causes water and flavor to travel into each strand and fill up the hollow proteins, allowing the meat to hold in moisture and flavor.
Brining tips and tricks
■ After you remove the meat from the brine solution, many of the herbs and spices might have settled to the bottom. We recommend rubbing the settled flavorings directly onto the meat just before cooking. This step really maximizes the flavor.
■You can always add more flavors to your brine by stirring in fresh herbs, citrus slices, or other seasonings into the brine when heating. Substituting fruit juice, beer or wine for some of the water also will add flavor.
■ Do not brine a turkey that has been “basted,” “enhanced,” “marinated,” or is already classified as kosher.
■ Do not brine a turkey if you plan to deep-fry it.
■ If you bought a turkey with a pop-up timer, leave it in place. If removed, the timer will leave a hole for juices to escape.
■ Brining takes up precious refrigerator space. You might want to rearrange your refrigerator shelves ahead of time to make room for the brining bird.
■ If there is no room in your refrigerator for a huge bird, use a cooler lined with a turkey-roasting bag. Make sure the water temperature remains below 40 degrees throughout the process. You might want to add ice.
■ If you are going to brine your turkey for 4 to 5 hours, use a brine proportion of 1 cup coarse kosher salt to 1 gallon water. Coarse kosher salt is recommended because it completely dissolves in water.
■ If you are going to brine your turkey overnight, or as long as 14 hours, use a proportion of 1/2 cup coarse kosher salt to 1 gallon water.
You can brine any size turkey. The key will be to ensure that you have a large enough container and enough brine to keep the turkey submerged.
Roasted brined turkey
1 fresh whole turkey (18 to 20 pounds), brined
7 quarts (28 cups) water
1 1/2 cups coarse salt
6 bay leaves
2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
1 tablespoon dried juniper berries
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
1 bottle dry riesling
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 bunch fresh thyme
Bring 1 quart water, the salt, bay leaves and spices to a simmer, stirring until salt has dissolved. Let cool for 5 minutes.
Line a 5-gallon container with a large brining or oven-roasting bag. Place turkey in bag. Add salt mixture, remaining 6 quarts (24 cups) water, and the other ingredients. Tie bag; if turkey is not submerged, weight it with a plate. Refrigerate for 24 hours, flipping turkey once.
Note: The turkey needs to soak for about 24 hours, so plan accordingly. Soaking the turkey overnight in a solution of salt and water ensures moist results. When you add aromatics to the brine, the resulting roast is infused with a subtle character all its own.
Lining the brining container, whether tub, stock-pot or bucket, can minimize cleanup, but finding a place for the turkey can require some creative refrigerator rearranging.
If there simply isn’t room, place the bagged bird in a cooler and surround it with ice, replenishing as necessary to keep it at 40 degrees. Makes enough brine for one 18- to 20-pound turkey.
Roast turkey, basting with pan juices every 30 minutes and rotating the pan after 2 hours, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest portion of the thigh registers 165 degrees. It should be 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Transfer turkey to a platter, reserving pan juices for gravy. Let turkey stand for 30 minutes before carving.