Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner - Turkey Talk

About a month ago, I started craving my full-course Thanksgiving dinner.  Roast turkey, sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade rolls, cranberry sauce... ahhhh I love it.  Thanksgiving, in my opinion, is every home cook's, or chef's "Olympics".  If you're making the meal yourself, that is! 
So I started planning my "Fakesgiving".  I invited some friends over - because there is no way our little family of 4 could eat all the food I was about to prepare.  The next few posts will be entirely devoted to dishes for your Thanksgiving dinner!
Today, I want to talk turkey.  Years ago, I made my turkey using a Reynolds roasting bag.  It kept the turkey moist and it cooked quickly, but the look of the bird was something less than desired.  You don't get a beautiful crispy skin (which I love!) when you use the bag.  I had never brined my turkey before, either.  About 5 years ago, I tried it for the first time and oh my goodness... I won't ever not brine again.
Now you can spend a ton of money buying a bringing mix from Williams Sonoma or other places.  I make my own and really, you can make it however you want! It's easy, but you need to give yourself plenty of time to allow for this process - not just for the best results, but for safety reasons, too.
Fill the biggest soup pot you have with water.  If you don't have a big pot, then you'll probably have to do this twice or three times.  You'll need a gallon or two of brine to cover the entire bird.  In the pot, add 1 1/2 cups salt.  I use sea salt or kosher salt.  Then I toss in some crushed garlic cloves, a couple bay leaves, peppercorns, fresh rosemary sprigs, thyme sprigs, one orange sliced, one lemon sliced, 2 cups apple cider or apple juice, 1 cinnamon stick, and if you can find them, juniper berries.
Bring this to a boil.  When the salt is completely dissolved, turn the burner off and move the pot off the heat.  Allow this to cool completely and then put in the fridge.  Like I said, it's a long process.  I always start my brine in the afternoon, let it cool until bedtime, then put in the fridge overnight.
In the morning, I put my turkey in a brining bag.  If you can't find a brining bag, use one of those Reynolds roasting bags!  They work great!  Put the turkey in the bag, then place in a tub or roasting pan for easy transporting, and just in case you spring a leak!  Check to make sure you've emptied out all the of the cavities of the turkey - removing the neck and innards.  (Don't toss those - you'll want them to make turkey stock for the gravy!)  Carefully pour the COLD brine into the bag.  Removing as much air from the bag as possible, seal it up and pop the entire turkey into your fridge.  If you don't have room in your fridge, use a cooler and keep on ice so you don't get food poisoning.
Every 12 hours, rotate your turkey so all sides get evenly brined.  I brine my turkey for at least 2 days.  So if you do the math, that means you need to start three days before Thanksgiving for this whole thing to work.
The night before Thanksgiving, remove the turkey from the brining bag.  I put my turkey on a cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet.  You want your turkey to drain before you start roasting so you get a crispy skin.  Cover the turkey with saran or foil and put in the fridge for overnight.  In the morning, put your turkey in the roasting pan, rub with olive oil, and sprinkle with sage and thyme.  Pop into a 400* oven for about 25 minutes, then reduce to 325* and roast until your meat thermometer (stuck into the thigh - but not touching bone!) reads 165*.  Remove the turkey from the oven and let rest for 30 minutes before carving.

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