At the center of most every Thanksgiving meal is the roast turkey. With all the effort required to pull off this most special meal, the last thing you want is the main course to be less than the best. Yet, many times, this glorious Thanksgiving bird can turn out dry and less than flavorful.
Here is a surefire solution: Brining! Brining is similar to marinating in that meat or poultry is soaked in a solution before cooking. Equal parts sugar and water are added to cold water in a container in which the meat is soaked for a period of time.
Brining makes meat moister by hydrating its cells before cooking via the process of osmosis. It allows the meat to hold on to the water while cooking, thus preventing it from drying out. This works well for any meat that tends to dry out while cooking — chicken, pork and particularly, the star of our national holiday meal, turkey.
Back in 1993, the San Francisco Chronicle cooked turkey 40 different ways. The tasting panel deemed the brined turkey recipe to be the best of them all.
Since refrigerator space is often at a premium during the holidays, you can double-bag the bird in two unscented plastic trash bags and brine it in an ice chest. The brining process takes about 24 hours for a 15 pound turkey.
1 cup sugar
1 cup kosher salt
3 gallons cold water
4 bay leaves, torn in pieces
10 garlic gloves, peeled
2 branches fresh rosemary
1 bunch fresh thyme
Remove giblet bag from the turkey, along with any extra internal fat. Rinse thoroughly with cold water. Combine the salt and sugar with a gallon of the water in a large bowl; stir until dissolved — the water will lose its cloudiness, becoming clear. Add the rest of the brine ingredients except the remaining two gallons of water. Place the doubled trash bags inside an ice chest and place the turkey inside. Pour the brine mixture and the two gallons of remaining water over the bird. Slosh it around real well to mix, then force as much air out of the bags as possible. Tie each bag tight and cover with bags of ice. Close the chest and let the turkey brine for about 24 hours. (a 10 pound turkey takes about 12 hours and a 25 pound one up to 30.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove turkey from the brine, rinse and dry well. Rub 3 tablespoons butter over the skin. Sprinkle salt and pepper liberally over the skin and inside the cavity. Tent the breast with tin foil for the first hour of roasting, then remove the foil for the remainder. Baste the bird every half hour with 1/2 cup chicken stock. Often, because of the brining, there is very little pan drippings — all the moisture stays gloriously in the turkey. Roast until the internal temperature reaches about 165 degrees. Total cooking time is about 3 1/2 hours. Let the bird rest 30 minutes before carving.
Doug Seed was raised in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. and has lived in Morada since 1984. He is a non-denominational clergyman, specializing in research and teaching of the Bible and is also co-owner of A Moveable Feast, a Lodi-based food truck. He is married to Carole and they have four sons. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, playing bridge and golfing.