Monday, November 17, 2014

Brining and Roasting the Perfect Turkey

I sheepishly admit that over the years I was spoiled and never had to cook for large family functions. Sure, I prepared green bean casserole, mac n’ cheese, and deviled eggs and hauled it to all my mama’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve dinners, but I never had to host the entire meal myself. Until about seven years ago when it was decided that we would begin hosting Thanksgiving at the Poca house. And I was the star chef.

The first thing I stressed out about was cooking my first turkey.

I will admit that the turkey was NEVER my favorite part of the meal. The turkey was always so dry. When I say dry, I mean dry. Like puffs-of-sawdust-as-you-chew dry. I wanted my first turkey to be perfect. Melt-in-your-mouth, succulent and moist, (and yes you can use moist for other things besides cake. Ahem. That’s another story).

Back to the turkey… I began my research.

I first asked my mama how she cooked hers and filed the information away as “probably not the way to do it.” (I love my mama. But her turkeys were dry. Dry. Dry. And I wanted mine moist. Moist. Moist.)

The first thing suggested to me was to brine the turkey before roasting it. Brine? I knew nothing of brining. The recommendation was the first my southern ears had ever heard of brining anything, much less a turkey. The second thing I learned was what temperature to cook the turkey: 325° F. (Not 350° as formally suggested.) Aha. I was on to something.

Brining. 325° F. Got it.

The next thing I learned was how long to cook the bird. Fifteen to seventeen minutes per pound. (Not three hours or longer regardless of the size.) I was on my way to becoming Chef Extraordinaire a la bird.

Brining. 325° F. Fifteen to seventeen minutes per pound.

And that’s how I cooked my first turkey. And I must admit it was the most moist, tasty turkey I’ve ever eaten. And here’s how you do it:

Turkey Roast – Brine

2          gallons of water
2          cups kosher salt
2          cups packed brown sugar
2          tablespoons of poultry seasoning
1          teaspoon sage
            Salt and pepper at your discretion
            Butter (real butter – salted) – room temperature

1                    12-14 pound turkey

The day before you plan to roast your turkey, prepare your brine solution. Combine 4 cups of the room temperature water and add the kosher salt, sugar, and spices and mix, stirring until dissolved. (Do not heat. The kosher salt will NEVER dissolve – I learned this the hard way.) Combine the 4 cups with the remaining water.

Rinse the turkey inside and out and place it in a large pot (if you have a large stock pot, that is perfect, if you don’t, you can use any large container, even your roasting pan if necessary. Cover the turkey with the brine mixture. If the brine doesn’t cover the entire turkey, place the bird in the pot breast side up, and then turn over after six hours. Refrigerate for 12-15 hours.

When ready to roast your turkey, pre-heat the oven to 325° F.

Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse under cold running water, pat dry, and rub butter all over the bird and season with salt and pepper (or any of your favorite spices).

Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. For moist meat, cover with a foil tent. For browned, crisped skin, remove the foil the last hour of cooking. Basting isn’t necessary, but you can baste with pan juices after the foil is removed, which will help with browning.

Roast for 2.5 to 3 hours (15 to 17 minutes per pound for an unstuffed bird) or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, away from the bone, registers 175 ° F and the breast reaches 165° F.
Voila! You cooked a delicious, moist bird!

Happy Turkey eating!

A few tips:

Frozen turkey – allow time for thawing. Place frozen turkey (still in packaging) in a shallow pan on the bottom shelf of refrigerator. Thaw 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds. After the bird is thawed, it will keep in the fridge for up to four days.

Fresh turkeys – are more expensive and have a shorter shelf life. Do not buy more than two days before you plan to cook it.

Never leave at room temperature for more than two hours.

Stuffing the bird – I don’t like stuffed birds, I think the stuffing is gummy, so I have no hints other than the best way is to bake your stuffing separately!

Next week: how to make southern pan dressing (aka stuffing). Yum, yum, good!