Thanksgiving (U.S.A.) is almost here! And for us, that means brined roast turkey, something we’ve done ever since discovering the joys of brined poultry at the wonderful TraVigne Restaurant out in Napa Valley some years ago.
Brining is easy, but it does take a certain amount of pre-planning. That’s because the brine solution needs to be, at most, room temperature before putting the poultry in it so it’ll need to cool a bit. Plus you’ll want to keep the bird in the brine solution at least 8 hours or overnight.
Basic brining recipes are easy to scale up or scale down. The basic proportion is 5% kosher salt to the total amount of liquid. (I’ll let you do the math.) You can use water alone or water plus apple cider. And you can add herbs and other ingredients to suit your preferences. (I even found one recipe that used a bottle of dry Riesling for part of the liquid.)
First, a cautionary note: this particular recipe is a new one for me. The key difference is that I’ve added vegetable broth and fresh herbs to the brine. I’m hoping it turns out well and adds a savory note to the turkey when it roasts.
First, as usual, assemble your ingredients. You’ll need apple cider (two quarts, or 8 cups), kosher salt, vegetable broth (I used low-sodium), two oranges, and a packet of poultry herbs (sage, rosemary, and thyme).
Pour the apple cider into a large stockpot and add 1/2 cup of kosher salt, stirring over medium-low heat until the salt has dissolved. (Here you see the salt just after it’s been added.)
Next, add the herbs and the vegetable broth. (You can also use mushroom broth or chicken broth if you prefer.) Lower the heat to very low and let the mixture infuse with the herbs for about 30 minutes.
Remove from heat completely and then add six cups of water and four cups of ice (yes, ice!). This will bring the salt-water proportions into balance and also lower the temperature so that you can safely put your bird into the brine.
I like to use bags for brining to make sure the bird is fully enclosed. There are brining bags available, but I generally simply use turkey bags — they’re cheap, sturdy, and easy to find in most (U.S.) stores. Get the largest size you can find, even if your turkey is on the small end of the scale (trust me here!).
Unfold the bags and put them into an even larger stockpot than the one that holds the brine.
Put the turkey in, neck side down, and stuff the cavity with the herbs from the brine. Then cut the oranges into quarters, squeeze them lightly to sprinkle the juice over the turkey, and drop the quarters into the bag.
Seal up the first bag with one of the little ties from the box.
Then seal up the second bag with the second little brown tie. This helps ensure that the bags will remain water- and air-tight. Put the stockpot into the refrigerator (or, alternatively, put into a large cooler and surround it with ice) and let the turkey start a-brining.
The next morning (or 8 hours later, whichever you choose), pull the turkey out of the fridge.
Drain the brining bag, then remove the orange quarters and the herbs in the cavity. Rinse in cool water, especially the cavity (which you should rinse and drain at least twice). Pat dry and place in a large baking pan.
Drape a few paper towels over the top and let air-dry in the fridge for an hour or more. Then pull out, pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees, F. Stuff the bird with whatever dressing you prefer (or no dressing at all). I would note here that a lot of brining recipes will tell you not/not to stuff the bird because it’ll get too salty. My experience: if you rinse and drain the cavity, the stuffing will be just fine.
In our home, we then drape a few slices of bacon over the top of the turkey before putting in the oven. (This is a tradition from my husband’s mother.) This year, I used maple-flavored bacon. Ant this step is completely optional, by the way. But it does ensure that the breast meat will be nice and juicy, not dried out.
Pop in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 325 degrees, F. You’ll need to figure out the roasting time according to the weight of your turkey, generally about 15 minutes per pound. Halfway through, remove the bacon slices (if you’ve used the bacon covering). Continue roasting until the turkey is done, as determined by inserting a thermometer at the breast and leg joint. (If needed to avoid over-browning, cover with an aluminum foil tent.)
And you’re done! Remove from the oven and let the turkey sit for at least 15 minutes before starting to carve.