In food, as in many other aspects of our daily lives, there are fads. In the 1950s gelatin made an appearance in every course, from appetizer aspics filled with olives, celery and bits of meat, to savory main course gelatin molds mixed with meats and congealed mayo, through dessert molds with canned fruit artfully suspended within......bleech! Some fads are best left in the past.Twenty years ago no one had ever heard of Ranch Dressing ...now it's everywhere and in everything--think cool ranch tortilla chips, etc.
In the last few years I've been hearing a lot about brining and dry rubs. Funny thing, though, my Nonna Teresa used to soak her cut up chicken in a salt solution for a few hours before cooking. My mother continued the practice because her mother did it, though without understanding why. After reading and hearing so much about brining, a few years ago I decided to try it and brined my Thanksgiving turkey for the first time. WOW! Apparently Nonna was onto something good! Brining creates the most juicy, succulent bird I have ever tasted! Gone is the dry breast meat that has to be doused with gravy just so you can swallow it. Here's how I do it.
Get yourself some XXL Zip Lock storage bags....the supermarket carries them for about $6.00 for a box of four bags (or you can order brining bags from Williams-Sonoma at $16.95 for 2 small and 2 large bags.....your choice). Also locate your largest plastic basin or a small picnic cooler, anything that will hold the entire turkey and contain any overflow of the brine and still fit in your fridge.
Two days before cooking the turkey, heat the following brine ingredients, stirring occasionally until salt and sugar dissolve. Chill overnight.
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 oranges, quartered
2 lemons, quartered
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 gallons water
(This makes enough for a 14 to 16 pound turkey; if you are making a larger bird, use an additional 1⁄2 cup EACH salt & brown sugar for every additional gallon of water needed to completely immerse the turkey.)
One day before T-day, remove turkey from store wrapper, empty it of all the interior packaged giblets and the neck (these go into your gravy, but that's another post). Place the turkey with the breast side down in your large plastic zip top bag; add brine and press all the air out of the bag before sealing. Put turkey in bag into large basin or other container (just in case something springs a leak!) Refrigerate for 24 hours, turning turkey over after 12 hrs.
On T-day, preheat oven to 500°. Discard brine, reserving herbs, lemons and oranges. Rinse bird well, inside and out, and pat dry. Place herbs, lemons and oranges into the cavity of the bird. Tuck wings behind bird and anchor them under the back; tie legs together with kitchen twine and rub entire bird with canola oil. Roast on rack at 500° F. for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, insert probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast (being careful not to hit bone or you will get a false temperature reading!), cover breast with a double layer of heavy duty aluminum foil and return turkey to oven, reducing temperature to 350°. Set thermometer alarm to 160 degrees (if your probe thermometer has an alarm; if not, just start checking the temp at the 2 hour mark for a 14 to 16 pounder). A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2-1⁄2 hours of roasting depending on your oven. Let turkey rest covered with foil on a serving platter for at least 15 minutes while you degrease the cooking juices and make the gravy. (The temp will continue to rise another 5 to 10 degrees as it rests.)
Notes & Pointers:
Occasionally, when I carve the bird, I find that the interior of the leg and thigh joint is not as cooked as I would like it to be (though once it reaches 165 degrees, it is safe to eat). If so, I just pop the 2 legs and 2 thighs into the microwave for 5 minutes or so while I finish carving the rest of the bird, just to be sure they are cooked to my liking. One other thing: brining the bird is yet another reason (see my second post) to cook the stuffing separately from the turkey. If the brining juices infiltrate the stuffing, you could end up with a stuffing that is too salty!