Roasting a turkey, a holiday tradition for many, is often a recipe that has been handed down from one generation to the next. This can be both a blessing (Grandma’s amazing stuffing) and a curse (overcooked, dried-out turkey). Well, have the best of both worlds: use your traditional recipe, but prepare early and brine your turkey one or two days in advance. Believe us, brining has changed our Christmas family feast … and clients who have tried brining their turkey once won’t have it any other way.
Brining works like this: via the process of osmosis, water (or moisture), naturally moves to a less moist place. The salt actually changes the shape of the meat proteins to allow them to hold more juice than un-brined poultry. Salt actually makes each cell plump up. Brining is used mostly on lean meats, such as pork, chicken or turkey. Brining is the natural and extremely easy solution to dry meat. You can actually overcook your turkey and it will still be juicer than a perfectly cooked turkey that wasn’t brined.
Here is a basic brine recipe that can be used for pork, turkey or chicken:
- 4 litres (16 cups) of water
- 1 cup of kosher salt (you can buy Diamond Crystal kosher salt, $4.99 for a large box at Vincenzo’s)
- 1/2 cup sugar (this balances the flavour)
- Optional seasoning: peppercorns, chopped rosemary or thyme, juniper berries, bay leaves, coriander seeds, garlic, and aromatic vegetables such as onion, carrot and celery, roughly chopped.
Combine all of the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve salt and sugar. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled (option: use half the amount of water and cool quicker by removing from heat and adding two litres of ice cubes). The amount of brine depends on how large your turkey is. The brine must cover the meat entirely. For an average 12-pound bird, we usually double this recipe.
Here are brine times: 10-15 lb turkey: 24 hours; 15+ lb turkey: 24-36 hours.
After brining, allow two hours or up to a day out of the salt (and in the refrigerator) so that it can rest to allow the salt remaining in the flesh to distribute itself evenly. Remember, brining acts as a preservative as well, so your meat or poultry will have a much longer shelf life.
A tip for large turkeys: Make your brine as usual and place in a large clean cooler; add your turkey and top with ice, so essentially your turkey is covered in an icy brine. This solves the problem of not enough fridge space to brine your bird for 24 hours.
Once you are ready to cook your turkey, loosely stuff and roast as usual, except you will not need to season the bird with any salt. Remember to cook your turkey to 165°F (74°C), using an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh away from the bone, and then allow to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.
Our source for this information came from personal experience as well as the book ‘Charcuterie’ by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.