How to perfectly brine a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner
I think that most home chefs have gotten the word that brining is a crucial step when cooking turkey. If not, they should. Brining your bird brings flavor, texture, and most importantly, moisture to the table. If you are already hip to the miracle of brining, then let me show you how to step it up another notch.
We will start by making a very rich, delicious vegetable stock. In a large roasting pan add the following vegetables. Don’t bother peeling the garlic, onions, or shallots, and everything else just gets a rough chop into large chunks.
3 large carrots
2 large onions, sweeter is better
2 heads of garlic
4 stalks of celery
1 red pepper (seeded)
1 green pepper (seeded)
3 cups of mushrooms
2 sprigs of rosemary
4 sprigs of thyme
4 sprigs of marjoram
4 sage leaves
That sounds like a lot of work, but it is not really. Other than cleaning the leek, there is very little prepping done. A few chops, a little rinsing, then toss them in the roasting pan. Then drizzle everything with some olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss with your hands until everything is coated with the oil. Pop it into a pre-heated 450°F oven for 45 minutes, stirring it every 15 minutes. When they are done, transfer the vegetables to a large stock pot, and place the roaster over medium heat on the stove. Deglaze the roasting pan with about a cup of Chardonnay.
This recipe uses a whole bottle of Chardonnay, but forget the old canard about never cooking with a wine that you would not drink. First of all, I find that to be nonsensical advice to begin with. Secondly, we want a flabby, buttery, over-oaked monstrosity of a Chardonnay for this recipe. You know the stuff, it is what gets poured at receptions and mixers everywhere. It tastes like it just dripped off of some popcorn and costs about 8 bucks a bottle. I would not drink this stuff on a bet, but those flavors will make for a very rich stock that will also enhance the natural flavors of the turkey.
Once the pan is deglazed well, let the wine reduce a little, just to make sure that all of the flavors combine, and then add to the stock pot. Pour in the rest of the wine, toss in a couple of bay leaves and add water so that your stock pot is a little more than 3/4 full. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for an hour. Then strain through a colander, making sure to smash and squeeze every last bit of vegetabley goodness out of the mess.
The stock can be made well in advance, and you can reserve a cup or two for using with your Thanksgiving gravy. Back to the brine.
Place a gallon of your stock in a pot and crank up the heat. If you have a little less than that, add some water. Stir in the following ingredients:
1 cup of kosher salt
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1/2 tbsp allspice berries
1 cinnamon stick
Boil only until all salt and sugar have dissolved, then remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Remove the cinnamon stick and add a gallon of ice water. Depending on what equiptment you have, and how much room you have in your refrigerator, the next step may take some creative thinking. Simply stated, the bird needs to be fully immersed in the brine and kept cool for 1 hour per pound of bird. My method of doing so it to put a heavy plastic trash bag into a cooler and add the turkey to the bag. Then I pour in the brine and remove as much air from the bag as possible before sealing with a twist tie. I usually add a bag of ice to the cooler, even though I know that the brine itself is enough to preserve the bird.
Do not deviate much from time formula given above. You do not want to either over-brine it or under-brine it. Once the time is up, thoroughly rinse every inch of the bird, both inside and out. Make sure to discard the brine, it can not be reused for anything. Pat dry, and place in front of a fan for about 30 minutes to dry and bring up to room temperature before cooking with your favorite method.
Personally, I like to smoke it stuffed with aromatics, but roasting will give great results as well. If the molasses is too strong of a flavor, it can be replaced with honey or maple syrup. The maple syrup will work wonderfully for smoked turkey.
While this method does take a lot of time, it really is not that much work, and the results will be more than worth the time and effort. Cooked properly, this will be the centerpiece of best Thanksgiving turkey dinner that you will ever eat.
It should go without saying, but NEVER stuff your turkey with anything other than discard-able aromatics. Never, ever. Seriously.