Thanksgiving is no time for experiments. On any regular Thursday, the pizza parlor is just a phone call away. But on Thanksgiving, there is no such luxury.
This year, I stuck with Ina Garten’s recipe for roast turkey. Though, unlike the two previous years, I decided to brine my turkey – a technique which I had not yet tried. Brining – the process of immersing the meat in a salt-water mixture – works to dry and salt the meat by osmosis. That is, excess salt from the juice flows into the meat, while excess water from the meat, flows into the juice. Which doesn’t sound great: who wants dry, salty meat?
Fortunately, the osmotic process is not finished. As the salt enters the meat, it begins to break down the protein fibers in the meat, which then channels more water back into meat. And in its denatured, or broken-down, state, the meat is able to hold more moisture. Which is something to be thankful for!
The Washington Post recipe called for 2/3 cup of salt for a half-gallon brine, but Cooks Illustrated offers a more nuanced approach. If you use Morton Kosher’s salt, they recommend 3/4 cup for every half-gallon of water. They also recommended a full cup of sugar, but given the sugar content in the apple juice, I only used 1/3 cup.
All told, the brining experiment was a success, producing a great Thanksgiving turkey. The bird did overcook a little around the breast area, so next year I might try and tent the turkey during the first hour. Other than that, here’s looking forward to a week of turkey sandwiches!
Apple Cider Brined Roast Turkey
Apple Cider Brining recipe adapted from the Washington Post.
Roast Turkey recipe from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Parties!
PREP TIME: Overnight brining required
COOK TIME: 3 hours
YIELD: 1 Perfect Turkey
WHAT TO GRAB:
8 cups of apple juice or cider (I used juice)
3/4 cup Kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar
6 quarter-size slices of fresh ginger
2 bay leaves
6 whole cloves
1 teaspoon ground pepper
4 cups ice-cold water
2 oranges, quartered
1 large, plastic garbage bag
8 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 fresh turkey (10 to 12 pounds)
Fresh ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 whole lemon, halved
1 sweet onion, halved
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
1 head of celery, broken into stalks (optional)
12 peeled carrots (optional)
HOW YOU DO IT:
1. In a very-large saucepan or stock pot, combine the apple juice, salt, sugar, ginger, bay leaves, cloves, and pepper. Over medium-high heat, and stirring regularly, bring the mixture to a boil. You want the sugar and salt to have dissolved. Boil for about 3 minutes, and then remove from the heat. Stir in the ice-cold water. Allow the brining mixture to sit, until at room temperature. (For food safety-reasons, you do not want the turkey immersed in a warm brine).
2. Remove the giblets and any excess fat from the turkey. Wash it with cold water, and stuff the oranges into the main cavity. Place the turkey in a large, plastic, garbage bag. Working over the sink, and standing the turkey upright, pour the brining mixture into the garbage bag. Squeeze the air out of the bag, and tie it closed, with a twisty tie. Place the turkey in a roasting pan, and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. During that period, turn the turkey about 2 or 3 times.
3. Working over the sink, cut a small hole in the garbage bag, and allow the brining mixture to drain from the bag. Remove the oranges from the cavity, and pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Return the turkey to the roasting pan.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
5. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, and teaspoon of chopped thyme. Mix and set aside.
6. Put a large amount of salt and pepper into two ramekins. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the cavity. Add the thyme, lemon halves, onion quarters, and garlic to the cavity. Tie the legs together with string, to prevent anything from falling out of the cavity. Brush the outside of the turkey with the lemon-butter mixture, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Finally, tuck the wings tips under the body of the turkey. If you’re using them, toss the celery sticks and carrots into the pan. The vegetable will help flavor any subsequent turkey stock.
7. Roast the turkey for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until juices run clear when you cut between the leg and thigh. The USDA recommends that the thickest part of the inner thigh have reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
8. Remove the turkey from the oven, and cover completely with aluminum foil. Let the turkey rest for 20 to 30 minutes, then get your carving knives ready!