Monday, November 24, 2008

Dry Brining

In the past I have tried many different kinds of turkeys and many different ways of preparing it; free-range, organic, super market turkeys, brining, roasting breast up, roasting breast down, stuffing it, not stuffing it, covering it with cheese cloth...and the list goes on. It is really hard to determine, outside of having multiple birds in a line up for simultaneous tasting, which turkey tasted the best, but I do believe that brining, of all the things I have tried, helps to create a juicy bird (although my mother swears it is roasting it breast down for awhile). But brining a turkey can be a tricky, space-eating proposition because the turkey needs to be soaked in a large quantity of brine (my preference is salt, spices, and apple cider) for more than a day. If you are like me, refrigerator space is at a premium, especially around the holidays.

So this year I will try a "new" technique, that has actually been around for a few years. Based on a chicken roasting technique by chef Judy Rogers, of Zuni Cafe, the turkey is simply salted a bit heavily (1 T per every 5 pounds of bird), and bagged up and refrigerated for 3 days (ideally, but less is fine too). Each day the turkey is massaged and turned, and finally uncovered and placed on a plate and back into the fridge for at least 8 hours to dry out the skin, so it becomes beautifully crisp when roasted. The Los Angeles Times ran a
story about this last week, and according to them, people have gone crazy for this technique and swear that it was their best turkey ever.

So today I will go to pick up my 18 pounder ( actually turned out to be 19.5 pounds)...hopefully it will be big enough (we just have 8 adults and 6 kids this year)...and give it a go. I also plan on making the dough for my dinner rolls. Tomorrow I will prepare maple butternut squash (it is very easy to reheat) and begin to dry my bread for the stuffing (whole wheat and sourdough). Wednesday I will bake the pumpkin pie, make the New England Rum Pie and prepare the stuffing to be refrigerated overnight. Preparing food in advance helps Thanksgiving day run more smoothly and helps me to not feel overwhelmed. I will be sharing the recipes with you as I go!

Dry Brined Turkey

1 16-20 pound bird
1 T salt per every five pounds
1 t dried sage
1 t dried rosemary
1 t dried thyme
grated zest from one lemon

Rinse turkey and remove giblet bag (usually in the neck cavity) and neck (usually in the main cavity). Pat dry. Mix salt with herbs and zest and rub liberally on breast, then flip turkey and rub salt over thighs and back. Save some to sprinkle inside the turkey too. Place turkey in a large turkey-sized roasting bag and tie shut. Must be done at least 24 hours in advance, and up to 3 days in advance. Every 12 hours or so massage salt into skin.

When you remove turkey from bag, the salt and seasonings should be absorbed into the flesh. If you have time, let turkey air dry in your fridge for 8 hours, then let sit at room temp for at least an hour before roasting. Pat turkey dry and roast according to directions in Los Angeles Times story (link above).

I prefer not to stuff my turkey because it roasts faster which helps to prevent the meat from drying out.


Eli said...

The other week in class we had the holy grail of Thanksgiving tests: three turkeys, side by side. The first, a whole turkey roasted in the oven. The second, a turkey broken down, thighs deboned, pieces browned on the stove, and then roasted. The third, deep fried in a big vat of oil.

The verdict? If you cook them properly, all the methods work. The fried turkey was probably a wee bit moister than the others, but there weren't any roast drippings for the gravy.

On Thursday, I'm going to roast my turkey whole, on a bed of mirepoix. For a 12-14 lb turkey, 45 minutes breast-side down at 350F, then 50-65 minutes breast side up at 400F. Remove from oven when the thigh is at 158F, and let rest for a bit.

Alison said...


That is really interesting. I did consider cutting up my turkey and roasting it in parts, but decided against just seemed so un-traditional!

You are going to take it out of the oven when the thigh is 158? How much higher will the temp go when it is resting?


Eli said...

For a whole turkey, you can take it out with the thigh at 158F, and carry-over cooking will bring it up to the proper 165F. If you break it down first (untraditional, indeed, but would make sense if you have enough people for two turkeys) then it won't carry-over as much because you don't have the mass of bone.

Alison said...

Thanks! That's good to know. I am always surprised when cookbooks advise you to wait until the thigh is then, it is SO overdone.