Thanksgiving Day is one of my favorite holidays. I truly enjoy cooking the meal. It’s basic ceremonies and premise are non-sectarian and uplifting and mostly we have friends over who would otherwise be on their own. This time it was just us and two friends and that made it more manageable than normal. I couldn’t afford a heritage turkey but I got a lovely free range one that almost seemed heritage like. Very little fat, rather lean and lanky, clearly related to the wild turkeys that roam around here and which come out like idiots right before Thanksgiving from wherever they hide during the Summer.
Anyway, we wanted them to go home with some leftovers and we wanted some leftovers – leftovers are part of the joy of the Thanksgiving meal: turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches. Dressing and gravy as a meal. A turkey curry and finally a turkey soup. That’s what we usually stretch to…
I normally cook the turkey wrapped in cheesecloth and this year was no exception but this year I tried something new – brining. I’ve never done it before and it was a mixed bag this time – bag being the operative word. Our turkey was 17 pounds and not an ounce of fat (confirmed later when we had literally NO fat drippings – none, nada, zip). I brined it in about a gallon and a half of water with two cups of salt and one of sugar and twenty five bay leaves. The turkey was cleaned, giblets removed and reserved for gravy, washed and patted dry, then carefully placed inside brand new, doubled trash bags. The brine was poured all over, including into the cavity. Air was carefully pushed out of the bags and they were very tightly knotted. The turkey was rolled around in its special bath and placed in the refrigerator for 36 hours, turning every 8 or so to try to brine evenly. Alas it was not to be – on eating we discovered a clear case of non even brining – but that was OK – we had half brined, half not.
Then I put the oven on at 375 degrees and got out about a yard of cheesecloth. I pulled the turkey from the brine, patted it dry and threw out the brining stuff. Then I placed three bay leaves in the cavity, followed by the stuffing (see next recipe). I rubbed a mixture of two tablespoons of kosher salt, two teaspoons of ground pepper and the zest of three meyer lemons all over the turkey. Then I mummified it in the cheesecloth and placed it on a rack in a big roasting pan. I poured about a third of a cup of olive oil carefully over the bird and set it in the oven. After one hour I basted it with what turned out to be almost nothing in the way of juices (this was truly not a fat turkey). So I poured three cups of chicken stock over the bird and returned it to the oven. From then on I basted every half an hour. Bird was done in four hours by timing charts and by meat thermometer (165 at the thigh and in the stuffing). Bird was also a rich, deep chestnut brown and smelled fantastic. Cut away the cheesecloth from the top. Peel off the cheesecloth from the bottom. Place on carving tray and serve with all the other things. It was a great turkey. But I’m not sure brining was a necessary step…
Owen, that Thanksgiving turkey looked amazing & delicious! I’ve never tried brining myself.
Great looking bird, Owen.
As far as brining, personally I’ve had better luck brining birds that were later grilled or smoked than ones cooked traditionally. I’ve never had any trouble producing a juicy bird in an oven, but long smoking times benefit from brining, IMHO.