Thursday, December 03, 2009

Dry-Brined Turkey

A wanted to make chestnut stuffing for our nutty dinner so I found myself for the first time ever cooking an unstuffed turkey. It somehow seemed wrong. An empty turkey. So I surfed the internet for something, anything to put in the turkey.

A recipe in the New York Times (I know, I know) caught my eye. The turkey, a heritage bird, was first brined, then stuffed with thyme, parsley, onions and apples. I had heard about brining, that it was supposed to enhance the moisture in the bird. That seemed a healthier alternative to my usual “baste with butter”.

It struck me as odd, though, that the bird was thoroughly salted and then refrigerated for two days. Isn’t salt usually used in that manner to dry foods as a means of preserving them? I surfed some more and discovered that the term brining usually refers to soaking the bird in salt water and then rinsing it thoroughly. Which makes so much more sense if you plan on eating it in the near future, rather than months from now as famine sets in.

It had only been a few days since the bubbling cauldron of doom so I was in no mood to risk the centerpiece of our meal to an unproven method that was not only counter-intuitive but also the complete opposite of what sensible people are doing and have been successfully doing for years. I also skipped the bizarre cooking temperatures.

Instead, I went straight to the peppering and stuffing of the turkey with the apples (who’da thunkit?), onions, thyme and parsley. And instead of rubbing the butter under the skin, I melted the butter and then used it to baste the turkey as it roasted in my usual (and always successful) 325°F newly-cleaned oven.

Scrumptious is the word that comes to mind. The bird was moist and flavorful. As was the gravy. Next year, I’m going to replace my cheap roasting pan with a real roasting pan that can be used on top of the stove so that I can try deglazing it with white wine. The resulting gravy should be heavenly.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Dry-Brined Turkey
(source: New York Times, November 11, 2009)

1 12-16-pound turkey, preferably a heritage or pasture raised bird
½ cup kosher salt, more if needed
1 tablespoon black pepper
10 sprigs fresh thyme
½ bunch flat leaf parsley
2 small onions, halved
2 small apples, cored and halved
½ cup butter
½ cup white wine (optional)

Two days before serving, rinse turkey and pat dry. Rub all over with kosher salt, slipping salt under skin where possible and rubbing some into cavities. Use about 1 tablespoon per four pounds of bird.

Wrap bird in a large plastic bag and place in refrigerator. On second night, turn turkey over. A couple of hours before cooking, remove turkey from bag and pat dry. Place in roasting pan and allow to come to room temperature.

Heat oven to 450°F. Sprinkle half the pepper into main cavity of turkey; add thyme, parsley, half the onions and half the apples. Truss legs with kitchen twine. Put remaining apples and onions in neck opening and tuck neck skin under bird.

Rub butter under breast skin and onto thigh meat. Sprinkle bird with remaining pepper.

Roast for 30 minutes. Remove turkey from oven, reduce heat to 350°F and cover breast of bird and wing tips with foil. Add a cup and a half of water or white wine to bottom of roasting pan and roast bird for another two hours, depending on size; figure 12 minutes a pound for an unstuffed bird. Remove foil in last half-hour so breast browns.

When turkey has roasted for two hours, begin to test for doneness by inserting a meat thermometer (digital is best) into two places in thighs, making sure not to touch bone. It should be at about 160°F.

When roasting is done, tip turkey so interior juices run back into pan. Remove turkey to a separate baking sheet or serving platter, cover with foil and then a damp kitchen towel and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes.

Pour fat and drippings from pan into a measuring cup. Deglaze pan with white wine or broth and pour that into same measuring cup. Fat and drippings can then be used to make gravy.

Yield: About a pound a person.

Recycle: wine bottle

Compost: parsley stems, onion skins, apple cores

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