I decided to join the 21st century this year and brine my turkey. Actually, I decided last year, but the recipe that I was using called for a dry brine which seemed counter-intuitive. I made a mental note to look into "wet" brining this year.
Last December I made a Cuban Pork dish for Christmas that required the meat be marinated overnight. I wasn’t able to find cooking bags at the grocery store, so I improvised with a clean, unused garbage bag. I placed the marinade and the pork shoulder in the bag, which was in turn placed in a large salad bowl on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator. The meat was turned periodically to ensure that all of it marinated properly.
My plan was to do the something similar to my turkey this year. I found cooking bags, not where I was looking for them last year in the plastic bags aisle, but in the "seasonal aisle" where A&P had helpfully assembled everything you could possibly need to cook a Thanksgiving meal. They were probably in that aisle last year also, I just wasn’t looking there.
All of the brining recipes I saw online required that the brine be cooked and then cooled. I was pressed for time this year, so cooking and cooling were out of the questions. I thought I had found a recipe that didn’t require pre-cooking the brine but when I looked at it Thursday morning, I realized that I was wrong.
Of course this is my kitchen where nothing ever goes right. The first roadblock that I ran into was that this turkey was too large for my big salad bowl. I didn’t realize that a 12 pound turkey was so large or that my salad bowl was so small. The second roadblock was the thinness of the bags. These bags were meant to cook the turkey in. I don’t know if there are special "brining" bags as opposed to "brown in" bags. And the third thing to go terribly wrong that morning (bad things always seem to come in threes) was that I didn’t have all of the (correct) ingredients for the brine.
No problem. I just improvised. I placed the turkey in the bag on the counter. I partially filled the bag with water using the sprayer. I dumped in 1 cup of sea salt instead of the proper amount of kosher salt, several hard shakes of ground pepper instead of pepper corns, ½ bunch of fresh thyme instead of a whole bunch and 5 bay leaves that have been sitting in my cupboard for an unknown period of time. I omitted the sugar because our theme was "A Healthy Thanksgiving". Besides, I couldn’t wrap my head around adding sugar to what seemed like a perfectly respectable brine/marinade.
I added more water and then I tried to close the bag. This is where I began to run into serious trouble. No matter how tightly I twisted the twisty tie, the water kept going sideways instead of up and covering the turkey. Plus, that bag seemed awfully thin. Was it strong enough to hold a 12 pound turkey and several gallons of water? I didn’t have a container large enough to put it in. I began to have visions of putting the bag in my fridge before work then returning home to find that it had burst while I was out, leaking all over my refrigerator and kitchen floor.
What to do, what to do.
I know! Garbage bags are really strong. How about I put the turkey bag inside a garbage bag? That way, if the turkey bag breaks, the garbage bag will hold all the water instead of spilling it. I should become a spokesperson for Glad Trash Bags.
I’m happy to report that the thin turkey bag didn’t burst. It seemed almost a shame to rinse all of those lovely ingredients from the turkey on Thursday morning, but I needed to get as much salt off the turkey as possible.
I was making wild rice stuffing on top of the stove, so I stuffed the turkey with the same herbs and apples that were so successfully last year.
Basting, as I discovered in my research, has become controversial. One school of thought says that pre-basted turkeys don’t need basting while another school of thought says that basting is done primarily to ensure the skin cooks and browns properly. A third school of thought says that constantly opening the oven door to baste the turkey lowers the temperature of the oven and prevents the turkey from cooking properly. I baste because I am old-fashioned. Normally I use butter but for our healthy meal, I decided to go with prepared chicken broth.
A recipe that I saw online recommended adding your choice of herbs to the broth such as sage or thyme. I couldn’t decide which to use, so I used them all by adding poultry seasoning. The broth that I used was Kitchen Basics, recommended by the Taste of Home Cooking School that A and I attended. I had previously used it in a soup recipe which came out very salty. Thanks to the brining and chicken broth, our gravy was much too salty.
Verdict: Needs work.
OldRoses’ No-Cook Brine
1 cup sea salt
½ bunch fresh thyme
1 tablespoon ground pepper
5 bay leaves
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper
10 sprigs fresh thyme
½ bunch flat leaf parsley
2 small onions, halved
2 small apples, cored and halved
1 8 oz container chicken broth
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
Place turkey in a large plastic bag and partially fill it with water. Add brine ingredients. Add more water until turkey is covered. Refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.
Heat oven to 325°F. Discard brine and rinse turkey well. Pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle 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. Baste with seasoned chicken broth.
Cook a 12 pound bird for 4 to 4 ½ hours or until a meat thermometer registers 180°F, basting every 30 minutes.
Compost: parsley stems, onion skins and apple skins