I said I’d post a definition of RWA terms for authors, but in light of the fact that Thanksgiving is tomorrow, I thought I’d take a break from controversy for a couple of days and post my tips and tricks for a great turkey while someone might benefit from them. It’s taken me years to hone my turkey cooking skillz, and I must say, after a decade plus, I think they’re pretty mad :).
So, here are the things I do that I believe lead to a juicy, delicious bird:
1. Brine that baby!
I only started brining a couple of years ago, but it makes (IMO) a huge difference in both the flavor and the moistness of the meat. The main thing about brining, though, is that most of the commercially packaged brines are way too salty, and even the recipes for homemade brines call for far too much salt for my taste. Last year, however, I adapted a recipe from my local newspaper and I really like the results. Here’s it is, with my adaptations:
3/4 cup Kosher salt
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
10 whole cloves
3 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 quart of apple juice
1 quart of water
1 cup of orange juice
Peel of one orange or tangerine
3 teaspoons dried thyme
3 teaspoons dried sage
Combine all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for another 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature.
When the brine is cooled, put your turkey (fully defrosted) in a large, sturdy plastic bag. (You can buy brining bags at the grocery store, but they’re expensive. I find a clean plastic trash bag works just as well and is way cheaper…just double it if it doesn’t seem sturdy enough.) Pour the brine into the bag and close it up so that the entire turkey is submerged in the liquid. Place the entire thing in your refrigerator (if you have space; I never do) or use a cooler with plenty of ice to keep it cold while it soaks. I brine for 1 hour per pound of turkey. This year, I’m doing two 12-lbers, but that doesn’t mean I’ll double the time. I might brine slightly more than 12 hours, but not much.
This is a trick I learned from my mother, who learned it from the Joy of Cooking. Instead of using one of those turkey bags in an attempt to keep the breast meat from getting dry/overcooked, I soak cheesecloth in ice water, then drape it over the breast and wings. I then drizzle some drawn butter or olive oil over the cheesecloth to keep it moist until the first basting.
Throughout the cooking time, I rebaste over the cheesecloth about once every half hour with the pan drippings.
When you take out the turkey, the cheesecloth may stick a little to the skin (which will be a nice, crispy brown) and peel some away, but I can pretty much guarantee the breast meat won’t be dry (unless you REALLY overdo the cooking time; then all bets are off).
If you use either of these tips, let me know how it works out for you. Also, feel free to post your own tips and tricks. I seem to learn something new every year about how to make a better turkey, so I’m always looking for ideas :).