It's the age-old dilemma that haunts Thanksgiving cooks to the point of nail biting, eyeing that chilled bottle of Chardonnay, opening and closing the oven door every ten minutes to check the turkey (with an instant-read thermometer of course), wondering why it's taking the turkey so long to bake and then, somehow, in that last ten minutes... It's too late.
The turkey carving begins and you can see it with the first slice of the breast. Little crumbs of turkey 'sawdust'. "OH, NO! Turkey Jerky!" Yes, this is an all too-common scenario in trying to dance on the razor's edge of trying to make sure the legs, and especially the thighs of the turkey are fully cooked while NOT overcooking the breasts.
It's also a common problem because it's the nature of the beast, so to speak. Turkeys are relatively lean birds but they are also somewhat lopsided in their fat distribution. Most of the fat in the turkey is distributed throughout the body EXCEPT the breasts, so they are the first to dry out.
What to do? Moisture insurance!
That's right "moisture insurance", also known as brining. NOT ONLY will brining solve the problem of preventing the breasts from drying out, it will noticeably tenderize the turkey.
The basic necessities of brining are salt and water. That's really all you need, but most people add herbs and spices because of the magical effect of brine. If you recall basic chemistry from school, you might remember the term "osmosis". That's what happens when you brine a turkey. The imbalance of salt in the brine causes the turkey to absorb that salty water (along with the herbs and spices). It will NOT make turkey salty! It WILL enhance the flavor!
Remember the following rules, assuming a 12-14 pound Turkey (thawed). Add more liquid and salt with a larger turkey. It's not rocket science but in general, 1/2 cup salt per gallon of liquid.
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT! If the Turkey is frozen, thaw in the fridge 2-3 DAYS before brining. The brining process begins THE DAY BEFORE THANKSGIVING!
2 gallons of heavily-Iced water (can be 1 gallon of water and 1 gallon of vegetable broth)
1 cup of salt
A 5-gallon bucket or, better, a medium-large cooler.
Herbs and spices, (Sage, Juniper berries, Peppercorns, etc) and usually a sweet, such as maple syrup, apple cider, or like they do in the South, Dr. Pepper or Coca-cola.
Boil a few quarts of the water along with the salt until dissolved. Let cool to room temperature. Make sure the turkey is cleaned and innards removed. Mix dissolved salt and water mixture into the rest of the water (or broth) with plenty of ice, add herbs spices and the sweetener.
Place the turkey into the cooler and pour the liquid over and add ice to keep chilled and keep the turkey submerged. Close cooler top. Let the turkey brine in a cold location, (such as your garage; we're assuming that most people don't have a walk-in refrigerator and so your cooler is not going to fit in a standard frig. Add ice as needed.
DO NOT Over-Brine!
Yes, you can "over-brine". 18-24 hours is optimal. Remove the turkey from the brine, RINSE WELL and dry. Discard brine. Chill in the frig if needed, otherwise, let the turkey come CLOSE to room temperature before roasting.
At this point, you may roast your turkey as you would traditionally.
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Scotts Valley Market!