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brining turkeys

jen kalb | Nov 13, 200412:31 PM     7

Re this process, just a note - I have now been brining my thanksgiving turkeys since - well - the first Cooks Mag recc on the topic - so maybe 10 yrs. I had been really working on high temp methods before that time, but we were just astounded that first year with the effect of switching over to brine. It made the white meat tasty and tender too, and improved the whole bird. Its essentially a simple process to get the basic brining effect - you take a couple of pounds of salt and rub it all over the bird - then immerse the bird in a large pot of water. recently instead of rubbing the salt over the turkey I have taken to simply adding the salt to the water and stirring it around before putting in the bird. for a smallish birds its 4-6 hrs for bigger bird, longer (I brine my birds overnight) - I think the formula calls for a bit less salt for the longer brining called for for the bigger birds, too. I usually put the bird out in my entry way so it stays cool enough - some formulae call for refrigeration or ice cubes but if your brine is cold and your turkey still half frozen inside, as mine usually is, its not an issue.Be sure to carefully wash the bird after removing from the brine to get all the salt out of the nooks and crannies.

The recipes for the brine that have been offered subsequently keep getting elaborated, with sugar added, boiling of the brine with herbs and spices, etc. I am a hurried cook, so havent tried these, but wanted to note that the original recipe works real well. For anyone who doesnt want to deal with boiling and cooling a cooked brine, these elaborations are really not necessary to derive the main brining benefit - keeping the bird's own juice and flavor IN the meat.

I noticed an interesting fact in rereading the first Cooks article on this topic - they adopted this method from a recipe in Jean Anderson's 1986 book, the Food of Portugal. The recipe in that book, in addition to brining, also uses a high temp cooking method which I also like, and involves no basting. If you're interested in that recipe, which, unconventionally, is also stuffed right under the skin, it is called Maria Eugenia Cerquera de Mota's Roast Stuffed Turkey.

p.s. Sra Mota, the creator of the portuguese recipe is quoted in the cookbook as saying that the brining salt seals the pores of the bird and keeps the juices in - she says that basting, low temp cooking and rubbing the bird with anything but salt will all make the juices run out. I dont know about the under-skin stuffing, but I think I may follow her no-baste recipe with my heritage bird this year.

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