Whatever you do~ cook; love; write ~do with passion.
Please excuse the fact that I’m
just a tad bit 194 days late in posting this. Even 6 mos and 10 days later, this turkey is still a thing of great pride. Perhaps I should have snuck a bite and shellacked and preserved the rest, submitting it to a museum for Thanksgiving perfection. Though this is the most beautiful looking and tasting turkey I have ever turned out, true to my natural inclinations, I have a number of criticisms and even embarrassments in posting this picture (along side my immense pride in such a work of beauty).
Turning out this bird wonder, fit for a Norman Rockwell painting, was no small undertaking. I spent
hours days weeks an obsessive amount of time researching how to get that crisp skin while maintaining juicy deliciousness underneath. I knew the answer lied in science and I was right. I Googled every term regarding chemistry, meat, turkey, browning, and moistness I could. I found one answer at a site that was already a favorite namely because he explains the science and chemistry behind how and why our food does what it does when we cook it. Take a gander on over at Meathead on AmazingRibs.com. I have never been lead astray or even slightly disappointed in using one of his recipes. I adapted his recipe for brine and then used information accumulated from various sites to figure out the ‘how’ of that beautiful skin.
To help clear up confusion about converting ratios of types of salt , salt vs. sugar amounts, and the question of aromatics (hint: they really are what they sound like, don’t expect them to impart flavor), please read Meathead’s guide on these subjects here
*you’ll want 2-3x the amount of brine per pound of meat. This recipe is enough for a 12b turkey.
Gobble Gobble Brine (adapted from amazingribs.com)
2 cup hot water in a 4 cup measuring cup
1 pound salt, any type
1 cup white sugar (I pulsed mine in the food processor to make it super-fine w/o the added expense of purchasing ‘super fine’ sugar)
1.5 cups of good quality honey (yes, I sound like Ina Garten and her ‘good vanilla’, click to read about ‘good honey’)
2/3 cup of garlic powder (not garlic salt)
6 tablespoons finely ground black pepper
3 tablespoons cayenne pepper
2 gallons cold water (*Note- don’t ice this water as it will dilute your brine. You can and probably should, add ice in the form of double-triple bagged freezer bags filled with ice; water-filled and then frozen 2-liter drink bottles.)
You’ll also need:
2 sticks of butter (16 tbsp)
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1) Add two cups of very hot water to a four cup capacity measuring cup. Then pour in salt, any salt (read the amazingribs.com links above to understand why any kind will do), until the water line reaches 3 cups. (Actually, here’s what meathead explains salt and water absorption: “The water will swallow up almost exactly 1/2 pound regardless of whether you use table salt, kosher salt, pickling salt, or sea salt. The volume of these salts may differ, but their water displacement will be the same). Pour the slurry into a clean, non-reactive container large enough to hold the meat and 2 gallons of water. Then add the sugar, honey, garlic, and black & cayenne peppers. Stir, stir, and stir some more- in fact, break out your immersion blender, if you have one, until most of the sugar is dissolved. The garlic and pepper will not dissolve. Next, add the cold water. Tuck away in whatever frigid place you’ll be keeping your turkey while it brines and allow it to cool for 3-4 hours. Finally, add good ‘ole thawed Tom, immersing fully, breast side down. Move the turkey around in the brine to get any air bubble out of the cavity (makes sure your removed the neck and innards and do not stuff, please). Weight your turkey down so stays fully submerged for ultimately flavor.
*Keep your brine at 40 or below, but of course, above 32 degrees.
2) Brine your bird for 24- 36 hours.
3) 12 hours before cooking, remove turkey from brine and give a light rinse to remove excess salt from the skin and make sure you dumped all brine from inside the cavity. Pat that bird as dry as you can get him, squeeze every last drop of moisture out of his skin. Then tress him up (if you do this to your bird) and place on raised grate(s) in fridge with pan underneath for anything that drips. (I placed mine on cookie cooling racks laid over a deep roasting pan and placed all of this on a thick, sturdy carving board, on top of a thick layer of paper towels. I also made sure there was nothing below that could be contaminated should the heavy roasting pan and three-inch thick carving board and twenty one inches of paper towels fail me.)
4) Two hours before cooking, stir or pulse in food processor 2 sticks (16 tbsp) unsalted butter (*real butter, folks) and 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar. Coat under skin and top side of Tom in the brown sugar butter mixture(save around 1/3 for a following step) . Make sure you get all the nooks and crannies of the legs and neck and now, tress up your turkey! Finally, place cheesecloth over the top and coat the cheesecloth in what’s left of the brown sugar butter mix. Leave the bird out (I promise you won’t die from this).
5) Thirty minutes before roasting time, arrange your oven racks. Place one as close to the top coils as possible without your turkey actually touching the coils. Place your second rack in the middle or one rung below, just make sure your turkey won’t touch the top rack. Crank that baby up to 500 degrees and turn your boost on. Let it get to 500 and hold for 10-15 minutes and then quickly, get your turkey into the oven, on the top rack. Keep an eye on your bird for excessive browning, especially around the ends of the legs. Keep some tin foil already molded to slap quickly on any areas that are getting too dark too quick. Allow your bird to get your desired color, this should take about 30mins if you like the color of mine.
6) Lower oven temperature to 350, move your bird to the lower rack, remove cheesecloth and tent entire bird. Let him cook until he reaches an internal temperature of 161 (I recommend this kind of thermometer for most accurate bird cooking; it will alert you when the thickest part of the bird is at 161 and you’ll never need to open the oven while it’s cooking). Cooking time will be approx three hours for a 12lb bird.
7) Once internal temp of thickest part reaches 161, remove from oven and let rest, tented for 15-20 mins before poking, prodding or carving. For the extra cautious, use the second temperature alert or re-set the thermometer to let you know when the bird reaches 165. The temp will continue to rise once outside of the oven so to avoid stepping into Christmas Vacation Turkey Territory, remove at 161 and let rest, tented, to bring it up an additional 4 degrees.
Ms. FavaBeansnChianti’s Cardinal laws of crispy skin, moist meat–
1- brine baby brine!
2- remove as much surface moisture as possible
3- do not baste, I repeat, do not baste! This essential for beautifully crispy brown skin and for moist meat.