The Night Before: Brining the Turkey
The Big Day
Snap on some gloves if you have a a fear of touching raw turkey (I do):
Remove all the mysterious giblet innards (This year I may make an effort to suppress my gag reflex and keep this stuff to try and make gravy. Normally, I throw it away) and rinse the turkey inside and out under cold running water.
Quarter 2 oranges and 2 lemons
Dissolve 1 cup of sea salt and 1 cup of brown sugar in 2 gallons of cold water and then add the quartered oranges and lemons along with 6 sprigs of thyme and 4 sprigs of rosemary to the mix
After that delectable concoction is mixed up, transfer it to a brining bag (I bought mine here and they are great - and since they come 4 in a pack that is one thing I don't have to hunt down this year!)
Next, dump (carefully) the turkey into the brining bag, although maybe it would be easier to put the turkey in the brining bag and then dump the stuff in over it . . . .
Last step, find a spot in the fridge.
Then have your assistant cram the brining turkey in quickly before something falls out. Also, as you can see, I put my brining bag/Whole Foods bag in the roasting pan just in case things leak.
- Make sure your turkey is not frozen (glad mine was "All Natural" - hate to think what those other turkeys are made out of)
(I did this first step in my biggest stock pot even though it isn't big enough to hold the turkey although given this next step I'm sure it is just dirtying an extra pot)
But no worries if you don't have a brining bag, you can brine the turkey in a clean bucket, large stockpot (a seriously large stockpot!) or a clean, heavy-duty, plastic garbage bag. The first time I did this, I scrubbed a couple of Whole Foods grocery bags clean (they are thicker than normal grocery plastic bags) and dumped it all in and crossed my fingers that it wouldn't spring a leak as it brined over night in the fridge.
Start the process approximately 7 to 8 hours before serving.
- Remove the turkey from its brining bath and give it a thorough rinse under cool water both inside and out (I, of course, use the gloves again)
- Pat the turkey dry with paper towels and let it stand for 2 hours at room temperature. If you put the turkey breast up on the roasting rack in your roasting pan now you won't have to adjust it later.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and make sure the oven rack is on the lowest level.
- Next up, my secret ingredient: open a bottle of dry white wine. But just remember if you aren't a wine drinker to have something on hand for the uncorking or else you will find yourself trying to uncork it with that twisty thing on your swiss army knife - not fun!) Also, if you aren't a wine drinker, you can ask the guy at the liquor store what wine works best and he will probably point to the one sitting next to the register. It is Thanksgiving afterall.
- After you get the wine bottle open, combine 3 sticks of melted unsalted butter with the wine in a medium bowl. I am not really sure how much wine I use, probably a bit less than half a bottle.
- Fold a large piece of cheesecloth into quarters and cut it into a 17-inch(ish) four-layer square. Immerse the cheesecloth in the butter and wine mix and let it soak.
- Next up, with the turkey breast side up (although I realize some swear by breast down, I have no real preference) in roasting pan, tie the legs together loosely with kitchen string and fold the neck flap under and secure with toothpicks or those long metal toothpick things that come with your roasting pan (at least they came with mine and came in handy). You can also try and tuck the wings under with the pins.
- Rub the turkey with approximately 4 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter and sprinkle with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and pepper and a handful of sprigs of sage, rosemary and thyme. No need to rub it in or put it under the skin given the next step.
- Lift the cheesecloth out of the liquid and squeeze it slightly, leaving it very damp. Spread it evenly over the breast and about halfway down the sides of the turkey; it can cover some of the leg area (sorry I don't have a photo of this part). The cheesecloth helps rub those herbs in a bit more.
- Place the turkey in the oven legs first and cook for 30 minutes.
- Then, using a pastry brush, baste the cheesecloth and exposed parts of the turkey with butter and wine. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to cook for 2 1/2 hours, basting every 30 minutes. I simply set a timer for 30 minutes to remind me to baste as I work on the rest of the meal.
- After the third hour of cooking, remove and discard the cheesecloth.
- Turn the roasting pan so that the breast is facing the back of the oven and baste the turkey with pan juices. If there are not enough juices (obviously I don't get a lot but I read that is a good sign somewhere), continue to baste with butter and wine. Baste carefully because the skin gets fragile as it browns. Cook 1 more hour, continuing the 30 minute basting routine.
- When fully cooked, transfer the turkey to a serving platter and let rest for about 30 minutes. If you aren't a complete failure at making gravy like I am, you can use this time to make the gravy. This year (a glutton for punishment) I'm going to attempt this gravy (but keep some store bought gravy on hand just in case).
- Finally, ask one of your guests to carve the turkey because you are exhausted and trying to finish up all the other last minute items.
I love the tan line look after removing the cheesecloth.
(Isn't that a pretty turkey?)