Join Me in the Kitchen: Brined Turkey

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Well friends, as hard as it is to believe, the holiday rush is on. It seems as though we were just enjoying the last long days of summer (but wait…we were just doing that with last week’s “Indian summer”!!), and yet here we are, just a mere week before Thanksgiving. While you can’t walk into a store without being bombarded by Christmas decorations, I think we first need to stop to say a word of thanks for all we have been given (and survived) in the past year. This year we really do need to stop and say a work of thanks…for our health and our family, and think more of what we have, than what we may have lost this year. Thanksgiving may be lost in the shuffle of Christmas preparation…it’s time to put it back in its’ place of honor!

As I write this weeks’ edition of Join me in the Kitchen, I have 6 turkeys thawing in my cooler. One of the problems that is most often faced by cooks at Thanksgiving is a turkey that hasn’t completely thawed by Thanksgiving morning. It is very important to allow sufficient time for your turkey to thaw completely…you can’t cook a frozen bird, and they don’t thaw quickly. You don’t want to leave a frozen turkey sitting out on the counter to thaw; that is an open invitation to bacteria growth and spoilage. The best method is to thaw your turkey under refrigeration, allowing one day refrigerated thaw time for every 2-3 pounds of turkey (for example, give an 18 pound turkey about 5-6 days in the fridge to thaw completely). If you find yourself desperate at the last minute, you can thaw your bird in a bath of cold water. Simply submerge the wrapped turkey in cold (NOT warm or hot!) water and let it rest, changing the water every hour or two until the bird has completely thawed. I don’t recommend this method, but there are times when “ya gotta do what ya gotta do!”

Last week I bought all of the non-perishables I will need for my holiday feast. Canned goods and baking ingredients can be bought ahead for last minute preparation. Early next week I will buy my fresh veggies and other perishables, so I can start my prep a couple of days ahead of the big day. Potatoes (and other veggies) can be peeled and cut for later cooking; simply put them in a large container, cover with water and refrigerate until it is time to cook. Stuffing bread can be cubed, stored in a zip bag and frozen until the day before you need it. I actually do this year round- that way I never waste the last dry slice or two in the loaf and always have it ready to use! Similarly, pie fillings can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated for last minute assembly and baking. Two days before Thanksgiving I will also place my thawed, rinsed turkey (neck and giblets removed from the cavity first, of course!) in a large bucket of brine (a brine is a salt and herb solution). Brining a turkey gives it a wonderful flavor infusion as well as making it extra juicy. And a word of caution for those of you who purchase turkeys with “pop-up timers” in them. Remember, those timers are not always accurate! You will still want to double check the internal temperature of your turkey with a probe thermometer, making sure it has, indeed, reached 165*. Nothing will ruin a great Thanksgiving meal quicker than cutting into a semi-raw turkey! Finally, to keep it nice and juicy, be sure to let your turkey rest 20-30 minutes before carving it. Simply cover it with foil, and keep your husband away from it (mine like sto pick all of the skin off when I’m not looking!).

This year, chances are pretty good our holiday get-togethers will look nothing like those we have come to expect. We will be social distanced, and in smaller groups, and sadly, there may be empty seats at our table that we will be able to fill only in our hearts. My wish for you all, dear readers is that as you gather with those you can, you remember those who are not at your table, and may you all have the same peaceful, happy holiday!

Brined Turkey

  • 1 ½ C sea salt
  • ¼ C sugar
  • ½ C chopped garlic
  • 2 T fennel seed
  • 2 T rosemary
  • 2 T sage
  • 1 T thyme
  • 2 T black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 Gallon water

Mix all ingredients in a large pot; bring to a boil. Let solution simmer until salt and sugar are completely dissolved. Cool solution completely.

Using a large bucket or similar vessel, pour solution over turkey (or other white meat such as chicken or pork). If solution does not completely cover meat, you will want to turn the meat occasionally to ensure even flavoring.

Refrigerate during brining, the longer the meat sits in the brine the more intense the flavor will be (24-36 hours brining time is suggested). Prior to cooking, remove meat from brine, rinse and pat dry.

Cook as desired.

To read more of Vicki McGraw’s commentaries on good cooking, fine recipes and perfect party treats, visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on Join Me in the Kitchen’s own page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.