The Times Bird Brine

posted by Mimi Hiller 09-05-100 3:07 PM

From the December 19, 1996 Los Angeles Times
Bird Brine
By Russ Parsons
Times Deputy Food Editor

2/3 cup of salt to a gallon of water - about a 5% saline solution. If you're going to smoke your bird, it can handle a more forceful brine. Try using a full cup of salt per gallon - that's about 7%.
I tried concentrations from 10% down to 2%, and the main difference was in the amount of saltiness - the texture was improved even with a fairly weak brine. Incidentally, if you're worried about sodium intake, remember that the meat absorbs only 10% to 15% of the brine - roughly 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt per turkey.

When Thanksgiving arrived, I took the plunge - and so did my bird. Finding a bath big enough to brine a 14-pound turkey can be a bit of a bother. (And so can clearing enough space in the refrigerator to store it.) I ended up using the biggest stockpot I had, and a plain 5% salt-and-water brine. I turned the bird occasionally to make sure it was evenly cured.

After six hours, I removed the turkey from the brine and dried it. Then I returned it to the refrigerator in the empty stockpot to dry further overnight. I wanted it to have a nice crisp skin - something that's difficult to achieve if there's much moisture present.

The next day I stuffed the turkey and roasted it in my usual way - 450 degrees for the first 45 minutes, then 325 degrees until a thermometer registered 160 degrees when poked in the fat part of the thigh. (The USDA recommendation of 180 degrees, by the way, allows considerable margine of error. With a 20-minute rest, a 160-degree turkey will reach 170 degress - more than enough to kill any bacteria.) When I checked the temperature of the stuffing, it was still a little cool, so - mindful of the danger of salmonella - I returned the turkey to the oven until the stuffing reached 160 degrees.

The turkey was puffed, bronzed and gleaming. And unlike most roast turkeys, this one did not deflate in the 20 minutes between roasting and carving. It retained its swollen grandeur all the way to the table.
When I carved the breast meat, I noticed another peculiar thing: The white meat had developed that somewhat thready appearance you get when you overcook the breast meat (the result, no doubt, of waiting for the stuffing to get safe). Usually that means dry meat that crumbles when carved. But in this case, the slices held their shape perfectly and the meat was moist and tender.

What's more, the meat was nicely seasoned throughout. Cold, the next day, it made terrific sandwiches - even the parts closest to the bone, which normally taste bland and under-seasoned.

This Thanksgiving, however, Rodgers decided a real wet-brine was in order. "That sure was good," she says. "I used my classic brine for pork chops: 2 parts salt to 1 part sugar mixed in water. For my turkey, I cut back a little further on the sugar to more like 4 to 1. Poultry and sugar is not a big hit to me, but a little sweetness is OK.

"I put the turkey in the brine on the Friday before Thanksgiving, then took it out Tuesday night and rinsed it real well, then dried it and let it sit a day before roasting. I've found that when you brine big meats, the taste is more even if you let it rest a day before cooking. If you pull it straight out of the brine and roast it, it's not as tender, and the surface of the meat will be too aggressively salty. If you let it relax and stabilize, it generalizes the degree of brininess throughout."

Arthur Maurer, a professor of poultry product technology at the University of Wisconsin who has done a lot of work with smoked poultry says sugar does three things for a brine: "First, it's a flavoring; it helps mellow out the saltiness. It also helps with browning, especially if there's some left on the surface. It can also help with the ionic strength of the brine, helping the meat take up more of the moisture."
And because most dried herbs and spices are water soluble, their flavor will penetrate the meat as well. Using fresh herbs and garlic probably won't have much of an effect, though. Besides, even a turkey wouldn't want to take a bath in garlic.

Roast Brined Turkey

You can substitute Mark Peel's brine recipe for this or develop one of your own. The important guideline is 2/3 cup salt to 1 gallon water. After that, feel free to play with seasonings to your taste, though be aware that some dried spices, such as cloves and bay leaves, are very powerfully flavored and should be used cautiously.

2/3 cup salt
1 gallon water
1 12- to 14-pound turkey

Combine salt and water and stir until salt dissolves. Pour brine over turkey in pot just large enough to hold both. If turkey is completely covered, don't worry about using all of brine. Cover with foil and refrigerate 6 hours or overnight, turning 2 or 3 times to make sure turkey is totally submerged.

Remove turkey from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Refrigerate, unwrapped, 6 hours or overnight.
Place turkey on its side on rack in shallow roasting pan. Roast at 450 degrees 15 minutes. Turn turkey to other side and roast another 15 minutes. Turn breast-side up and roast another 15 minutes.

Reduce heat to 325 degrees and roast until meat thermometer inserted in center of thickest part of thigh registers 160 to 165 degrees, about 2 hours. Remove from oven and set aside 20 minutes before carving.

Makes 10 to 12 servings. Each of 12 servings contains about: 394 calories; 792 mg sodium; 236 mg cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 1 gram carbohydrates; 65 grams protein; 0 fiber.

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