If you have never brined a turkey (or any piece of meat for that matter), you are probably thinking, what’s the big deal? Why spend the time to brine?
Brining your turkey ensures the meat to come out moist, even if you have to cook it a little longer than planned. This added effort gives you peace of mind that your turkey will not be overcooked and dry!
For you science nerds out there (and I’m one of them!), here is an explanation of how brining works, courtesy of Cooks Illustrated:
HOW BRINING WORKS
Brining works in accordance with two principles, called diffusion and osmosis, that like things to be kept in equilibrium.
When brining a turkey, there is a greater concentration of salt and sugar outside of the turkey (in the brine) than inside the turkey (in the cells that make up its flesh). The law of diffusion states that the salt and sugar will naturally flow from the area of greater concentration (the brine) to lesser concentration (the cells).
There is also a greater concentration of water, so to speak, outside of the turkey than inside. Here, too, the water will naturally flow from the area of greater concentration (the brine) to lesser concentration (the cells). When water moves in this fashion, the process is called osmosis.
Once inside the cells, the salt and, to a lesser extent, the sugar cause the cell proteins to unravel, or denature. As the individual proteins unravel, they become more likely to interact with one another. This interaction results in the formation of a sticky matrix that captures and holds moisture.
Once exposed to heat, the matrix gels and forms a barrier that keeps much of the water from leaking out as the meat cooks. Thus you have a turkey that is both better seasoned and much more moist than when you started. [see illustration below]
So there you have it! Proof that brining is better, and here is a recipe for you to try out brining for yourself. Enjoy with family and friends and don’t forget to pour your favorite Lange Estate wine –this truly crowd-pleasing recipe will pair well with Pinot noir, Pinot gris, and Chardonnay.
Roast Brined Turkey with Herb Butter
½ large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 sprigs sage
1 sprig rosemary
1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
2 cups kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 gallon water
1 gallon ice water
For Herb Butter:
1 lb. butter, softened
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1 Tbsp. chopped sage
1 Tbsp. chopped thyme
1 tsp. chopped rosemary
1 Tbsp. chopped shallots
salt & pepper to taste
1 (14-16 lb.) turkey
½ large onion
several sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs each of sage & rosemary
Make Brine: In a large stock pot, sweat the onion, garlic, sage & rosemary in a little oil over medium-low heat until fragrant, but not browned. Add peppercorns, salt, sugar and 1 gallon of water. Heat until salt and sugar are dissolved, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely. Early on the day of cooking, (or late the night before) combine the brine and ice water in a clean 5-gallon bucket. Place thawed turkey, breast side down, in brine; cover and refrigerate, or set in a cool area, for 6 hours. Turn turkey over once, halfway through brining.
Make Herb Butter: Combine the softened butter, chopped herbs, shallots, salt, and pepper thoroughly (using the paddle attachment on an electric mixer works best). This can be made ahead but needs to be soft for spreading over turkey before roasting. (Roll any extra into a log using parchment paper, and freeze for later use on meat, fish, potatoes, rice, etc.)
Roast Turkey: Preheat oven to 500°F. Remove bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard brine.
Place bird on roasting rack inside roasting pan and pat dry with paper towels. Add the half onion to cavity along with thyme, rosemary & sage sprigs. Tuck back wings and coat the whole bird with softened herb butter. Don’t forget to spread some of the butter underneath the skin on the turkey breasts for added flavor on the white meat.
Roast on lowest level of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven; cover breast with double layer of aluminum foil and return to oven, reducing temperature to 350°F. A 14- to 16-lb. bird should require a total of 2 to 21⁄2 hours of roasting. Remove from oven when thermometer inserted into the thickest part of breast reads 165°F. Let turkey rest, loosely covered for 15 minutes before carving.