We’re entering final countdown mode before Thanksgiving. But before you start digging through your cupboards to find the platters and gravy boats, there’s one important yet easy food prep step you have to take care of. It’s time to grab that turkey and submerge it in a brining bath!
You can brine your turkey for 12 to 24 hours. The salty solution will give it so much flavor and moisture, especially if you’re cooking a free-range turkey that’s extra lean. Brining is actually a quick and painless step, and you’ll get such a sense of satisfaction to have gotten a head start on cooking. Just find a really large pot or bucket, measure your salt, spices, and cider, mix and submerge. You’ve just brined that bird.
Don’t bother brining if you’re making a kosher turkey, as my mother in law serves on Thanksgiving. Those birds have been salted internally and externally as part of the kosher preparation which makes them moist and flavorful. Brining them would make them way too salty as they’ve essentially already been brined. But a free range organic turkey like the one we made for our Friendsgiving on Sunday really benefited from the sweet and salty bath it sat in for a day before cooking.
Once your turkey is done brining, be sure to discard all juices. There’s too much bacteria in the liquid to use it to make a sauce. But do reserve an extra quart of cider to deglaze your pan drippings, that gold the turkey leaves behind. Having cider notes in your gravy will make it something everyone will remember.
So take a moment out of your Thanksgiving prep today to get that turkey in a brining bath. Come Thursday, you’ll be thrilled that you decided to brine that bird.
- For the Brine:
- 1.5 gallons of apple cider (non-alcoholic)
- 4 quarts of water
- 1½ cups of kosher salt
- ½ cups of sugar
- 8 bay leaves
- ¼ cups of peppercorns
- For the turkey:
- ¼ cups of vegetable oil
- 4 teaspoons of your favorite spice mix (I use Penzey's Old World Spice)
- For the Gravy:
- 2 Cups of Cider
- 2 Cups of Chicken Stock
- 4 Shallots
- In a large bucket or stockpot, combine all the brining ingredients. Add the turkey. Cover and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.
- Remove the turkey from the brining solution. Discard all brining liquid. Rinse and pat the turkey dry with a paper towel.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Combine the vegetable oil with the spice mix. Rub the entire turkey with the spiced vegetable oil. If using stuffing, loosely pack the inner cavity of the bird. I prefer to bake my stuffing separately to better control its moistness.
- Put the turkey in a large roasting pan and put in the oven. Roast at 425 degrees for 45 minutes. Lower heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and continue cooking for another hour, basting with its juices every 30 minutes.
- Create a foil tent to drape over the top of the turkey and cook it covered for the last hour to keep it from burning. The turkey is done when pricked behind the turkey leg and juices run clear. A meat thermometer inserted into the dark meat should read 165 degrees, but many cooks like it to read 180 degrees, just to be safe. Remember to let your turkey rest for 10 to 15 minutes after taking it out of the oven and cutting it. The rest time lets the juices redistribute and cooking finish.
- While the bird is resting, you can make the sauce. Transfer the turkey to a cutting board, and see what drippings you have to work with. The burnt bits at the bottom of the roasting pan are pure gold: the flavor that will make your sauce.
- Remove most of the fat that has pooled at the bottom of the roasting pan. Don't discard it - it's good for baking potatoes. Put the roasting pan on a medium flame and add four chopped shallots to the pan. Cook until softened, stirring frequently. Turn the heat up to high and add the cider. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up all the browned bits. If you'd like to add flavor, lift up a corner of the pan to dry it up and caramelize that edge of the pan over the heat again. Then flood it back with the remaining liquid and scrape up the caramelized corner with a wooden spoon to add more color to your stock. Let the liquid reduce by at least half. Now add the chicken stock. Bring it to a boil again and let it reduce by half. Taste it. Add salt and spices if necessary. Serve.
- Note that this is not a thick flour based gravy.