Turkey remains a popular culinary choice even as the weather warms and Thanksgiving passes. Leaner than many types of red meat, turkey provides a healthier alternative for the dining table. Excellent turkey is juicy and flavorful; the trick for any cook is preparing a tender and moist turkey every time.
The secret to a moist turkey is brining – the process of immersing an entire turkey in salt solution for many hours. The salt solution alters the structure of muscle tissue within the turkey, allowing it to swell and absorb water and other flavorings. Additionally, the brine breaks down proteins within the meat making the turkey seem more tender. Combine these two effects and it is evident that proper brining leads to a moist turkey every time.
The first step to preparing a moist turkey is defrosting the bird. Safely defrosting a turkey takes time – it is important the meat remains cool to thwart the emergence of bacteria. Ideally a turkey should be defrosted in the refrigerator, though this is a slow process often lasting days. Place the turkey, in its original wrapping, in a pan on the bottom shelf so any drippings will not contaminate other food items. As a rule of thumb a turkey in the refrigerator will need approximately 5 hours per pound of turkey to defrost. For example, a 12 pound turkey requires about 60 hours (12 pounds times 5 hours) to thaw completely.
To speed up the defrosting process, a frozen turkey may be thawed in cold water. To do so, place the turkey, in its original wrap, in a tub or sink full of cold water. Change the water out every 30 minutes. This cuts the thawing time by to 10%, or 30 minutes per pound. A 12 pound turkey requires 6 hours (12 pounds times 30 minutes) to thaw completely when immersed in cold water.
To get a moist turkey, it is not recommended that a frozen bird be roasted. The additional time necessary in the oven dries out the turkey more than when roasting a pre-thawed bird.
Once a turkey has been thawed, it can be removed from its packaging. This is best done in the kitchen sink as turkey juice drains from the bird while the packaging is cut away. Once the turkey is clear of its wrap, remove the neck and giblets from the body cavity. Rinse the entire turkey with water, inside and out, then pat dry with paper towels.
Now that the bird has been prepared, it is time to brine the turkey – the secret to a moist turkey every time. Place the thawed turkey into a large bucket, stock pot or cooler that will fit into the refrigerator but is also large enough to cover the bird with brine. A roasting pan can be used, but the turkey will need to be turned periodically so each side rests in the brine.
Place the turkey in the container and pour a prepared brine solution over it until the bird is submerged. Brine recipes abound, though one of the best comes from Emeril Lagasse. He balances the saltiness of the brine by mixing brown sugar into the solution, resulting in excellent flavor.
The container should remain in the refrigerator while the turkey soaks; the ideal time is 8 – 24 hours (more time will give a slightly saltier taste but may result in a moister turkey). During this time the turkey meat breaks down and absorbs brine solution.
When the turkey is ready to roast, remove it from the refrigerator and pour off the brine solution. Rinse the entire turkey in cold water and pat dry. The turkey is now ready to roast – select your favorite recipe and place it in the oven. Bear in mind that the brining process infuses the meat with plenty of salt, so no additional salt is necessary in rubs or butters.
Proper brining results in a moist turkey every time. Juicy and tender, a moist turkey is healthy and a crowd favorite. Brine a turkey, watch the smiles around the table, and be prepared to be complemented.
Thawing a Turkey
Brining Turkey – Allrecipes
Brined and Roasted Turkey Recipe – Emeril Lagasse: Food Network