The End Of Dry Turkey Forever!
Eureka! After generations of disappointingly dry turkey, the secret to roasting a gloriously crispy-skinned, juicy-breasted, well-cooked and thoroughly-tasty turkey has been discovered! The solution is brining. As easy as a dip in the sea, an overnight stay in a salt-water brine is the key to that long sought perfect turkey.
That is, of course, if you have enough refrigerated storage space. My mother, who was in many ways herself a wise bird, used to say that all of life is a storage problem. Well, this is no exception. The bigger your turkey, the bigger your problem. But this is definitely one of those times when having a second refrigerator, or a neighbor with no life and therefore nothing in the fridge, or a restaurateur friend with a walk-in, will come in handy.
Start by mixing cool water and enough salt to make a brine that's pleasantly but not overwhelmingly salty (a ratio of XXX cup salt to 1 quart water should be just about right). If you reach the ocean, you've gone too far. Be sure to taste the brine solution before you've added the raw turkey. If you are accustomed to eating your eggs in saltwater on Passover you will be good at this. The addition of bay leaves, rosemary sprigs or black peppercorns are optional. The key here is the saltwater.
Remove the neck and giblets and rinse the turkey, patting the inside with paper toweling. Find the right container for your chosen refrigerator space. Absent a large stock pot or five-gallon bucket, a clean trashcan double-lined with 13-gallon plastic bags works wonderfully. The turkey should not be squeezed into the container. It should have just enough room to float somewhat freely with all surfaces inside and out surrounded by the brine. Submerge the turkey, tie up the top of the plastic bags and refrigerate for 24 hours. At the end of that time, discard the brining water, using caution not to throw out the bird with the bath water, and pat the turkey dry inside and out before seasoning and stuffing or not stuffing as you usually would.
Contrary to what I learned when I first started cooking, salt does not draw the juices out but rather keeps the juices intact. Plus, the seasoning seeps deep into the meat rather than merely resting on the surface.
Before I discovered this method my holiday feast was fraught with anxiety. Would the breasts be moist? Would the dark meat be thoroughly cooked? But no more. Brining changed all that. I now relax and enjoy the holidays, and a perfectly juicy, fully cooked and crisp-skinned turkey, every time.
Once you become a convert you might want to expand your brining repertoire. Any other poultry can benefit from a quick, salty soak, and you will never again consider cooking a boneless, center-cut pork loin before giving it a briny bath. As a general rule of thumb, allow the meat to brine for roughly 12 to 24 hours (the bigger the meat, the longer the bath). The possibilities aren't exactly endless but this truly is the answer to roasting a turkey which can be the main event at your next celebration.
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