Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Philippe Daigle- Secret of a moist turkey

In my family I have taken full responsibility for the Christmas Turkey. I grew up in a home where the process of preparing the turkey was as important as the turkey itself. To me that is the essence of the holiday season and I wanted to pass that on to my kids. After many years of experimentation I have concluded the best way to get flavourful poultry, regardless of how it is prepared, is to start with a brine. Brining adds moisture and flavour to poultry and helps to keep it from drying out. A turkey can be a serious investment in time so you want to make sure it is perfect, especially if you're entertaining. Whether you grill, smoke, fry, or roast your turkey, you should use a brined bird.

Supplies: To properly brine a turkey you need to start the night before you plan to cook. You will need at least 10 to 12 hours (plan on 1 hour per pound of turkey), a container large enough to hold your turkey and enough brine to cover it. You'll also need salt, water, sugar, seasonings, and enough room to refrigerate it.. A large stainless steel stock pot or even a 5 gallon clean plastic bucket would make excellent containers. Whatever container you choose the turkey needs to have enough room to be turned so it should be big. Both Reynolds (Oven Roasting Bag for Turkeys) and Ziploc (XL Storage Bag) make very large food safe sealable bags that are great for brining.

Turkey: Now let's get to the turkey, I prefer a fresh not frozen, free-range is even better. The turkey should be cleaned out, completely thawed if you must use frozen, and should not be a self-basting or Kosher turkey. Self-basting and Kosher turkeys have a salty stock added that will make your brined turkey too salty. A fresh turkey works best, but a completely thawed, previously frozen turkey will work just as well.

Brine Ingredients: To make the brine, mix 1 cup kosher salt in 1 gallon of water. You will need more than 1 gallon of water but that’s the ratio to aim for. One way of telling if you have enough salt in your brine is that a raw egg will float in it. Make sure that the salt is completely dissolved before adding the seasonings you like, making sure not to add anything that contains salt. Brines can be spicy hot with peppers and cayenne, savoury with herbs and garlic, or sweet with molasses, honey and brown sugar. Whatever your tastes are, you can find a large number of brine recipes on the web.
Sweetening the Brine: Sugar is optional to any brine; however it works to counteract the flavour of the salt. While you may choose a brine without sugar, I do recommend that you add sugar (any kind of "sweet" will do) to maintain the flavour of the turkey. Add up to 1 cup of sugar per gallon of brine. Like the salt you need to make sure that the sugar is completely dissolved.

Set-up: Place the turkey in a container and pour in enough brine to completely cover the turkey with an inch or two to spare. You do not want any part of the turkey above the surface of the brine. Now you put the whole thing in the refrigerator. If you are like me, making enough room in the fridge is the hardest part of this project. The turkey should sit in the brine for about 1 hour per pound of turkey. Brining too long is much worse than not brining enough so watch the time.

Keep it Cool: Don't have room in the refrigerator? Try a cooler. A cooler big enough to hold your turkey makes a good container for your turkey and brine. The cooler will help keep it cool and allow you to brine your turkey without taking up precious refrigerator space. If the weather is cool, but not freezing you can put the whole thing outside until you need the turkey. I personally find that Christmas is usually cold enough to leave the turkey in the garage in a cooler. If the weather is warm fill a zip top bag with ice. Place this in the cooler with the turkey and brine and it will hold down the temperature during the brining process.

Rinsing: When you are ready to start cooking your turkey, remove it from the brine and rinse it off thoroughly in the sink with cold water until all traces of salt are off the surface inside and out. Safely discard the brine and cook your turkey as normal. I must stress that most people overcook their turkey; I consider mine ready when the internal temperature reaches 170 C ° and I let it rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. If you cut into it too soon, you will lose most of the moisture you worked so hard to increase. If you follow these step, you will notice the second you start to carve your turkey that the brining has helped it retain moisture. The first bite will sell you on brining turkeys forever, and after you've tried this you will want to brine all your poultry.

From my family to yours,
Merry Christmas,
Philippe Daigle

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