Regardless of the bird you’re fixin’ to cook, trust me when I say it will benefit from a good brining; this is one of those restaurant secrets that answers the age old question, “Why is what they make always better than mine?”
Brining is easy, so there’s no reason not to do it, but naturally, you still wonder why you should, right? Good question! Brining makes things notably juicier in a couple of ways. First off, the mild salt solution that is a brine allows the flesh to absorb liquid during brining. Since we know for a fact that dang near any flesh we cook looses moisture during that process, anything we can do to counteract that will lead to juicier meat. So, really and truly, when you brine you’re starting out with flesh that is juicier from the get go, so it ends up juicier. Brined meats end up 6% to 8% heavier than they do if we don’t brine them; solid proof that they gained moisture from the process. Secondly, brining dissolves some proteins in muscle fibers, turning them from solid to liquid during the process. Softer equals tender and that’s what we want to eat, right?
Convinced on the science? Cool, lets get cooking!
I’ve taken to thawing our bird by brining, which kills two birds with one rock. If you buy fresh turkey, you don’t need to thaw of course, but the brining process remains the same. Many folks wonder at this point how long is too long for brining. The answer is a function of both brine strength and the weight of the flesh being brined. Standard brine ratio is 1 cup salt to 1 gallon liquid, (See salt note below). Most of us will buy whole turkeys in the range of 10 to 24 pounds; we will want to brine birds in that weight range for between 12 to 24 hours in a standard brine concentration, or roughly an hour per pound of whole turkey. As such, if you’re working with a 16 pound bird, plan on a brining period around 16 hours and you’re good to go. And FYI, A little leeway to either side ain’t gonna hurt a thing, either.
So, your basic brine ratio is 1 cup salt to 1 gallon of water. Trust me when I tell y’all that, weighed out, that’ll be 10 ounces of table salt for each gallon of nice, clean water. If you’re gonna use the kosher salts you’re likely to find at your local store, I’ll save you some weighing time there, too:
Morton Kosher salt = 7 ounces per cup
Diamond Kosher salt = 5 ounces per cup
Anything else you find or use, weigh it out and go from there.
Note: do not use iodized salt for brining; it can add a nasty off flavor you don’t want!
For this bird, we’re going to replace the water with apple cider, so our brine recipe per gallon will look like this:
1 Gallon Apple Cider
5 – 7 Ounces Kosher Salt
1 Tablespoon fresh ground Black Pepper
1-2 dashes Tabasco
I buy birds in the 15 to 18 pound range, and plan on 2 gallons of cider as the base for a bird this size, but of course that depends on what you’re brining in, right? Your best bet is a food grade plastic bucket, which are readily available in this day and age; just make sure you’re getting food grade, so you’re not introducing any plastic nastiness into your food, right? With that as your vessel, you’ll have some cider left over for a bird of anywhere from 12 to 20 pounds. Warm some up to enjoy while your bird cooks!
Plan ahead for this process. If you are going to be brining a whole bird, you will also want an additional 6 to 12 hours between the brining and the cooking; more on this in a bit. In other words, if you’re thawing and brining, your process needs to begin nice and early on the day before turkey day.
Start out by prepping your brine. Combine all brine ingredients and stir thoroughly until all your salt has dissolved.
Next comes unwrapping, unpacking and rinsing your bird. Make sure you find any little packets of giblets, neck, etc, (Don’t be that cook that misses those for somebody to discover deep in the bird on the festive day…)
Slip that bird into the bucket and gently pour in the brine. Make sure you’ve got enough in there to completely cover the bird. If you’re a bit short, make more, no big deal, no pressure! You may need to weigh your bird down to make sure it stays immersed. Just take care that whatever you use is sanitized and OK for being next to food. I use plates inverted and stacked until the bird sinks. Place your brine bucket in a clean, cool, dark corner.
Pay attention to the food safety temperature range during brining, without fail! Your brine and bird must remain under 40 F at all times, period; if you need to add a little ice, do so. If you need to add a lot, compensate with a bit more salt.
When your brining period is done, pour out the brine, (NEVER reuse brine!), gently rinse the bird in clean, cold water, then pat it dry with clean paper towels and then transfer to a roasting pan.
Now, If you want your bird to have a golden, crispy skin, (And you do, right?!), it needs to sit in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 4 to 6 hours after brining. This will allow moisture to evaporate from the skin, and also lets the meat reabsorb some moisture as well.
Preheat your oven to 350 F.
Keep your bread stuffing to a casserole dish and prepare a nice juicy cavity filler for the bird.
1/2 Sweet Onion
1 stalk Celery
Tablespoon Canola Oil
1/2 teaspoon Sage
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
Rough chop the orange, onion, and celery, (and if you have celery leaves, use those!). Throw those in a mixing bowl, then add oil, Sage, salt and pepper, then combine thoroughly. Stuff your bird’s cavity thoroughly. Place the bird on a rack in a roasting pan, and add 2 cups of clean water to the pan. Insert an internal thermometer to the thickest part of the breast.
Standard roasting times, stuffed, at 350 F follow; that said, the only real way to know when the bird is done is by internal temperature, and we’re looking for 165 F.
10 to 18 pounds 3-3/4 to 4-1/2 hours
18 to 22 pounds 4-1/2 to 5 hours
22 to 24 pounds. 5 to 5-1/2 hours
Start your roast with the bird uncovered, then cover loosely with foil for the last hour. Basting isn’t necessary, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
When the bird is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest for 20 minutes prior to carving; the rest is vital to allowing juices to equalize throughout the cooked bird, so don’t cheat!
Carve, admire, enjoy, and get ready for leftovers,
Monica and I wish y’all a peaceful Thanksgiving with those you love.
2 thoughts on “Cider Bird”
Just had a fabulous birthday dinner at Greg Atkinson’s Marche, where I had the most amazing wild salmon with roasted kale and Honeycrisp apples in a complex apple cider reduction with a little unsalted butter whisked in. Yow! I’m slowly reducing half a gallon of organic mixed apple cider right now for Thanksgiving…can’t wait to try it over turkey!
Sounds like my kinda sauce; give us the whole recipe when ya got it, ‘K?