THANKSGIVING TURKEY: BRINE OR NO BRINE?

This past weekend in San Francisco we had our annual Thanksgiving Training Camp cooking class. Every year the biggest question for home cooks is whether or not they should brine the turkey before cooking it. This year we decided to cook two sixteen pound organic turkeys, one brined and the other not brined side by side in the exact same conditions. The brined bird was rubbed all over with melted butter and stuffed with half an apple, half an onion and some sage. The not brined bird was also rubbed all over with melted butter and stuffed with the same aromatics but was seasoned heavily with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Upon cooking each bird to 150F in the breast and 160F in the thigh and letting them rest for one hour we carved them both. Nearly everyone agreed that the brined bird was moister but the not brined bird tasted better.

Here is my recommendation: Brine the turkey two days ahead of time for twenty-four hours. Remove from the brine and rinse the turkey well with cold water. Pat completely dry and leave in the refrigerator uncovered overnight. Two hours before cooking, remove from the refrigerator to bring the bird to room temperature. Brush entire turkey with melted butter and season all over (inside and out) with salt and black pepper. Stuff with aromatics, pop into the oven and say a quick prayer to the turkey gods. See recipe below.

Roasted Turkey with Gravy
1 turkey, 16 pounds (estimate one pound per person)
5 quarts water
1 cup salt
½ cup brown sugar
5 bay leaves
1 bunch thyme
1 bunch parsley stems
5 juniper berries
2 allspice berries
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 dried chilies
Peel of one lemon
1 head garlic, crushed
1 large sprig sage
1tablespoon whole peppercorns
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Half an apple
Half an onion
Few sprigs sage
Gravy
1 turkey neck, butt and wing tips
2 tablespoons canola oil
6 cups turkey stock
4 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour

Combine the water, salt, brown sugar, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, juniper, allspice, fennel seeds, chiles, lemon peel, garlic, sage and black peppercorns in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Pour it over the turkey and add enough cold water to cover the bird completely. Leave the brining turkey in the refrigerator over night.

Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse well under cold running water and pat completely dry. Allow the turkey to rest at room temperature for at least one hour or more if time permits. Preheat the oven to 500F and brush its entire surface with the melted butter and season all over with salt and black pepper. Stuff the turkey with the apple, onion and sage. Clip the wing tips (otherwise they will burn) and set aside along with the neck and the turkey butt. Truss the wings and legs if necessary to keep them held in tight against the body. Place the turkey in a roasting rack, breast side up on top of a foil lined baking sheet. Place in the lower third of the oven and roast until the skin is a beautiful golden brown, about one half hour. Turn the oven down to 325F, cover the breast with aluminum foil and cook until the thickest part of the breast is 150F on an instant read thermometer. The thighs should register 160F on the thermometer. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and let it rest one hour.

While the turkey is roasting, heat a saucepan with the canola oil. When hot, add the turkey neck, butt and the wing tips and brown well on both sides. Deglaze the pan with six cups of turkey stock. Let simmer at least two hours or the entire time the turkey is cooking. Strain and reserve the neck and butt for leftovers (I like to make tacos with this meat the next day). In a clean saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat and allow it to melt completely. Add the flour and cook over low heat, mixing on occasion with a wooden spoon. Cook for several minutes until the flour is no longer raw and the color is a light brown. Add four cups of the strained turkey stock and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the gravy has thickened to desired texture. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside. Carve the turkey and serve with the gravy on the side. Serves fourteen to sixteen.

Jordan

About Jordan Schachter

The majority of my childhood memories took place in the neighborhood pizzeria. My friends all called me “Slim” but as I recall I could eat any of them under the table. In college, I discovered a strong interest in sustainable agriculture while working on organic farms. It was during this time that I cultivated my appreciation and respect for the highest quality, farm fresh ingredients. Ever since I have identified with a strong desire to feed people and this is what would lead me to cooking and the hospitality industry. For a few years after college, I was able to travel extensively exploring the cuisines and culinary traditions of Europe, Asia and Central and South America.

In 2001 I moved to San Francisco, CA and shortly after began working as a private chef while staging from time to time at some of the cities great local restaurants. In 2008 I began teaching hands on cooking classes in the Bay Area as a way to share my passion and knowledge with others. The classes have been sold out ever since and we have had the privilege to host home cooks from all over the world. Teaching has been an incredible way for me to connect with and also learn from others. Our mission is to build and nourish community through the joy of cooking and eating with one another.

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