Caring For Your Bird: Turkey Brine Recipe

by Melody Kettle

Photo Credit: iloveitspicy.comThis Thanksgiving, unlike last year - when I shunned turkey and roasted a sixty pound Berkshire pig in a Caja China(video) - I promise to embrace my bird.

I ordered my fresh, organic twenty-two pound turkey from a local butcher, and on the advice of food enthusiasts and chefs, I will brine the bird in the recipe below. I will proceed to baste it, make gravy from the pan drippings, and generally treat it with tender love and care.  I will even refrain from comparing it to the luscious goodness that is pork. 

If you're debating whether or not to brine your bird, read Chef Johnny J's article and recipe submitted last year to HFTK:

It's that time of year again, when chefs and home cooks, alike, savor the chance to prepare the perfect bird!

I've heard it all, “too dry, no flavor, missing something!"  Well, lucky for you I have a solution - a brining solution! Relax, I know, “brining solution” is a fancy Chef term that scares the heck out of home cooks however, but it is so simple to do and the results are amazing.  You will be taking home the blue ribbon this Thanksgiving from all of your friends and family!

A brining solution, or brine as we call it, is a method of marinating in seasoned, salted water to increase the moisture content of the turkey. Amazingly, it doesn't make the turkey taste salty at all.

The brine itself is a solution of water, sugar, salt, and other flavoring agents that bring flavor and moisture into the bird through osmosis. It also locks natural moisture into the turkey by breaking down the protein.  I want to share a great brine recipe that I got from Chef Patrick O’Connell of the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia years ago. He calls it his Spruced-Up Turkey!

First, you will need to clean the turkey and set aside. In a large pot you want to bring 8-10 quarts of water to a boil. While that is fixin’, in a separate pot add:

1.25 cups of kosher salt

3 cups of sugar

2 cups of honey

6 sprigs each of parsley, thyme, rosemary, tarragon and sage

1 cup of pickling spice

2 cinnamon sticks

1 Tbl spoon of juniper berries

2 lemons, halved

5 star anise

8 sprigs of spruce branch or I found any pine tree branch will work also

Remember that recipes are merely guidelines and don’t get sour if you don’t have all of the ingredients. For instance, I didn’t have cinnamon sticks so I sprinkled some ground cinnamon in. No juniper berries, try all spice! The main ingredients are the sugar and salt so the aromatics are up to you!

One the water comes to a boil, pour the boiling water into the mix of ingredients and let steep covered until cooled to room temperature. Once cooled, submerge the turkey and refrigerate for 1-2 days. Then just rinse, pat dry and cook as directed. I like to rub butter on and in the skin and season with salt and pepper. That’s it!

You let me know if that’s not the juiciest most flavorful bird you have ever had!

It is so easy and the results are so rewarding that you have to try it.

So the answer to the question is: To Brine Or Not To Brine? B R I N E !!!!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone and Bon Appetit !