Dry-Brine Turkey for Thanksgiving 2014
I’ve been absent from the writing portion of this website for a little while now. Catering and events busy season kicked into gear, and I had also taken a full-time position in a catering kitchen at the end of July. Those factors, plus some personal things I’ve been dealing with for the past few months resulted in a blog and recipe-testing hiatus. Hopefully, you were all still keeping up with me via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. What has gotten me back into the swing of things is this gorgeous, fresh turkey from Cascun Farm in Greene, NY, which I prepared for the Thanksgiving feast that I hosted on Thursday for the “Castaways,” or “Orphans” gathering this year.
Having spent quite a few Thanksgiving holidays far away from family over the years, both in New York City and when I was living overseas, I really enjoy these get-togethers. I’ve celebrated the day for a several years with a few of the same folks who were at my apartment on Thursday. Then, there were other people whom I was meeting, and whose food I was trying, for the first time. It’s always an interesting dynamic and can get quite lively, with stories shared of holiday meals and family traditions. So, I knew that I had to make sure that the turkey was delicious and flavorful. No pressure at all for the hostess of this meal, right? Nope. None at all.
The fact that I’d never, ever cooked a turkey before shouldn’t matter, should it? An article in Bon Appetit about dry bringing the bird and spatchcocking it. I decided against using the latter technique and for using the former. After consulting a few websites about cooking time, I figured that allowing about three hours cooking time would work for a turkey of this size (about 12 pounds). In the end, I realized that the turkey is just a large chicken, and I treated it (lovingly) just like that, stuffing herb butter under the skin and basting during cooking to promote a golden, crispy skin and moist meat. There was hardly any left over at the end of the evening, definitely not enough to make Turkey Curry. I can put this down as a success and look forward to next year’s meal.
Dry Brine Turkey
Prep Time: Overnight for the turkey to brine, plus 3 hours cooking time (allow for 3 1/2 hours with resting time)
Serving Size: About a pound of meat per person (we served 11 people)
1 12-pound Turkey, preferably fresh
1/2 cup Kosher Salt
1 Tablespoon Thyme, fresh, chopped
1 Tablespoon Rosemary, fresh, chopped
1 Tablespoon Sage, fresh, chopped
3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, softened
2 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Thyme, fresh, chopped
1 teaspoon Rosemary, fresh, chopped
1 teaspoon Sage, fresh, chopped
Unpack the turkey. Remove the neck, giblets, etc. and reserve for making gravy or stock. Put the turkey on a rack placed on a baking sheet and let it sit for a few minutes while making the brine mixture. Combine the salt, thyme, rosemary, and sage in a bowl. Sprinkle the salt mixture all over the turkey, making sure to coat the entire bird thoroughly and evenly.
Put the turkey in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 8-12 hours at least. Some folks I spoke with in the catering kitchen said that they leave it even longer. When ready to cook the turkey, pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Take the turkey out of the refrigerator and rinse off the brine. Pat it dry.
Make the herb butter by mixing together the unsalted butter, olive oil, and herbs. Notice that there’s no salt added. The brine will have seasoned the meat, so there is no need to add extra salt. Plus, with the gravy and stuffing and side dishes, there will be plenty of seasoning on everything.
Gently pull the skin away from the meat and stuff the herb butter underneath the skin of the breast and legs. Try to distribute it as evenly as possible. Place the turkey in the oven and let it cook for 30-40 minutes. Baste the turkey, brushing the melted butter and fat over the legs and breast meat. After that, turn the temperature down to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and continue to cook the turkey for another 2 1/2 to three hours,* until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the turkey from the oven. Tent it with foil and let it rest for 30 or so minutes while making the gravy and reheating the side dishes. Carve the turkey and serve.
*Kitchen Witch Tip:
Balancing out the cooking time to have moist breast and thigh meat was one of the concerns that I had. One way around this is to place foil over the breast meat if it looks like it is getting overcooked. Basting the meat every 30 minutes or so also helps to keep the meat moist and juicy.