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Thursday, October 7

Brine Your Birds!!

If any of you are like me, you try to plan ahead for important dinners.  Many don't really plan more than a week or so ahead, but I usually start the month before...sometimes 2!!  For one, I hate leaving things til the last minute...for another, I really wasn't kidding when I said it takes me almost a full WEEK to make Thanksgiving dinner!! 

My typical run down for Thanksgiving is as follows:  On Sunday, I make things like bread crumbs/cubes, and I chop all my veggies I'll be using (celery, onion, etc).  Mondays are for making pie crusts and fillings.  Tuesday, I usually assemble and bake the pies/desserts, and bake any breads we'll be eating.  Wednesday, I assemble cassaroles, and do anything cold.  Of course, come Thursday, I cook my bird, cassaroles.....and we eat!!  This time plan works well for me...I'm not stuck doing everything all at once, and it's pretty leisurely. 

One thing I didn't mention for Sundays...that's also the day I start brining my bird.  For the last 3 years, I have done this, and I have to say folks...the turkey turns out juicier than anything I've ever had!!  It's a simple way to add depth and flavor, and the results are out of this world!!  Now, I know there are some who are thinking that it's too much of a hassle.  Well, trust me...it's NOT.  Try it once, and you won't EVER go back to the regular way, I PROMISE you!!

I do my brining in a 5 gallon bucket with a lid.  You know, the plastic kind that you can buy at almost any home improvement store (even WalMart carries them, usually for about $6).  You only need one...I did 2 birds in one bucket once, both about 15 lbs.  Just make sure you wash it thoroughly, and dry it...and don't use one that's been used for ANYTHING else, please.  Since plastic does tend to pick up odors and tastes, that would ruin everything.  You can also use a cooler, but I've found the bucket works best, cause it seals tightest.

You also need to plan for a nice, cold place for the bird to brine.  Preferably, the temp shouldn't get above 45 degrees if possible.  Most of us can't fit a 5 gallon bucket in our fridge, but if your outdoor temps are already low enough, nature will solve the problem for you.  I use a rope and tie the handle of the bucket to the rafter on our back porch, and let the bucket hang there while brining.  This ensures animals CAN NOT reach it, keeps it in shade to prevent heating, and keeps it out of the way.  If the daytime temps are going to be too high, I simply place the entire sealed bucket in a cooler of ice during the day.  It won't leak, and that keeps it well chilled.  If you use ice, you'll need about 1 bag a day.

I'll give you a few brines to choose from, but there are tons more on the internet, so you can always look others up if these don't appeal to you.  What you get in flavor will make it ALL worthwhile!!  One more caveat...any water used in a brine should be NON-CHLORINATED, so make sure you pick up a few gallons of spring water to use...2-3 should be plenty, unless the recipe calls for more.  THESE RULES APPLY TO VIRTUALLY ALL BRINES: Place washed and dried bird in bucket.  Poured cooled brine over bird, then add water until bird is completely covered.  Seal lid, shake well to mix water with brine, then allow the bird to soak for at LEAST 1 hour per pound in a cold environment.  The longer it soaks, the most flavor soaks in.  When done brining, wash the bird again, then pat dry.  Cook bird according to your favorite recipe.  Ready?  Here we go!!

SAVORY TURKEY BRINE

2 quarts vegetable stock
1/2 cup salt (if using Kosher or Coarse, increase to 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon dried sage
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Up to 1 gallon cold water or more

In a large stock pot, combine all ingredients except water over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes.  Allow to cool completely.  Assemble as stated above.

HOLIDAY POULTRY BRINE

1 1/4 cup salt (if using Kosher or coarse, 2 cups)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
1/2 tablespoon candied ginger
Up to 1 gallon cold water or more

In a large stock pot, combine all ingedients except water.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.  Allow to cool completely.  Assemble as stated above.

APPLE SPICE BRINE (One of my FAVS)

2 quarts Apple Juice
2 quarts Orange Juice
2 cups salt (if using Kosher or coarse, 3 cups)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
15-20 whole cloves
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
Up to 1 gallon cold water or more

Again, combine all ingredients, except water, in a large stock pot.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes.  Cool completely, and proceed as above.

MAPLE BRINE (Another FAV!!)

2 quarts water
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup sea salt
8-10 whole cloves
6-8 whole bay leaves
3 large sprigs of thyme
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
Up to 1 gallon cold water, or more

For this recipe, combine all ingredients, except extra water, in a large stock pot, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, and simmer for at least 45 minutes, preferably an hour.  Cool completely, then finish as directed above.

As I said, folks...there are tons of brines out there to choose from.  These are just the ones I've tried, and can easily vouch for.  Remember, if you have ANY questions, or need help, please let me know, either by comments or email.  If using email, please put Brining Assistance in the subject line.  ENJOY!!!


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