chef ’s secrets l BY BROOK HARLAN
Take your turkey to the next level. EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t often repeat stories we’ve already run, but Chef Brook Harlan’s instructions for brining have proven so popular and are requested so frequently that we decided to make an exception this month and bring back a story we originally ran in 2006. As someone who once lived in fear of Thanksgiving disaster, I (and my brine-spattered copy of the 2006 issue) can attest to the success of this technique. Have a happy (and exceptionally tasty) Thanksgiving! — SANDY SELBY
ost people ask, “What is brine?” You may have baked, roasted, smoked or even deep-fried a turkey, but until you have brined a turkey, you have not tasted the juiciest and most flavorful turkey. The basics of brining are simple. Also known as a “wet cure,” brining is a process where meat is soaked in a salt-water solution that swells the protein molecules, thus allowing the meat to better retain moisture. The flavor of the brine penetrates faster and more effectively, and brined meat is actually more forgiving if slightly overcooked. If it sounds simple enough, that’s because it is. You just need to follow the basic brine ratio and the appropriate soaking times. The rest is up to you. Have fun and be creative!
BASIC BRINE RATIO 1 GALLON WATER/LIQUID Instead of water, or as part of your liquid, you may use apple cider, 7UP, beer or wine. What liquid you use depends on what flavor you want to incorporate. If your liquid contains sodium you may have to lessen your salt amount in the basic ratio. You could start with less liquid and finish with ice until your volume reaches 1 gallon. This procedure reduces the amount of time needed to chill the brine prior to adding the meat or poultry. 1 CUP SALT (KOSHER) This is your sodium for the brine. You will need about 9 ounces of sodium by weight; you can replace the salt with sea salt, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or another highsodium flavoring. This may seem like a lot of sodium, but it is necessary for the proper solution. Keep in mind that only a small percentage actually permeates the meat. ½ CUP SUGAR You may use granulated sugar, maple syrup, brown sugar, molasses, turbinado sugar (also called raw sugar), honey or any another highly sweetened item.
INSIDE COLUMBIA NOVEMBER 2014
AROMATI CS This is where you add the special flavor to the dish; the whole point is to extract the flavors of the aromatics into the liquid so the salt can disperse the flavors into the item being brined. The amount will vary, depending on how assertive or subtle you want the flavor to be. By partially crushing the spice or lightly shredding herbs you allow the flavorful essential oils to be released into the liquid more easily. You may use such items as peppercorns, cloves of garlic, herbs, lemons, limes, other spices, herbs or fruits. Just about anything you can think of can be used to impart flavor.
THE BRI NE I normally start off with about half the amount of water or liquid, then add all of the other ingredients. After bringing it to a boil, add enough ice to bring it up to the correct ratio (1 gallon if doing the recipe one time). You want to make sure that your brine has cooled below 41 degrees Fahrenheit before adding the item. From this point on, the brined item must remain chilled. If you have space, keep the container in the refrigerator for the soaking time — a rare occurrence around the holidays. Another option is to keep it in a large container inside a cooler; just remember to keep replenishing the ice. We have been known to keep it outside, barricaded from the pets, if the temperature is between 27 and 40 degrees. You may use any clean/sanitized container large enough to hold the brine and the completely submerged item. A container that is taller than it is wide requires less brine. A large, food-grade container is the best idea. An old 5-gallon detergent bucket is a bad idea. After brining the item for the appropriate time, remove it from the brine, dry the skin and lightly season it. At this point, it is a good idea to let the item rest. This resting time allows more even seasoning and a drier skin, resulting in a crisper finish. Larger items will benefit greatly with a few hours of resting time. Now you may cook it as you wish; I prefer to roast turkey at 350 degrees until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. If your turkey has a pop-out thermometer, the first step is to pull it out and throw it away. The pop-up is the easiest way to accidentally overcook your turkey and dry it out. Instead, check it with an instant-read thermometer in numerous places on the bird to ensure that it is fully cooked. WARNING: Do not deep-fry a brined turkey; the moisture will cause the oil to overflow and explode.