Brine that Bird
Holidays and cooking – are you one of those that stress about your bird? Lose some of the worry about the bird and Brine it! Any bird (duck, goose, chicken or turkey) can benefit by brining. To brine a bird is a simple thing. Easier than pie! Just mix the brine of and submerge the bird in it for a time. Time depends on the size of the bird. If its a whole bird, generally overnight.
Brining has been around since humans starting preserving meat – and believe it or not, there is a bit of science to this process. Brining makes meat moister because the muscle tissue hydrates through osmosis and retains more of this moisture during cooking. The salt ions diffuse into cells and denatures its proteins. Then the proteins coagulate, forming a matrix that traps water molecules and holds them during cooking. This prevents the meat from dehydrating – anyway enough of the technical stuff. Just think super moist.
Recipes for brines range from super simple (salt and water) to convoluted recipes. Mine is pretty basic – I usually use equal parts of salt and sugar – herbs, garlic and peppercorns.
One gallon of water
3/4 C of kosher or canning salt
2 garlic cloves smashed
â…› C of peppercorns
Mix well, making sure the sugar dissolves. Drop your bird in, make sure its submerged and your done until your ready to bake that bird. Recipes that Iâ€™ve read include items like allspice, some use broth instead of water, honey instead of sugar, vinegars, candied ginger or soy sauce. Seems like the sky is the limit!
I prefer to brine overnight (use a 5 gallon bucket with lid – just make sure the bird is completely covered – smaller birds can be done in a sealed baggie). This year my bird was 11.5 lbs – overnight was perfect. Set the bucket in a cool place and it will be ready for tomorrow. Add more water if the bird is not totally submerged.
The benefits of brining are multitude – first, it seems to produce a more evenly browned bird. Biggest benefit is that more seasoning is on the inside producing better flavor. Of course, moister meat is not a bad side effect either. Lastly brined meats generally cook faster – so less oven time! My 11.5lb turkey roasted in just over 3 hours in a roaster pan. I lined the bottom of the roaster with whole celery ribs, celery tops, half an onion sliced thick – placed the brined bird on the celery ribs – stuck half a cored apple (with toothpicks) in the neck cavity. Oven @ 350, put the lid on the roaster. Set the timer for three hours. Pull the lid off and check the bird – baste with juices if not quite brown enough – set back in oven for up to another half hour. The strained juices from this recipe make for great homemade gravy.