Everyone has their own special dishes and holiday traditions that take place during Thanksgiving. For many cooks in the home, the day can become overwhelming. Being a first time Thanksgiving cook can also present stress with the need for perfection.
Fortunately, for many, the Internet provides a lot of answers to how to make the perfect turkey. I learned by making mistakes. Then, I learned to cook a turkey the way I like it, and maybe NOT the way most professionals would advise.
Let’s have a side note for a moment here. Let’s talk about professionals in the kitchen. We put so much clout into the right way and wrong way to make things, but what we fail to realize is that our ancestors are the ones who came up with the right and wrong ways to make things. Sometimes, I think those who came before us would laugh at our efforts to make food pretty because survival was a priority. Pretty food – not so much of a thought. Yet, here we are putting so much value into every television show that comes and tells us what is right and wrong and how to do this and that.
So, obviously, I’m about to tell you a rather non-traditional way to get a succulent turkey that you will take pride in serving. It won’t look beautiful, but it will taste PHENOMENAL. To get to this point, follow some tips and tricks that support you getting there:
A couple of days before Thanksgiving, cut up every vegetable for every dish you’re going to make. Buy some gallon sized bags to store them in and label the fronts to tell you what dish you’re going to be making with the vegetables in that bag. I mean, cut up EVERY vegetable. Have a stock pot or large pot sitting out while you’re doing this. Throw every end, every shaving, and every scrap of every vegetable into this stock pot.
Obviously, you’re going to have to clean out the fridge to make way for Thanksgiving food. Take out any vegetables that look sad and sorry. Clean them off and throw THEM into the pot. Have a wimpy tomato or two? Do you see a shriveled pear or apple? Cut them up, de-seed, and thrown THEM into the pot. Only use about two or three of these. Throw in a tomato or two that has no place to go.
After you get this collection of vegetables together, you’re going to fill your pot with water. Put the pot on your stove, bring it to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer. Simmer until everything in that pot is mushy. You may have to add water to it as it’s simmering because, what you want to do is create approximately a gallon of vegetable stock. Yes, I know you’re glad I finally told you what was going on here. Oh…you want to know why? We’re making a brine. This is going to be KEY to having a great tasting turkey. It won’t matter what kind of turkey you buy. The turkey will turn out so moist, no one will know you didn’t splurge on a top name turkey.
The Hudson Valley Handymom’s Turkey Brine
Using the above method to make vegetable broth, strain all of the vegetables using a strainer or cheesecloth. It’s okay if tiny pieces of vegetables are in the broth. This is, after all, a brine to soak turkey.
Measure out the broth. If necessary, add water to it to make a gallon. Add these spices:
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp chili powder
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp ground pepper
1 TBSP dried Rosemary
1 TBSP plus 2 tsp dried sage
1 TBSP plus ¼ tsp dried thyme
1 cup of Kosher Salt
Heat the broth and spices and simmer until the salt is dissolved. Simmer for approximately 10-15 minutes.
If you need to store your brine, you can cool it down completely and put it in a gallon sized milk jug for easy storage. I do this often when I make it ahead of time.
When you are ready to brine, choose a method to soak the turkey in the brine. Your turkey must be either fresh or completely defrosted. Add one gallon of ice water to the brine and place your turkey in it.
People tell you to put the turkey in the brine for several hours, but have you ever been left wondering HOW to cover this turkey in a brine? I’ve done some very non-conventional things in order to soak a turkey. One thing I know is that a lot of people don’t have that kind of room in a refrigerator to do this type of thing. I’ve done everything from using bags large enough to cover the turkey, pour in the brine, tie the top, and then set the turkey into a foil pan in the fridge to finding a large food grade bucket, filling it with brine and ice cubes to keep it cold all night, and soaking the turkey overnight in it OUTSIDE of the fridge. If you have a larger cooler or large pot this same method can be used. Williams Sonoma carries turkey brine bags that would work well also.
When you get up in the morning, take the turkey out of the brine. Pat it dry. Here’s where we go unconventional. It’s a double whammy of moistness because you’re hitting it over the head with two methods – brining and using an oven bag.
Follow the directions on how to use the bag. After you have the bag ready, slip that turkey into it, and follow the directions as to how long you need to cook it according to the weight of your turkey. Just remember, your turkey will cook in less time allowing you to….sleep in a little?
When your turkey is done, take it out of the oven and let it sit for 30 minutes prior to serving. What you will have is a whole lot of juice in that bag. If you use the juice to make gravy, it will be very flavorful and salty, so be careful about how much salt and other spices you add to it because you are dealing with juice that’s made from a brine.
Your turkey won’t be beautiful. The skin will be brown in some spots, light in others. If you’re not a turkey skin person, you won’t care. It’s well worth giving up the skin for the taste of the turkey.
After the turkey sits, carve it, lay the pieces down on a platter, pour some of that juice over the top. I store the turkey in juice when I put it in the fridge. It makes some of the best sandwiches after Thanksgiving.
So, you wanted a big, brown, beautiful turkey because you think you might be judged? Hey, get over that! Who cares what it looks like when it tastes so good. Besides, if you slice the turkey up before bringing it to the table, only you will know about your secret to making great turkey. Trust me on this – it’s worth trying.
Question: Do you put stuffing in your turkey using this method?
Answer: Yes, I do. I make two kinds of stuffing for Thanksgiving. My husband’s family stuffing is more bland than I like, so I always put his stuffing in the turkey. I put PART of it in and leave part of it out. The reason being is that the juice from the brining and bag cooking method make the stuffing VERY wet. If you have dry stuffing and stuffing on the side to mix the two together, the result is great. I also put a thermometer through the bag and into the stuffing to make sure it reached the proper temperature.
Question: Does it bother you that you don’t have a beautiful turkey to bring to the table?
Answer: Not at all. Once I came up with this method, made my own broth, and created my own recipe, there was no going back. My husband said he never cared much for turkey in his lifetime until I made it like this. I go back to the thoughts of what we’re appreciating in life, and have to ask how the beautiful turkey on the table will improve my life somehow. My ancestors would’ve laughed at me. I’m certain the pilgrims would have too.