Let me explain. First the dry brine idea. Cook’s Illustrated, the magazine that has been in the forefront of brining (because many years ago Pam Anderson, their food editor, ran a recipe for brining a turkey after she discovered it in one of Jean Anderson’s cookbooks. Jean had learned this method on one of her trips to Portugal and unfortunately, neither Pam nor Jean get the proper credit for introducing America to this amazing process), featured a recipe for dry brining in the current November issue. The advantage to dry brining, rubbing salt directly on the turkey meat, is that it is much easier than making a bucket of wet brine and does not require so much refrigerator real estate. I wondered if rubbing salt right on the meat for even 1 hour would make a difference. I wondered because I wanted to offer this as a possibility when I was on GMA on the morning of the day you had to cook the big bird.
Well, I tried it this weekend and one hour was not enough. The bird was more seasoned than usual and that was a plus but it wasn’t as moist as I would like it to be. I think the turkey needed more time for the salt to do its osmosis thing. I also tried stuffing herb butter under the skin because recently, I developed a recipe for a roast chicken with vegetable stuffing under the skin, and found that the resulting chicken meat was the moistest I had ever tasted. I thought insulation must be the key. The problem with my butter experiment is that butter melts, becomes liquid and goes to the bottom of the pan. The butter was no help at all. So turkey number one was a bust. (If you want to see the whole Cook’s Illustrated method go to their website. I have not made it myself but I am sure it works because they are such nutcases over there. They test and test until they get it right.)
Now, for the second turkey test. I had already seen brining bags at Williams Sonoma and other cookware sites but they cost money. $16 for 4 bags. Maybe there was an alternative bag? Epicurious, the mother website to Bon Appetit and Gourmet, had a recipe for Diane Morgan’s turkey brined in an oven roasting bag. I checked that out and also looked at the recipe in her new book, The New Thanksgiving Table (Chronicle Books, 2009.)
I decided to make it, or at least to follow the brining part of it. It was so much easier than the big bucket method and the finished turkey was absolutely delicious and moist as can be. I did not follow her roasting method however, because it involved different cooking times and flipping the turkey over. I am lazy and small and moving a big bird around just does not appeal to me. So I roasted the turkey my usual way at a continuous 325°F temperature, covering it for the first 1 1/2 hours. I basted it at the beginning and twice more with a total of a stick of melted butter and I also put two cups of chicken broth in the bottom of the roasting pan at the beginning. A 15-pound turkey took 2 hours 45 minutes to get to 165°F in the thigh (which is what the government recommends these days, thank god–no more incinerating the turkey!) And then I let it rest 30 minutes. I had forgotten how much less time a turkey takes to cook when there is no stuffing inside. It is also so much easier to set up a turkey for roasting when you aren’t stuffing it. Actually, I don’t think I will ever stuff a turkey again.
But I will certainly use Diane Morgan’s brining in a bag method every time.