Getting the (Christmas) turkey right (encore edition)

Christmas is fast approaching, and you may be thinking of serving turkey as the centrepiece of your big holiday meal in a few days. So today I’m re-posting “Getting the turkey right,” exactly as published on December 26, 2018. It’s all about brining your turkey — why you should do it, and how. So, folks, here it is, from Radio Free Daglan of a year ago:

This year, we went the “traditional” route for our Christmas lunch — but with a twist. Yes, it was turkey and trimmings, including mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce. But thanks to the inspiration of son Michael in Toronto, I brined the turkey.

It was my first time to brine any meat, and my wife Jan and I thought it was the first time that either of us had eaten brined turkey. We also agreed that it was simply excellent — moist and tender and delicious. Not at all like the dry, almost tasteless turkey that is far too common.

My inspiration was that Michael had brined his family’s turkey for Canadian Thanksgiving, back in October, and he raved about it to us during one of our regular Skype sessions. So we thought we should give it a try for Christmas.

For a brining recipe, I checked with several food bloggers and websites, and was particularly impressed with suggestions from The Pioneer Woman and Dinner at the Zoo. But I made some tweaks of my own, partly because of personal taste (no garlic, please), and partly because we live in the Greater Daglan Area of France, and the products here are not exactly the same as in North America.

Our turkey was small (just two and a half kilos), since there are only the two of us in the house, and we made sure it was not fermière or free-range (since free-range poultry tends to be tough and chewy).  With that background, here we go.

In our large stock pot, I poured a 75-cl bottle of apple cider (brut) … seven bottles of water … one cup of coarse salt (gros sel) … one-half cup of brown sugar (Cassonade) … a tablespoon or so of black peppercorns … seven sprigs of fresh rosemary … a bouquet garnie … the peel from two oranges … and one thinly sliced lemon.

I brought the solution to a simmer, heated it through for a few minutes (to dissolve the salt and sugar), and took it from the heat. To help it cool faster, I first dumped in two trays of ice cubes, and then sat the stock pot in the kitchen sink, with several inches of cold water around it. And here’s what the solution looked like:

Quite the aromatic mixture.

When the solution was cool, I submerged the turkey in it, and placed the covered stock pot in the refrigerator, to let the solution permeate the meat overnight. Here’s the bird in place:

The turkey is now being brined.

The next morning (Christmas Day) I drained the turkey first, and then washed it thoroughly in cold water, to eliminate excess salt. After patting it dry, I roasted it in the usual manner, basting it along the way with liquid from the base of the roasting pan (some white wine and water) and brushing it with melted butter. When it was all done, I tented it with aluminum foil and let it rest for 30 minutes or so. The result? Have a look:

Just waiting to be carved.

From the juices in the pan, Jan made a gravy, which had a mild (and very pleasant) citrus taste.

I think the finished product looks pretty good, but I wouldn’t say the big difference is in the appearance — lots of well-roasted turkeys look nice and appetizing. The real difference is the taste and texture of the meat, and it’s well worth the effort of brining. So I say: Vive la différence!


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2 Responses to Getting the (Christmas) turkey right (encore edition)

  1. Rosemary McCaffrey says:

    Dear Loren,
    Merry Christmas to you and Jan! We still think of the fine lunch and conversation we shared with you in 2018. Next year’s trip will take us to England and Wales. But the Dordogne will always have a special place in m heart!

    Rosemary and Peter

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