Monday, April 5, 2010
Updated: April 14, 12:48 PM ET
Brine a turkey
By Georgia Pellegrini
For more food-related blogs from Georgia Pellegrini, check out her website www.GeorgiaPellegini.com.
My first hunt was for turkey. It was deep in the Arkansas delta, on a 3,000-acre hunting preserve that runs five miles up the length of the great Mississippi.
It was Spring, early on a Saturday morning after a night of imbibing aged Scotch and smoking cigars on a wide veranda with some well-heeled country folk that liked to live well, and take no prisoners, at least as far as food was concerned. I didn't bag an old gobbler that morning, but it was an incredible hunt, and it was forever imprinted on my brain.
Turkey hunting seems to fall into a special category because of what a challenge it can be to bring one home. If they could smell as well as they could hear or see, we would probably be destined to putting a lot of chicken in our turkey recipes, or relying on the meat aisle of the grocery store a little too much.
So when you do manage to take an old gobbler home with you, you want to take advantage of this opportunity and prepare the meat in the best way possible.
Brining is an old-fashioned technique that involves soaking meat or poultry in a flavorful saltwater solution to enhance its moisture and taste.
Despite the saltiness of the brine, the food doesn't taste salty when it's cooked. It is tender and succulent. This technique also works for pork chops and I would argue brining is a must for them as well as for turkey meat.
You'll need a container bigger than the meat so you can keep it submerged in the liquid, which means you'll need something to weigh it down as well — often times a plate works well. As long as you have the crucial ingredients — salt, sugar, and water — you can play around with the rest of the flavors. Things like lemon rind, tarragon, parsley, and onion would all be good in this basic recipe.
So after you bag your gobbler, dunk him in this solution and see how much better he tastes.
8 cups water
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup sugar, granulated
1 cup salt
1 tablespoon mustard seed
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons crushed black pepper
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1. Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil.
2. Remove from heat and let cool.
3. Add meat and submerge, cover with a weight so it stays completely submerged in liquid.
4. For a whole turkey refrigerate in brine for 24 hours, for breasts, refrigerate for 12.
5. Remove and pat dry and let rest on a rack for at least 3 and up to 24 hours before cooking.
Editor's note: Georgia's passion for good food began at an early age, on a boulder by the side of a creek as she caught her trout for breakfast. After Wellesley and Harvard -- and a brief stint on Wall Street -- she decided to leave the cubicle world behind and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York City.
Upon graduating at the top of her class, she worked in two of America's best restaurants, Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, as well as in one of the premier destination restaurants in Provence, France, La Chassagnette. It was there that she decided it was time to really get at the heart of where our food comes from and head to the source -- Mother Nature. She bought a shotgun and set her sites on the cutting edge of culinary creativity intent on pushing the boundaries of American gastronomy, from field to stream to table.
Her new book, "Food Heroes: Tales of 16 food artisans preserving tradition" will be coming out this year. She currently roams the world, hunting, tasting good food and meeting the good people who make it. You can read more about her work at www.GeorgiaPellegrini.com.