I actually got the idea to brine the Thanksgiving turkey from Alton Brown – I was up late at night watching the Food Network and Alton came on explaining why brining a turkey is better because you don’t open and close the oven constantly AND the overnight brining makes a big difference in flavor. I think my mom usually brushes the turkey with its own juices, but she’s been preparing turkeys for a while and knows what she’s doing and this was my first turkey so I wanted to experiment a little.
ANYWAY, as I was walking through Williams-Sonoma, I saw a recipe packet for Thanksgiving ideas. One of the first recipes was for a buttermilk brined turkey, which sparked my interest. Buttermilk? The picture looked really delicious, so I decided to give it a try. The main ingredient was a brining package that you buy from Williams-Sonoma (which I passed on because it was mostly salt, peppercorns, star anise, sage, rosemary, and other things that you could put together yourself). The FIRST thing I had to do was BUY a turkey:
Trader Joe’s had the best deals on turkeys – they were $1.79/pound (compared to $4.99 at Whole Foods) and they were all around 15 pounds, which was perfect for our party because you’re supposed to prepare about a pound – pound and a half for each guest. All of the turkeys were pre-brined (in a salt water solution), so I took that into consideration when I put together the buttermilk brine (I barely used any salt when I put together my brine).
Ingredients for brine (for a 15 pound turkey):
4 quarts of buttermilk
Whole peppercorns (a handful is enough)
A little salt (if the turkey is already brined)
I bought a large brining bag ($4.99 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond), stuck my turkey in it (after I removed the gizzard and the heart, liver, etc) and then started pouring in the buttermilk and other ingredients. If you have a turkey that hasn’t been brined and you end up putting salt in the mix, melt the salt in water before you add it to the turkey. Here’s what the turkey looked like pre-brine:
The brine didn’t cover the entire turkey, so halfway through the night, I turned the turkey over so it would be evenly brined. In the morning, I washed off the brine, patted dry the turkey (inside and out), and put together an herb butter (butter mixed with thyme, sage, and rosemary) underneath the turkey breast skin so there would be a little more flavor during cooking. I covered the turkey with aluminum foil and stuck it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 4 hours (occasionally, I would open the oven door, and brush the turkey with a mixture of maple syrup and butter to get a really crispy crust). Here’s the final product:
To make sure your turkey is done, don’t rely on the thing that pops up on the turkey breast! I used a thermometer and made sure the temperature by the upper thigh (not touching any bone) was at 160 (although the USDA says it should get up to 165). The turkey ended up being really juicy and tender and was cooked really well, so I think it was pretty successful! I wish I could’ve made one turkey without brining it so I could’ve tasted the difference, but I barely have one oven so the buttermilk brine was good enough for me (and my guests)!