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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Apple Brined Turkey - A recipe you will be happy to have

Ohh Yah! It's the good old Turkey! It is that time of year again when you can have a feast, and I want to make sure you have a turkey recipe that you will be really happy with. I want you to confidently cook the big bird for your friends and family, knowing that you are going to serve the best, moistest and most delightful turkey. With this turkey recipe you will feed your guests the best turkey they have ever had (as I have always been told when my guests ate my turkey). You will impress and will be showered with compliments, which will make the effort of hosting a Christmas Dinner all worth it. I assure you, this is a turkey recipe you will want to hold on to. So read on...

This month, I have done 3 Ultimate Christmas Dinner demonstrations for Kenwood's Cook & Coffee, in which I demonstrated a whole Christmas dinner menu. After each demonstration, attendees got to sample the menu. Their feedback was great. They raved about the food and said it was heavenly. When it came to the Turkey they all told me, it was the best turkey they have ever had! They all mentioned how surprised they were that the turkey is super moist, and actually tastes good! I found that; most people are under the impression that turkey doesn't taste good and is very dry. "Turkey is dry meat, it's not tasty, We Prefer Chicken" I heard them say! Chicken is good, I got nothing against it, but the description of Turkey is very surprising to me! I find turkey to be delicious, and super moist! Only it has to be cooked right to achieve these results.

When cooked right, Turkey is a fabulous choice of meat to have. It is lean meat, which is very good for you. Turkey meat is mild in flavour, therefore open for introducing other flavours to enhance it, which is always good for creativity.  My turkey never comes out dry, and yours shouldn't! If it does, it usually means that it has been overcooked! Overcooking any meat will dry it out, as it will be loosing its juices in the cooking process. The formula for cooking Turkey without overcooking it, is very simple. An instant read meat thermometer is the most accurate way to tell the doneness of a turkey. When inserted in the flesh between the thigh and the cavity of the bird, without touching the bone, it should register 170F. At that point your turkey is perfectly done.

If you do not have a thermometer, don't worry, you can go the traditional way! In general, every one pound of turkey meat will take 30-45 minutes to cook in a 325F oven. (This applies to baking, roasting and grilling, but does not apply to fried whole Turkey.) Following this formula, an average 8 lb whole turkey will require 2 hours and 45 minutes to cook. If you leave it longer, you will be over cooking it, and it will become drier by the minute. So if you cook it for 3 hours and a half, you have drained the juices out of the poor bird, and will have a dry turkey for dinner.

Here is a Time to Weight chart for Roasting a whole unstuffed turkey to help you out:
Weight               Required Cooking Time
8-12 lbs                              2 3/4 - 3 hours
12-14 lbs                            3 - 3 3/4 hours
14 - 18 lbs                          4 3/4 - 4 1/4 hours
18 - 20 lbs                          4 1/4 - 4 1/2 hours
20 - 24 lbs                          4 1/2 - 5 hours
According to the weight of the bird you purchase decide the cooking time from the chart above. And don't forget to include that in your planning, you don't want to start cooking a 4 hour turkey an hour before serving!

I usually do not stuff my bird before cooking. I cook the stuffing separately and roast the turkey stuffed with aromatics instead. These aromatics will release their fragrances as they roast, which are then absorbed by the turkey, making it even more deliciously flavoured. This stuffing will not be consumed, it is just for aromas and hints of flavours. When the cooking is done, transfer the turkey to the serving dish and place the stuffing around it in the dish. This method is both to maximise on the aromas and flavours of the turkey, and also because it is safer not to consume the stuffing that's placed there before the bird is cooked. The choice of Aromatics depends on the the overall flavours you are going for.

Clean your turkey, rub with lemon and place in brine, meat side down

There are many methods to cook turkey, my personal favourite is Brining. Brine usually refers to water saturated with salt that is used to preserve food, such as when making pickles. When brining poultry, the goal is not to pickle them, but rather to prep them for cooking; by getting them all moist and plump while helping them absorb other flavours usually included in the brine. The brine is therefore a water bath of flavours and  aromatics - together with salt, which aids the absorption process - in which a turkey is placed and left to soak. Brining usually results in the moistest turkey, and it aids the browning process. Brined Turkeys usually come out fabulously evenly browned. The aromatic contents of the brine, are really open to your creativity. Think of combinations that go together, and of the overall flavour. I have chosen to go with apple, cinnamon and cloves with hints of orange for mine, because all these spell Christmas, but you can go for any combination you like. It can be provencale with thyme and sage and garlic powder, it can be Mediterranean with rosemary, oregano and garlic powders, It can be Middle Eastern with zaatar, whole allspice and black pepper corns and lemon... the choice is yours, it's your turkey and you can do whatever you want with it.

One last note before we go to the recipe, this method works for both fresh and frozen birds. My preferred choice is free-range organic whole turkey. I will not tell you: it is because free range means it lived a good life!! I go for free range because the meat is more tender and tastes better. Organic, because I do not like to consume hormones and antibiotics given to non-organic birds to increase productivity and ensure longevity! I prefer natural. Fresh, because nothing beats fresh in flavour. It simply tastes better!

Organic free-range whole birds are found at Waitrose, Spinney's and during the festive season at Carrefoure as well. Should you go for a frozen, then make sure to thaw whole bird for 12-24 hours prior to brining, then brine for 24 hours and then roast.

Dima's Apple Brined Whole Turkey 
This recipe is based on a 5kg bird (about 10 lb), adjust the quantities and cooking time according to the weight of your bird.

For Brine
You Need
1 10 lb whole Turkey
5 liters water
1 liter Apple Juice
1 1/2 cups coarse sea salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves
1 bay leaf

For Aromatics stuffing
1 large brown onion, quartered
2 Oranges, quartered
3 garlic cloves, bashed to release aromas
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves
2 thyme springs

Vegetable Oil
Salt & Black pepper to taste

Place all contents of the brine, except for turkey in a large container that can fit your turkey along with the brine and fit in the fridge. Stir all the ingredients for the sugar to dissolve. Set aside.

Clean the cavity of the bird, and remove any left feathers on the wings, legs... and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Pat dry the turkey, inside and outside and place, flesh side down in the brine. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry. Place the turkey, flesh side up on a wire wrack in a roasting pan.  Place the aromatics stuffing inside the cavity of the turkey, if any are left over and can't fit inside, place them next to the turkey on the wire rack. Sprinkle the cooking oil lightly on the turkey and rub all over to coat. Pull the legs and cross the ankles on top of each other and tie with a string. If still there, pull the skin of the tail over the ankles to cover the string. Don't worry if that skin had been removed.

Tuck the wings under the breast. By the way, I don't tuck the wings under the turkey, instead, I pin them with tooth picks to the side of the turkey. I find that it looks better when finally cooked, feel free to tuck or pin your turkey. Sprinkle with salt shavings and freshly cracked black pepper. Cover loosely with foil and roast in 325F oven for 2 1/2 hours.

Remove foil, and continue roasting for 30-45 minutes more until the golden brown, and thermometer registers 170F, or following the time to weight chart.

Signs that turkey is done
Golden brown colour, the drumsticks can move easily in their socket, and juices run clear.

Cover the turkey loosely with foil and let stand for 15 minutes before serving with my to die for Red Current Relish!! 
Click here for turkey carving tips.

That's all! Then serve and be ready for all the compliments :)

Hope you enjoyed this post, and that you will be cooking Christmas dinner this year. It makes the event that much more special. There is nothing like cooking for your family, burturing them, and having a very good time with them. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, and real good home-cooked food along with it! Much love.... Show me some, and leave me a comment ...