It’s Thanksgiving this week and I am cooking my first Thanksgiving Dinner all by my “big girl” self. Eight people. No problem. I can do this. After all it was my mother who made it her unofficial duty to make sure I was able to cook a feast for 40. So I will pull from my days as my mother’s “sous chef” to make this dinner happen. Of course, those days also make me think of Thanksgivings past…
My parents, who are originally from Greece, were so grateful for their new homeland in America, they of course wanted to assimilate and adopt their new country’s traditions, like making a giant turkey for Thanksgiving. The problem however, was that they didn’t have very many American friends. They mostly hung out with other cousins and friends from back home who also emigrated to the states. Okay, basically it was as if they moved their entire village to the states…language, food, traditions, etc. So there was a miniature Filiatra, Greece circa 1950’s mindset in Chicago. My mom didn’t have a reliable source to reference for “how to make an good old fashioned American-style Thanksgiving turkey.” So my mother did the only logical thing she knew how to do. Lemon Oregano Thanksgiving Turkey. True story. If it worked for a chicken, why couldn’t it work for turkey? It’s just a bigger bird after all.
After many years, imagine my surprise when I discovered that lemon and oregano were in fact NOT traditional Thanksgiving flavors. It’s true. So I said, “Mom, it’s time we make a change here. Gravy should not be tangy.” And from that point forward, we figured out how to make the traditional turkey.
Which brings me to the real point of this blog post, how does one make a truly delicious turkey for Thanksgiving? Is it your turn to host Thanksgiving? Are you googling, “how to roast a turkey?” There are 76,500,000 results by the way. Is it the first time you are cooking a giant chicken..ahem, I mean, a turkey? Do not fear the turkey. I will show you the way.
Here are a few tips to make your life easier and take the guess work out of making a turkey?
- Buy a fresh turkey, not frozen. Frozen turkeys are already pumped up with salt solutions. You should be controlling the flavor and saltiness instead.
- Use a proper meat thermometer. The breast meat should read 160F. Those plastic “pop up” turkey timers never work.
- And please, I beg you, DO NOT BASTE your turkey. Read why here. Basting only lets the heat out of your oven every time you open it. It’s not going to keep your turkey moist.
If you want a tasty bird that is juicy without fail, then you have to BRINE. Yeah, I’m a believer. It’s easier than you think and everyone will be amazed.
My favorite turkey brine, is the one that Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman makes. It’s her favorite turkey brine too. Just look here, she says so. I trust her. And you should too. She uses oranges and rosemary to flavor her brine. Hey, isn’t that kind of like using lemon and oregano? Citrus and an herb. A little? No? Yeah no! Don’t. Ree’s brine recipe is the way to go and will produce the most tender, fragrant turkey you ever had. I promise.
See that picture up there? I did that. And you can too. Yes, I know it looks like a science experiment, but cooking IS science. And magical and scientific-y things are happening in that brine. So stop googling and start brining.
Let’s do this.
Best Turkey Brine Ever – from Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman
3 cups of apple juice
2 gallons of water (that’s 32 cups if you are measuring that way…LOL)
4 tablespoons of fresh rosemary leaves
5-6 cloves of minced garlic
1 & 1/2 cups of kosher salt
2 cups of brown sugar
3 tablespoons of whole peppercorns
5 bay leaves
the peel of 3 oranges
Here is how the timeline will work:
Make this recipe the day before you want to brine your turkey, so that it’s nicely cooled. In a large stock pot, add all of your ingredients together and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Once your brine comes to a boil, turn it off an cover. Cool your brine down and place in the refrigerator until you are ready to use. Done. Easy. Go to sleep.
The next day, place your turkey in a brining bag with the brine you diligently and easily made the night before. Pat yourself on the back. Place your brining turkey in the refrigerator for 16-20 hours. Ree says that her recipe is for brining a 20 lbs bird. If you have a smaller bird, consider brining it for less time. I usually brine a 15 lbs turkey for 12 hours. That works for me.
When you are ready to roast your turkey, remove it from the brine and rinse it well. Let it sit in a sink full of fresh water for 15 minute to help rid it of excess saltiness. The brine will have done its work already, so rinse away. Roast as you would normally. Prepare to receive compliments. Smile.
Enjoy. I won’t say “I told you so.” 😉