Last year on Christmas Eve, I tried cooking a brined turkey for the first time. I had all these wonderful intentions of sharing pictures and results with everyone, but....
Dinner was almost done: the veggies were hot, the bread was golden, the potatoes were about to be mashed. I removed the turkey from the roaster so that I could pour the broth and make the gravy. And fate intervened between me and my perfect Christmas Eve dinner. Some celery hit the floor from the turkey, it got picked up, leaving a slight greasy spot on the floor. I zipped over to mash the taters and BANG! Take my advise and DO NOT try that at home. I dislocated my knee and the last thing on my mind was posting about my turkey to all of my friends out there.
It just occurred to me that I never have shared my thoughts. I was quite happy with the tender results. I followed these directions. In fact, being a food geek, I had to research why it made such a difference... and I found out some interesting science that's changing how I will cook my turkey again this year.
I knew from my food science courses that the salt affects the structure of the proteins. I had also heard that osmosis was responsible for the added moisture, which, given what I remember from biology 101 seemed like a reasonable assumption. I found this Food Lab article, and, since I am a food geek, I loved that he followed scientific procedure and posted pictures of the results. So this year, along with the herbs I normally rub on the turkey, I will be rubbing salt into the skin as well, instead of soaking in a brine solution. I tried the experiment with chicken breasts as well, and I did like the flavor/texture better this way.
When I cook a turkey dinner, I like to prep as much as I can before hand so I don't have to get up at 5 am and I can enjoy the day without being exhausted. I make sure I thaw the turkey if using a frozen turkey a few days ahead of time. The day before the dinner, I prep the bird. I take out the neck and giblets (ick, this is why I don't cook turkeys so often) and then I stuff it loosely with an onion pealed and cut into large chunks and the tops of the celery I will be using for the dressing. Celery is a wonderful vegetable, it doesn't seem to have much flavor of its own but somehow enhances the flavors around it. So with the onion and celery tops, I will rub some poultry seasoning and salt on the inside and more on the outside. Then I pop it into the roasting pan, cover it, and cram it into the fridge overnight.
I also go ahead and dice the onion and celery for the dressing at this point, again to reduce the work the actual day.
Now I'm ready to go, I just pop the turkey in the oven and all I have to do on the day is make the gravy and taters, everything else was prepared over the 2 or 3 days before. Which means that even when I do slip and blow out a knee, it's possible to take narcotics and get through Christmas Eve with my kids. Because I am an action hero and put the dislocated knee back so I can put off a trip to the hospital until after dinner. Just make sure that you don't slip! Repeat after me, I will not end up in the emergency room this holiday:-)