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How to Brine a Turkey

If you’ve never done it before, brining a turkey can sound daunting, but the process is simple – think of it as an enormous pot of marinade for your bird, infusing it with flavor and moisture before it goes into the oven. A turkey brine is typically made up of stock, salt and spices, but think of it as an extension of your turkey recipe – when stirring up your brine, consider what flavors go well in a turkey dinner; onions, apples, herbs like sage and rosemary – as with any marinade, feel free to play around with the ingredients, adding what you like and leaving out what you don’t.

Wine, sugar, and all sorts of herbs and spices (think cinnamon, coriander, black pepper, star anise) are common in a turkey brine – if you’re apprehensive, go for a basic brine first, then add ingredients as you get comfortable with the process.

If you plan to brine your turkey, plan ahead – ensure the turkey is thawed (it’s OK if it’s still a bit frozen in the middle – it will finish thawing in the brine), and consider saltiness when starting with a frozen turkey, which can be injected with saline, giving it a head start on the sodium. Timing-wise, aim for about an hour in the brine per pound, or up to 24 hours. When you remove your turkey from its brine, discard the brine and pat the skin of the turkey dry with a paper towel to ensure it crisps up in the oven.

Fresh Herb Turkey Brine

4 L vegetable or chicken stock
2 L water
1 cup sea salt
1 onion, quartered
1 small bunch fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
a few sprigs of fresh thyme

In a large pot, bring all the ingredients to a simmer; stir to dissolve the salt completely. Cool completely, then refrigerate until cold. Remove the innards from your turkey and rinse its cavity; put the turkey breast side down in the pot of brine and add enough water to bring the brine level up to just cover the turkey (you shouldn’t need more than another 4 L of water). Refrigerate for an hour per pound, or up to 24 hours.

When you’re ready to roast your turkey, pull it out of the brine, drain it well and pat dry with paper towels in the roasting pan. Cook as you normally would, expecting to take about 30 minutes off the cooking time as the excess moisture will help conduct heat as it cooks.

Photo credit: istockphoto/photo4u2

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