Update 2016: Since I’ve received several email requests this week for “that turkey brine thing” I thought I’d repost this April 2008 entry with the recipe.
Turkey on the Fence
No doubt others before me have used this fowl pun, and why you may ask am I writing about turkey in April when Thanksgiving is six months away? There’s a turkey sitting on my back fence, that’s why.
The flock of turkeys that live in the canyon below our house is growing, probably over 25 birds now, including three toms that fan out impressive tail feathers as they strut along the hillside. These are probably descendants of some domestic creatures turned loose, epitomizing “free range.” They have no predators. Without hormones, captivity and with a ready supply of food, they have regained some of the instincts of wild turkeys, the kind that Benjamin Franklin called “respectable” as a truly native American beast.
Or they could be the kind my mother declared “stupid and vicious” based on her experiences working on a turkey farm as a teen. Just as the turkey has been dumbed down by domestication, so has the human being – one reason the flock thrives is that no one here knows how to pluck one.
Having flushed a hen and chicks from the underbrush one morning when I was out hiking, I can categorically tell Arthur Carlson of WKRP that turkeys can fly.
Regardless, I look at that turkey on the fence, now joined by two companions busily depositing bird stuff on the wrought iron, and I see Thanksgiving on two legs. Which recalls our tried and true turkey brining recipe we use several times a year, even in summer when the hankering for turkey and all the fixings is too much.
The Turkey Brine Recipe
2 gallons water or vegetable stock or combination
(You’ll also need a pot that holds that much liquid)
2 cups kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 bay leaves, torn
4 tablespoons dried thyme
5 cloves garlic, smashed
5 allspice berries, crushed
4 juniper berries, crushed
1 tablespoon (or small chunk) candied ginger root
8 cups of ice cubes
Combine all in a large stockpot and heat to the point where the sugar and salt dissolve. Remove from heat and add the ice cubes to speed the cooling off process. Don’t use until mixture is completely cooled.
A number of cooking web sites cover the steps for brining turkey safely. Here’s how Martha Stewart’s site does it – the slideshow is helpful. The concoction above is a blend of Chez Panisse and Alton Brown brines.