Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Something to Gobble Down! Turkey Three Ways.

First order of business, I want to give a thank you to my ultra modest friend Jeremy who made this NEW LOGO (see above) for me. I am really quite touched that he found my website worthy of his special attentions in digital designery. He can expect some special noms in the future. You may also notice the new layout, hopefully you all think it works.ah,

Now, it is time to talk turkey.

This past Veterans Day weekend was an ambitious one. Not only did I bake two pumpkin pies, I decided to tackle a turkey in a way I’ve been meaning to try out for a while now, at the insistence of two good friends yet scary good roller derby gals, Maully Millions of the Ithaca League of Women Rollers and Karlee! As they wanted to see several methods of preparing turkey, I took their idea of taking one turkey, and breaking it down so I could try a few different seasoning methods.

One caveat to note. I noticed after purchase that the turkey was frozen in some sort of brine already (8% solution according to packaging) so I adjusted the salt to less of a concentration to compensate. Results were good (clarified below) but I think the turkey probably could have withstood the full forced brine or marinade without a problem.

First, the turkey had to be defrosted. This was done over a few hours with changes of cold water every thirty minutes to ensure even defrosting.

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Sorry, there just isn’t much of a way to make a raw turkey look terribly appealing.

It was then a simple matter to break the bird down, taking off the drumsticks and wings and then dealing with the turkey breast. Most of the breaking down bird websites seemed to leave the breast attached to the backbones of the bird, but I had a different use for that, so off they went into the bag with the neck and the offal.

Everything was placed in zip lock gallon bags, each one to hold its own marinade or brine.

My plan for each section was as follows: for the breast a basic lemon and herb brine; for one set of dark meat, a beer marinade with a heavy Char Siu influence that my family likes to use for poultry; and lastly for the other dark meat, a new “cajun” influenced brine I came up with on the spot.

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First I went for the marinade, to use with one of the bags of dark meat. You will need sugar, salt, soy sauce, enough beer to soak the bird, a package of Char Siu mix for barbecue, and a red pepper. I cut everything down proportionally given the smaller amount of meat I was going to marinate, but for a larger bird our family’s mix is this:

  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 barbecue Char Siu packs
  • 2 roast duck packs (optional)
  • 1 and 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 hot peppers
  • enough beer to cover bird when placed in a bag. Any beer will do really.

Taste it before marinating the bird and adjust as necessary. You’ll want it to be both peppery and quite salty.

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There’s not much of a science to this method. Just get cracking on mixing things together, taste, and if it seems pretty potent, you’re in the right spot.

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For this particular use of the brine, I omitted the salt, soy sauce the only method of providing sodium as I was trying to avoid over salting the bird since it was pre-brined.

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But hot little chiles? Definitely going in! Chopped into little pieces, keep the seeds if you like, and you’re good to go.

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Stir it up to dissolve everything that needs dissolving and put it into an airtight bag! Or for the regular sized turkey as close as you can manage with large clean plastic bags or a very snug container able to accommodate the turkey.

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For the breast meat and other dark meat, I decided to apply one of the ratios I learned in Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio, one heck of a great resource for chefs and home cooks alike who want to know how to create from the basics and build up from there. For brine he recommends 1 part salt for every 20 parts of water, or a 5% solution. I opted for slightly less given the circumstances, but in hindsight I think that the 5% would still be good.

This is actually a good portion of a recipe in the book for a lemon and herb brine meant for chicken, and the ingredients I had on hand to use were as follows.

  • Spanish onion
  • carrot
  • four garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1.5 oz. kosher salt (I used 1 oz. to compensate for the brined turkey, I recommend you stick to the)
  • Vegetable oil
  • 15 oz. water
  • Lemon (halved)
  • bay leaf
  • tablespoon of dried thyme
  • .5 oz. sugar
  • tablespoon of black pepper
  • 15 oz. of ice.

There are some omissions and substitutions, so I can’t say it is exactly what he intended.

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First, in a saute pan over medium heat, saute the onion, garlic, carrot with the salt until the onion starts to become translucent.

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Then toss everything else in (except for the ice) remembering to give the lemon halves a good squeeze.

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Now this is the important part, 15 oz. of ice.

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Rather than just using all liquid water, by using half off the water and then adding half of the volume in ice later, you save several hours of waiting for the brine to cool before you want put the bird into it.

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Now for the experimental brine. I’ve always been partial to the idea of Cajun things, so that’s what I went with.

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Equal parts of paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano and ground black pepper.  If you’ve got an empty jar, just make a lot, because I find this a pretty versatile mix to use in other applications as well.

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Again, I went with the principles of the Michael Ruhlman’s ratio of a 1 part salt to 20 parts water, with half of it being ice. This time I went with the full ratio of salt for the sake of experimentation.

Nothing fancy here. Bring a tablespoon and a half of the spice mix to a boil with the salt and the water, then remove from heat and and add the ice.

Then it was time to marinate and brine. The breast was put into the lemon herb brine, one set of dark meat into the Char Siu/beer/soy sauce marinade, and the other set of dark meat into the experimental Cajun brine. All of these were refrigerated for 12 hours, tossed occasionally, then removed from the liquid.

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Rinsed, dried, then covered to stay in the refrigerator.

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The Char Siu/Beer/Soy Sauce is on the left there.

When you feel you want to eat in an hour or two, preheat your oven. I went with 400 degrees Fahrenheit but I think I will try a lower heat and for longer next time. Hopefully you have a probe thermometer, so you can cook the breast to an internal temperature 155 degrees F, and then the dark meat to an internal temperature of 175 degrees F.

Also note the pieces of olive bread and onion below the racked breast. Good things will result, trust me.

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This took about an hour for everything to get to temperature actually, which seemed a bit fast to me. I think a longer, slightly lower temperature would have yielded slightly more tender meat. That said, all of the meat tasted plenty good to me.

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Ah, I’m getting ahead of myself. Cover with foil until you’re ready to serve, allowing the meat to rest.

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That’s one of the oven grates below the turkey in case you’re wondering. And I moved everything in later to prevent the accident that looks like it is going to happen with this position.

Also go ahead and admire your turkey fat basted potato slices and croutons. Fat basted and roasted croutons are fantastic sides. I only wish I crammed a bunch more in.

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Ah yes, now back to the tasting of the turkey. At the top middle, the breast meat. Char Siu dark meat on the left, Cajun dark meat on the right.

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Results? I enjoyed the Cajun seasoned turkey the most, which informs my opinion that the 1:20 ratio of salt was the correct choice, even with the pre brined turkey, or at least that brand. My cousin actually liked the Char Siu marinated meat more. I think I did the breast meat a slight injustice in that breast meat should probably be seasoned even more aggressively than dark meat, but even so it was definitely moist, and made for fantastic leftovers.

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So now a question to send you all off, how do you guys like to prepare your birds for turkey day?


  1. Thanks, I'm going to try this with chicken and see how it turns out. What would you recommend instead of the charsiu sauce if I can't get any?

  2. Hey Anon, thanks for visiting!

    Well, it's Char Siu powder first of all, so look for that in the "international foods" section of your supermarket (I'm assuming you don't have an Asian market nearby).

    However, if push comes to shove and you want some vague approximation, use the rawest kind of sugar you can find, onion powder, garlic powder and up the amount of soy sauce slightly. It won't replicate but it should emulate it at the base. I don't know the exact proportions here, but try to keep it even, and the powder should lean slightly sweet to the taste.