How to Dry Brine a Turkey(and why you totally should…)

I’ve gotten a few questions about this so let me clarify—we do not raise turkeys at the lodge. A smelly loud poultry pen would not add much to the holiday experience of our guests. However, we do purchase farm raised turkeys from our neighbors. Here’s the thing—a turkey not raised in a tiny pen will have a very different flavor than a battery bird. It will. And there is something to be said for that rich and wild flavor. BUT—and it’s a big one, a wild turkey will be less predictable in terms of tenderness. AND the flavor we all know and love in our holiday feast is the mild, white breast of a turkey of Mae West proportions. In short, I don’t think your November feast is the place to try something new. I am here to assure you, my foodie friends, that a supermarket turkey is perfectly acceptable. Perfectly. If you want to order a heritage turkey from your local butcher—do so. You may love it and certainly it gives you foodie bragging rights. But you don’t need to mortgage the children to have a notable turkey feast. Let the grousing begin (see what I did there?) Much has been written about how to prepare a turkey and most of it is best ignored. The days of baking a turkey for eight hours and constantly basting it are over—thank heavens. The little pop up thermometer that comes in your supermarket turkey—pull it out. It’s near the thigh and the breasts will be sad echoes of their juicily luscious selves by the time it activates. For years I brined our turkeys and it works, although it’s a bit onerous—scouring out the cooler, making the brine, submerging the turkey in water that sort of starts to look like bodily fluids that you shouldn’t ever come into contact with. Last year I began dry brining our birds and I am a convert. Total convert—you might find me in the airport giving away flowers with a tag that says “dry brining is the way.” It’s not entirely without effort—you will need to clear a large space in your fridge. The beer may need to go on the back porch. Sorry, fellas, we all have to make sacrifices for the holidays. Rules for dry brining: • Do not use a kosher turkey—they have been pre-salted. • Wash your hands like you are a surgeon prepping to do a heart transplant on your own mother. • Combine-3 TBL sea salt—not coarsely ground • 1 tsp light brown sugar—rub the mixture between your hands to get rid of any lumps. • Begin 3 days before you want to cook it—so look at the date on the bird and pick the freshest one you see. With your spotless hands, slide your fingers between the skin and the flesh. Start at the breast but work your hands all over the bird. Be careful not to break the skin, but work as far down the legs as you can. Now you are going to rub the salt/sugar mixture onto the flesh–under the skin. Work it in, like you are its massage therapist in a sketchy “have a good time” type parlor. No, you won’t make it too salty. No, you shouldn’t add herbs at this point—the salt/sugar is using osmosis to make the cells of turkey juicy and delectable—anything else just gets in the way. It’s like the turkey is you at your middle school dance and the salt is the cool eighth grader who never noticed you. Your neighbor who played D&D at the lunch table right out in the open every day is the herbs. His interest in the turkey (which is you in this tortured analogy) makes it harder for the salt to be attracted to your burgeoning breasts and thighs.) The turkey tolerates the herbs because her mom makes her, but she hates him and wishes he would fall in a hole and die. Now—set your salty bird on a rack on a cookie sheet and put the whole thing in the fridge. Do not cover it. I know this is a scary notion and you may not want your mother-in-law to see it (unless your mother-in-law is Hazel, who is fazed by nothing) but we need the bird to dry out. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about roasting Mr. Tom Turkey and his shatteringly crisp skin…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s