Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Pirates in the Kitchen - Thanksgiving #1


My favorite choir director consistently reminds us that we need to leave the "r"s alone when we sing. Arriving early and then holding on to those "R" sounds can transform any sacred anthem, no matter how spiritually intended, into something that more closely resembles a sea shanty. For those of you not so chorally inclined, think back to your REO Speedwagon days.The lead singer, Kevin Cronin, he used to rrrrrreally hang on to the "R"s. Turn on the way back machine and channel your mid-80s self. Bad perm, tight pants, that's it - now listen in your head - "can't fight this feeling any morrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre....". That's what I'm talking about.

So what does this have to do with food or Thanksgiving? What, you don't think I have a point for all this pirate talk? Oh ye of little faith.

Brined turkey!

Yeah, after spending an inordinate amount of time searching for a source of Poultry Giganticus that isn't the subject of a PETA cruelty investigation, I finally found a reasonable source (division of Cargill Meats) of fresh, uninjected turkey breasts, and at my regular local grocery store, no less.

I bought two split breasts, not quite Dolly Parton sized, each one coming in at around two pounds. They do come larger, but those DD cup turkeys are from birds that have been so genetically twinkered with they can't reproduce on their own. They taste about as much like real turkey as the test tubes they begin their lives in, so I opt for a more "normal" version.

I sought. I bought. I brined.

There are scads of recipes for brining out there. Some general guidelines are 1 cup salt and 1 cup sugar plus a source of some acidity plus aromatics. If you have time to leave the bird (or bird pieces) in the brine for several days which is optimal to allow the flavors to permeate and develop, then you can cut the salt back to 2/3 cup.

Caveats: Brining poultry is a salmonella stew waiting to happen so you must allow room in your refrigerator and give some thought to potential contamination control. Some swear by huge ziplock bags as a way to eliminate potential splash problems. Others start with a frozen bird in a bag in an ice cooler in the garage. They don't live in Central Texas however where the temperatures are just as likely to be in the mid-80s in the run up to Turkey Day as not. I opted for a stock pot with a nice snug lid, one large enough to have room between brine level and the top of the pot. I kept bleach type wipes handy and, I was careful not to slosh.

Another consideration is your pan juices from a well brined bird can be a little salty for gravy. I discovered that with more moist and flavorful meat on my plate, the gravy is no longer the star it once had to be. I made gravy without the pan drippings this year and nobody cared because everything else on the plate already tasted good. To me, that's the point. Savory moist food, not amazing gravy poured all over dried out meat and dressing.

Brining works, bottom line. I won't take time here for the chemistry, the blogger at Cooking for Engineers has done that already. Try it once and you will discover brining delivers meat that will roast without drying out or losing all it's flavor to the pan.

So there you have it. No need to walk the plank for dried out turkey any longer. The easiest solution for a wonderful turkey or turkey breast is just that. A solution. Brining. Arrrrrrrrrr. Aye!

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