Monday, November 26, 2007

Brining Produced a Better Turkey

So now for a review of the dishes that adorned my Thanksgiving table.

Right before Thanksgiving, this NY Times article raised the question of whether a low-yielding crop of cranberries and increased demand would make Thanksgiving tables "berry-free" this year. This was not the case at our home. We had two dishes featuring cranberries, and both were supplied by guests.

One was a more traditional cranberry sauce, although it was the gelatinous, bland concoction that comes from a jar. It was homemade, and it included lots of plump cranberries and a handful of tart cherries. The recipe had just the right amount of sugar and a nice touch of ground cloves.

The second option for cranberries was a relish; it was fine, but not as tasty as the cranberry sauce.

The turkey was a huge hit with everyone -- more flavorful than any turkey I can recall. Why? I'd attribute it to two factors. First, we bought a fresh turkey (never frozen). Second, we brined the turkey. Although I have seen recipes for brining that included numerous ingredients, our recipe was very basic. Here it is:
* Insert a 12- to 15-lb. fresh turkey into a brining bag
* Pour 4 gallons of cool (not lukewarm) water into the bag
* Combine 2 cups of kosher salt and 1 cup of granulated sugar, stir briefly to incorporate the two
* Add the salt and sugar into the brining bag and seal the bag
* Turn the bag over a few times to help distribute the salt and sugar more evenly
* Let the turkey brine for at least 10-12 hours
Where do you keep a brining turkey? Most sinks are a little small -- not to mention the fact that few cooks want to keep their sink off-limits for 12 hours. We kept ours in a large ice chest, and we periodically added ice to the perimeter of the brining bag just to keep the turkey from reaching room temperature. Here is a good article on the basics of brining.

The stuffing was good, but not great. We made two versions of traditional bread stuffing -- one had chopped, dried dates, which added a hint of sweetness. I liked that version a little better.

We had three kinds of pie: pumpkin (of course), cherry and apple-raspberry.

Here are my grades for the side dishes: the orange sweet potatoes got an A-, the corn pudding deserved a B- (I should have used fresh corn), and the mashed potatoes got a B.

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