It's Thanksgiving! The magical time of year that brings out the adventurous cook in everyone. People who mostly survive on ramen and bagel bites get it in their minds that they are going to be tackling a 10 item dinner for 15 people. Needless to say, panic attacks and tears are as much of a part of Thanksgiving as drunk uncles (drunkles if you will).
I'm not going to be able to help you with everything but one area I can help you with is the bird. Many cooks are intimidated by cooking turkeys because of how large and unwieldy the thing is. It's not the kind of thing we tackle on the regular and it can be easy to overcook. This is where brining comes into the picture.
Brining helps to add moisture (for a wet brine) to a turkey and lets it hold onto moisture as it cooks (both wet and dry). It also facilitates the absorption of flavor (aromatics and spices). If you do it properly you'll get a fantastic tasting bird that is almost impossible to overcook.
This brine is special because tastes like the holidays. Cinnamon, orange peel, clove and other spices join forces to flavor a turkey that fits in at the Christmas table as well as a Thanksgiving feast.
This is my holiday turkey wet brine.
Holiday Flavored Wet Brine
1/2 gallon water
1 cup salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbls whole black peppercorns
8 whole cloves
1-2 cinnamon sticks (depends on how much you want)
2 bay leaves
6 sage leaves
2-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4-6 sprigs thyme
Peel of 1 orange- keep it wide as possible with as little pith as possible (it's OK to have a little)
Peel of 1 lemon- keep it wide as possible with as little pith as possible (it's OK to have a little)
1 onion- chopped into quarters
2 carrots- chopped into 1-2 inch lengths
2 stalks of celery- chopped into 1-2 inch lengths
5 cloves of garlic smashed (no need to peel)
1/2 gallon (64 ounces by weight) of ice
1 12-20 pound turkey- thawed
Combine first 16 ingredients in a big pot. Bring to a boil then simmer for 5 minutes. turn off heat. Let cool until it's not steaming hot (about 20 minutes).
Add the ice to cool everything off.
In a clean five gallon bucket, add the turkey and brine. put into fridge and keep for at least 12 hours for smaller birds and as much as 18 hours on the monster birds. If you don't have an extra fridge or a five gallon bucket a big cooler will work just as well (and you can keep it outside out of the way!). I've found that a good, quick way to know brine times is just to do one hour of brining per pound. It's not an exact science, but it gets you where you want to be.
Cook the turkey as you want.
You can also combine the iced brine and turkey into a big cooler and keep it outside overnight. The cooler keeps everything cool overnight.
Have a good Thanksgiving!